Mrs. Montgomery teaches high school English and is one of the most beloved teachers in the school. The students want to be in her writing class, even though she asks a lot from them. She’s been teaching for twenty-five years, but still finds a way to bring fresh energy and a fresh approach to her curriculum every year. She comes in early and stays late and is willing to meet with students privately during her free time. There is a contagious energy that you can feel when you walk into her classroom. The students in this class don’t just do assignments to get the grades and credits, most of them have discovered a real interest in writing. It is not uncommon to hear them say, “I never knew writing could be so much fun!”
Mr. Evans also teaches English at the same high school. Like Mrs. Montgomery, he’s been teaching for more than two decades but that’s where the similarity ends. Mr. Evans lost his passion for teaching long ago and now gives the minimum effort required to keep his job. He is counting the days until retirement. Not surprisingly, the students don’t enjoy being in Mr. Evan’s class and find themselves matching Mr. Evan’s minimum efforts, doing only what they have to do to get the grade and credits they need.
Daniel Pink is the author of the recently published Drive, a book about what motivates us at work, school and home. According to Pink, the difference between these two teachers and their students is that Mrs. Montgomery, along with her students, are driven by intrinsic motivation while Mr. Evans and his students are driven by extrinsic motivation. Pink describes extrinsic motivation as the traditional “carrot and stick” approach–one works to receive external rewards (a paycheck, a good grade) or to avoid external punishments (getting fired, failing a class). Intrinsic motivation is defined by Pink as being motivated by our deepest values, beliefs and purpose. Intrinsic motivation comes from the “inside out,” as we live out our passions and our purpose.
As we celebrate Labor Day, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on what drives your labors, not just at work but in your home and personal life as well. Like everything in life, it is never as simple as “Are you driven by either extrinsic or intrinsic motivation?” We all are driven by some combination of both. What we know though is that we will experience the highest degree of well-being when our lives are closely aligned with our core values, beliefs and ideals–in other words, when we are living our lives in a way that gives us the greatest sense of meaning and purpose. Going through the motions day after day to only receive some external reward will gradually lead to the atrophy of our hearts, minds and souls.
I highly recommend Drive. It’s a great read and it is sure to expand your awareness of what drives you in all areas of your life. The book will also give you tools to help you bring the many ways in which you work and labor into greater alignment with your core values, beliefs and purpose. And when we can do that, our lives will be more vibrant and our labors will feel less like work.