For most of my life, I’ve been blessed with an enormous surfeit of drive. On a typical morning, I’m brimming with energy and expectation. For the better part of my career, I’ve literally bounded out of bed — even when the challenges. I faced seemed insurmountable. Is that the way you feel? Or do you wake up feeling neutral or slightly negative about the day ahead? Not caring about your work is a surefire way to fail. And the only way to overcome this feeling of ennui is to fight your way out of it. How do you put the drive back in your life?
First, let’s take a look at the things that motivate people:
A surprising number of people are motivated by guilt. They spend their lives feeling shamed by what they’ve done and afraid of erring further. Guilt-driven people like to punish themselves, often by denying themselves the success they have been seeking. A guilty person is a restless person. The worst thing about being driven by guilt is how strong a hold the past has over you. It often makes it difficult if not impossible to move forward.
The mother of a good friend, a brilliant and charming woman when my friend and I were young, spent the last half of her life obsessed with the damage she felt her husband had done to her when he divorced her. Anger is a very destructive emotion, and its primary target is the person who harbors it. “Resentment always hurts you more than it does the person you resent,” says Rick Warren in “The Purpose-Driven Life”. “While the offender has already forgotten the offense and gone on with his life, you continue to stew in your pain, perpetuating the past.” The secret to releasing yourself from the bonds of anger is to realize that the moment you forgive and forget, the pain will go away. The only thing you have control over is your future. Don’t waste it on the past.
You don’t normally think of fear as a drive, but it is. Like anger, fear drives us to limit or even damage our future. Fearing failure prevents us from attempting success. Fearing rejection keeps us from finding companionship. Fearing truth leaves us self-deluded. Fearing death makes us reluctant to embrace life. You can’t ignore your fears. You can only push through them.
The desire for material comforts is natural enough in a material world. But when the drive to acquire things begins to dominate your life, you lose the ability to experience all the pleasures that you once thought material benefits would provide.
The Need for Approval
We all want to be loved. And we all want to be thought well of. The need for approval is an essential human drive, but the trouble with this drive is that most people don’t realize they have it. We live our lives eager to win the approval of others while steadfastly denying that we need it at all. This delusion makes our lives shallow and ultimately unrewarding. Rick Warren says that, in the long run, none of these drives can be satisfying. If you want long-term, in-depth peace and happiness in your life, you need to be purpose-driven.
I like that idea and believe that knowing your purpose in life has many benefits, including the following four:
1. It gives meaning to your life.
2. It simplifies your life.
3. It focuses your life.
4. It motivates you.
I recently I read a book titled “Life Work”, a memoir by Donald Hall, in which he keeps coming back to one question: “What makes a satisfying life?” Over and over again, the answer was the same. A good life is one that is engaged in good work. And good work is work that you value.
We can’t expect to fully exorcise from our psyches fear, anger, and the desire for material benefits and approval. But in thinking about how we want to live, we can create an overall life plan that is based, instead of on any of these temporary and often self-destructive drives, on some worthy purpose.
That purpose can be, for example, writing great fiction or teaching great classes or practicing martial arts at the highest level. I don’t believe it really matters what it is — just so long as it’s something you truly believe has value.