To a hall of eager young college students at the University of Glasgow, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook gave one piece of solid advice: “Don’t work for money, it will wear out fast, or you’ll never make enough and you will never be happy, one or the other.”

Money is a desirable asset, and many times, we get lured to a job opportunity only because it has a big paycheck. But when it comes to being happy, science – in this case, motivation psychology– can tell us another story.

Our brains are not wired to work just for money

Maslow's Pyramid: Hierarchy of NeedsAbraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory states that we are motivated to meet a series of needs to be fulfilled. He listed them in the following order: Physiological (air, water, and food), safety (personal and financial security), social belonging (supportive relationships), esteem (respect and recognition), and self-actualization (realizing your full potential).

When our basic (notice how I highlighted the word “basic”) financial needs are met at our jobs but our higher ones are not fulfilled, we can start to feel unhappy and demotivated.

So if you’re paid very well at a job that doesn’t include supportive relationships, recognition, and the freedom to reach your full potential, you’re probably not going to be very fulfilled.

So if you’re paid very well at a job that doesn’t include supportive relationships, recognition, and the freedom to reach your full potential, you’re probably not going to be very fulfilled.Click To Tweet

Also the famous Frederick Herzberg’s Two-factor theory about motivation; which explains what motivates employees to perform better and what causes them to perform worse.

Herzberg mapped out two different sets of factors:

  • Motivators: Factors that motivate us at work and determine our job satisfaction, such as recognition, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, and sense of importance to an organization. They are the factors that usually tend to the needs in the higher levels of Maslow’s pyramid.
  • Hygiene factors: Factors that may not contribute directly to our satisfaction, but if absent, causes high dissatisfaction. Such as job security, salary, and benefits. They are the factors that tend to the lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid.

That’s why the theory refutes the flawed notion that money alone will make us want to do our jobs. And suggests that it’s merely a factor.

So what can you do to stay motivated?

This is perfectly summed up in Dan Pink’s bestselling book Drive, which explains the science behind what motivates us at work. Pink’s three essential motivators at work are:

  • Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Take more ownership of your work

Learn how to own your work: Lead your projects and tasks and effectively handle their responsibility so you can fulfill the desire to direct your own life. Moreover, if you’re not too involved in the decision-making process at work, don’t be scared to ask for more freedom and responsibility.

Make sure your career choices don’t disregard what you actually care about. This includes both the work you enjoy doing and the causes and values that matter to you.Click To Tweet

Hunt more opportunities to learn

Choose a certain skill or area you want to improve, and start crafting a plan to manage your learning curve. Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-relevant goals) and work on achieving them. This way, you can consistently get better at something that matters to you and eventually master it.

Don’t ignore your passion

Finally, make sure your career choices don’t disregard what you actually care about. This includes both the work you enjoy doing and the causes and values that matter to you. Make a list of them and start tracking how you can pick the paths that lead you to them.

If you’re sure you want to be a software developer and you’re currently an architect, don’t shut off the door to becoming one. If you care about making an impact on your society, don’t exclude the option of working for an organization that helps children’s education or the option of starting your own.

Have you been struggling with money vs. passion? Let us know about your thoughts in the comments below.

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