It all comes down to being motivated to do the work. That you're doing it because you WANT to do it, regardless of whether it's hard, or that whether you're doing it  in good times or bad.

In short, you care about the work regardless what other people say or what external circumstance might dictate.

Cultivating motivation

Yes, you can cultivate motivation, you don't just stumble into being motivated at work. Sure, your manager can be a huge factor in that equation, but you have a lot of control as well.

Research shows there are a handful of factors that will boost employee's morale and motivation for work. They called these the motivating factors:

  • Challenging work
  • Recognition
  • Responsibility
  • Personal growth
  • Meaningful contribution

In short, you're likely more motivated if you find yourself doing challenging work, that you are learning on the job, your work translates to results and is being recognized by your peers and colleagues, and that you feel you have significant contributions towards the project.

But what about salary?

Turns out, the same research suggested another list, a list of things, that if not taken care of, can significantly decrease employee's motivations, BUT they are by no means a long term motivating factors. And salary is one these things, they called it the hygiene factors.

Other things that are in this hygiene factors list:

  • Status
  • Compensation
  • Job security
  • Work conditions
  • Relationship with manager and subordinates

If you need more evidence, here's a neat story of why Daniel, a software developer earning $500k at Amazon leaves the company to chart his own path. His main takeaway? Only intrinsic motivation lasts.

You get to choose work that really motivates you. Some questions you might ask:

  • Is this work meaningful to me? Why?
  • Am I going to learn new things?
  • Will I have the opportunity to get recognition for my work?
  • Am I given responsibility?

Strategy for finding motivating work

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" You probably heard this in one of your interviews. A plausible, truthful answer can be: "I don't know".

That doesn't mean you're not planning ahead and looking after your career. It just means there are things you plan to do but don't know how things will pan out.

Being deliberate vs Keeping an eye for opportunity

Not everyone has to have their careers planned out, step by step, for the next 5 years.

When you haven't discover a career thats hygienic (Ample compensation, stable work condition, good relationship with your boss and colleagues) and motivating (Growth, fulfilment and responsibility), then you keep trying things, look out for opportunities to do work that interest you.

Once you learned that your talents and interest started to pay off, i.e you are getting recognized for your work, you're learning new things, and motivated to do the work, then you can flip to a deliberate strategy, planning the steps you need to take to advance your career.

"If you’ve yet to find something that really works in your career, expecting to have a clear vision of where your life will take you is just wasting time” — Clayton Christensen

Before you commit, ask: "What has to prove true for this to work?"

Commitments, especially those that require huge investment, whether time, money or effort, needs careful consideration before you pull the trigger.

Do you want to pursue it because you think it's a good idea? Why is that so? Are you basing your position based on intrinsic or extrinsic motivators? Why do you think this is going to be something you enjoy doing?

It's good to ask what assumptions (that your decision is based on) have to prove true before you commit? For example, you don't want to be in a situation where you go through medical school and figure out that you don't want to be a doctor after all?

So what do you have to figure out if it's going to turn out good for you? In the case of medical school for example, you might do an internship or conduct interviews to figure out if life as a doctor is for you.

The same goes for the company you apply a job for. Don't take their careers' page at face value. If the company promotes work life balance, what did their employees have to say? If the company claims to be pro environment, did they invest any money in any environmental initiatives?

These are made up scenarios of course. But the key message is to list out the assumptions you made for your decision and test if those assumptions are true.


The strategy is simple. Keep looking for opportunities until you find work that gives you fulfilment, growth and recognition, then double down on that.

As you probably see this coming. Talk is cheap and execution is everything. The strategy is not what you say it is, but where you spend your resource that matters.

Resource allocation

Our primary resources are: Time, energy, talent, and money. That means actually scheduling the time to do work and investing money that will have positive long term success to your career.

Unless you manage your resources mindfully, your resource allocation will default to what is wired to your brain and heart. In other words, you are more prone to do things for the short term or instant gratification, that or other people will demand resources from you instead.

In short, watch where your resources flow—the resource allocation process. If it is not supporting the your strategy, you will run into problems in the long run.