Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose.

What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Is it money?

(Is it really money?)

We’ve all got bills to pay. We’re all preparing for the future best we can; trying to learn from our pasts without drowning in them. As a result, we’re not spending a whole lot of time in the present. And that’s a shame, because that’s where we’re most likely to find happiness.

Ye Olde Carrot and Sticke

Ever play that game where you think about what it would cost to get you to do something you don’t want to do? “Everybody’s got a price.” How much would it take to get you to shave your head? How about to get a tattoo on that shaved head? A tattoo of a company logo?

Studies have shown that money and power (the carrot and the stick) are effective motivators—but only in limited situations. Consider the following RSAnimation, recently shared by one of our members in the TGP forum.

Pro Tip: The promise of more money and the threat of punishment lose their effectiveness—and actually drive worse performance—the minute the job requires anything more than simple, repetitive tasks.

Folding pizza boxes? Hanging flyers on doors? Playing Skee-ball? Carrot and stick works. Customer service, project management, data analysis? Carrot and stick actually make things worse. Here’s why.

At our core, we’re not motivated by money. At least not when it comes to the important stuff. We’re motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • We want to do the things that make us feel alive.
  • We want to take pride in our ability to do excellent work.
  • And we want to feel like what we do with our time really matters.

It’s why the numbers we come up with when asked what it would take to get KROQ tattooed on our freshly shorn head are so ridiculously high—and it’s why our paychecks never quite feel like they’re enough for all that time spent building other peoples’ dreams. Deep down, we know we’ve only got so much time (about 30,000 days, actually). Who and what are we working for—and why?

Indecent Proposals

Remember that movie “Indecent Proposal”? The one where the creepy billionaire (Robert Redford) offers a happy couple (Woody Harrelson & Demi Moore) a million dollars to sleep with [Demi] and they had to decide if the money was worth the existential threat to their relationship? Setting aside the high likelihood of billionaires having so much money than can do whatever they want without consequence these days, the fact this movie’s premise is still being referenced in pop culture from time to time suggests Spaceballs 2 ain’t got nothing our modern search for more money.

It started with our parents, not that they knew any better, right? Their only sources of information were, what—the local newspaper, a cable news anchor or two, and maybe the neighborhood mystic?

They grew up hungry. They saw people go to college, get physically easier, higher paying jobs, and live more comfortable lives. And that was the road map they followed to the best of their abilities while—just—like—us—they stumbled through life trying to figure out just what the hell they were doing.

They saw those with the most money lived the most comfortable lives. They saw those people had the freedom to live life on their own terms, and the power to affect change in the world that made their way of life even better. Money, then, became a proxy for happiness, for success, for purpose.

And so, our high school guidance counselors asked us what we’d do if we had millions of dollars in the bank and didn’t have to work for others. We went to college so we could get those good jobs that paid more for “easier” knowledge work. We graduated and began chasing the money.

Such is the commercial cycle of life. The trappings of wealth are very much a trap.

We’ve developed a taste for the bait.

We live in a time of incredible abundance, and yet we’re more miserable than ever.

Why is that? Aside from our collective addiction to our phones and technology, we are literally living better than kings did 100 years ago. Think about it: You can push a button and have a car pick you up from work. You can push another button and have dinner from your favorite restaurant waiting for you when you get home.

Challenge puts the good stuff in perspective. Friction tells us we’re actually working on something instead of just sitting there clicking buttons for another dopamine hit. For all the good still out there online these days, an awful lot of the web is feeling more and more like a casino—dark, filled with distraction, and designed to keep you sitting there, dropping coin after coin into the slot with the promise of fast, easy—completely unearned—riches.

For many of us, this is just how it goes. We wake up one day and we can see how the mistakes we made in the past chain us to the status quo. We know we could still just walk away from everything, go bust, and start over from scratch, but that’s far more painful than making the small sacrifices we should have made—enduring the friction—over the long haul.

The Right Tools for the Job

Once you discover your purpose—or A purpose, if you’re still figuring it out (we all are)—mastery and autonomy suddenly click open, revealing a whole new box of tools you never even knew you had. You start seeing how you’re actually pretty good at that thing you like doing. You start seeing how sharing it with others opens doors to others sharing more value with you.

Take episode 54 of my podcast, for example, where I had a conversation with professional freelancer, Chase Maser. He likes writing poetry and blog posts, fixing and flipping cars, and generally making money doing stuff he enjoys doing—but only when he needs or wants to do that kind of work.

Chase always brings his A-game. He shows up, delivers his best work, and enjoys plenty of repeat business from clients and customers who reciprocate his generosity. That’s autonomy, mastery, and purpose in action.

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
— Zig Ziglar

Forget the old carrot and stick. Those tricks only work on stubborn asses engaged in the simplest of actions. Life is more complex than pulling a cart. That means chasing the money—contrary to all the stories we’ve been told and continue telling ourselves—isn’t much of a motivator.

Real, ultimate power comes from autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Get curious about who you really are and what makes you tick.

Would you like to know more?

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