Motivation is something everyone wants.
No one aspires to be unmotivated. No one hopes for lethargy and laziness. You want action. You want the get-up and go. To lace up your shoes, walk out the door, and run for miles on end without pause. Yet alas, motivation eludes many. Why is that so? Why do so many people fail to achieve the things they desire? In my research, one common trait stands above the rest. One factor explains why these individuals are able to do that much more.
Motivation Is Secondary
The single trait that the most wildly motivated people have in common is that they are fulfilled by what they do. They derive meaning from the activities that constitute their lives. This is what allows them to show up each day.
Even when money is no longer a concern. Even when challenges arise. They are fulfilled in their pursuits and thus motivation is plentiful. They aren’t looking for motivation in order to do the work. Rather, they want to do the work and thus motivation comes naturally. If you fill your time with fulfilling acts, motivation is a lot easier to come by. And, more importantly, your life will become one of fulfillment in the process.
Here are eight well-known individuals of history who prove fulfillment is the key to insane motivation.
“What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.” – Unknown
The Mad Scientist(s)
Richard Feynman did many things. In his book, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, he recounts the zany tales that made up his life. From working on the Manhattan Project to getting his own art exhibit and everything in between. The fulfillment he pursued in life drove him forward.
Leonardo da Vinci didn’t have a lot of money. But he did have a lot of interests. In Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, the author examines the life of this famous figure. Da Vinci struggled for much of his life. Both in terms of recognition and finances. However, he kept trying new things. Kept exploring new fields. And he did so because they called to him. They filled him with purpose.
Feynman and da Vinci ventured into the arena because of the meaning they got from it. It was this meaning that served as motivation.
No Payment Necessary
As a young man, Robert Moses didn’t need to work. In The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Caro explains how Moses came from a wealthy family. He went to fancy schools and took luxurious trips. Financially, he was sound. Yet he took low-paying government jobs anyway. Eventually, he became one of the most powerful people in New York. Still, even into his later years, he continued to work long hours. Well past the point when it was necessary. He did so, though, because he gained tremendous fulfillment from what he did.
Steve Jobs didn’t need to keep working. Certainly not after his success with Apple and Pixar. Yet he was unrelenting. In Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Isaacson paints the tale of someone entirely absorbed in their work. Motivation wasn’t necessary because Jobs derived so much meaning from what he did. Doing the work came naturally.
Moses and Jobs put in long hours well after they needed to. They continued to show up day after day because they were fulfilled by their pursuits.
The End of Time
Empress Dowager Cixi was running China from her literal death bed. Up until her demise, she was making policy decisions for the country. In Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang, Cixi could have retired years earlier. She had the opportunity to. But she didn’t. Not because of the allure of power but because she got so much meaning out of the work she did. And so she spent her final days putting in the time, trying to better her country, until her last breath.
Malcolm X knew his days were numbered. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X & Alex Haley, Malcolm goes so far as to say that he knew the five individuals tapped to assassinate him. Yet, during this time he continued to make speeches, work on his biography, and try to enact change. He could have fled. He certainly knew what was coming. But instead, he stayed. He continued his work until the inevitable came to pass.
Cixi and Malcolm X could have walked away at any point. But they didn’t. They were fulfilled and chose to persist until death.
Put a Smile On
In Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Knight recounts the life of his company, Nike. He speaks on the things that went well, but more tellingly, on the things that didn’t. And there were many, many, many challenges in that regard. Money was a constant worry for the company. He often thought the business would collapse and he’d have to find a job. Yet through it all, he continued to show up. At the end of the book, he said that his biggest regret was that he couldn’t go back and do it all again. He found what he did to be incredibly fulfilling.
John D. Rockefeller, Sr. often worried about his business. Even after his wealth had been established. In Titan by Ron Chernow, Rockefeller says that, “for years on end I never had a solid night’s sleep, worrying about how it was to come out… I tossed about in bed night after night worrying over the outcome… All the fortune that I have made has not served to compensate for the anxiety of that period.” And yet he continued to show up each day. He played the game for the sake of the game itself.
Knight and Rockefeller didn’t always enjoy what they were doing. But they did derive meaning from it. And that’s what encouraged them to show up again and again.
Moving Forward with Motivation
The eight figures mentioned were fulfilled in their pursuits. It was this purpose, this meaning, that allowed them to do so much. If you want motivation then, fill your life with pursuits that are meaningful. Spend a few minutes considering what fulfillment looks like to you. Not just in terms of work but in terms of your relationships, home, finances, physical health, and so on. Think on what fulfillment looks like for you across each aspect of your life.
Then set goals to realize that fulfillment. Motivation won’t always be in full supply, but if you stack your life with things that are meaningful, it will certainly be easier to come by.