What Motivates You?

Everyone has their own personal motivators. Identifying what motivates you, both in your career and your personal life, can help you design a more enjoyable, satisfying work-life balance.

The power of personal motivators is that they are personal. They cannot be taught. They cannot be forced by authority. They are simply the intrinsic force that drives an individual’s behavior. Every action, even the most basic task of getting out of bed in the morning, is motivated by some goal you want to achieve. In addition, your personal motivators are dynamic – they can change over time or fluctuate depending on the situation. The one constant is that your personal motivators are the reason why you make choices, take action, or avoid tasks. It makes sense, then, that job satisfaction is maximized when personal motivators are aligned with the goals and outcomes of the job.

Five common personal motivators that relate to job satisfaction are Contribution, Achievement, Security, Money, and Recognition. Those who are strongly motivated by the personal satisfaction that comes from a sense of contributing to a worthwhile cause will enjoy a job that feeds into their Contribution motivator. For these people, it is not the daily tasks that drive action; it is the perceived effect of those tasks that drives action. Note that the key work is “perceived”. Personal motivators are entirely dependent on a person’s perception – there is no right or wrong job for a particular motivation. One can imagine that a medical doctor would perceive a great sense of contribution from helping patients. However, a custodian could perceive the same satisfaction by contributing to a clean work environment.

Those with a strong Achievement drive will enjoy a job with measurable, quantitative goals that clearly track performance relative to a target. Students who thrived on the goal of achieving high test scores or a 4.00 GPA likely have a strong sense of Achievement motivation. For these people, a position with a performance quota, such as sales, may be a good fit.

Those motivated by Security are likely to be drawn toward jobs that are not perceived as high risk, but instead provide a sense of long-term stability. The Security motivator is often highly correlated with one’s personal life. Financial responsibilities or being the sole provider for the family can contribute to the need for a sense of security. This motivator may be stronger during certain stages of life than others.

Money is a common motivator. It applies to almost everyone who has a paying job, but the level of Money motivation varies. For some, the financial compensation itself is highly motivating. It’s about more than just getting a paycheck or achieving an appropriate salary. For those with a strong Money drive, there is great satisfaction from the perceived success of high earnings.

Recognition is another common motivator. For these people, it’s about more than performing or achieving work-related goals. They derive satisfaction from having others recognize their work. Recognition-motivated people enjoy awards, certificates, and public announcements of their achievements. Jobs for which the results are highly visible are a good fit.

Personal motivators can be highly related. For example, it is easy to imagine that a person with a strong Achievement drive might also have a strong Recognition drive. Security and Money motivators can also go hand-in-hand. For most people, there are specific motivators that are more highly related to personal satisfaction than other motivators. Understanding what motivates you can help you recognize why you like or dislike your job and guide you in finding the best fit for your needs. The next time you are considering a job, remember to analyze yourself in addition to evaluating the job.


This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.

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