I’ve seen these terms used mostly in the context of interviewing and looking for a job. As one might expect, it’s good to be seen by a future employer as someone who is motivated and hard working. However, I’ve always found these descriptors to be a little troubling. What do they actually mean?
Let’s start with a concrete example. I consider myself to be a very motivated person and as evidence I’ll present the following points: I go to the gym every morning, I spend very little time watching TV, I work long hours, and I am very enthusiastic about my job. Given these points, I like to think I am way above average on the scale of intrinsic motivation. However, motivation is difficult to talk about without context. For instance, I am very motivated when writing my blog (something I love to do) but I do not share the same motivation for cleaning my apartment. Does this mean I am “intrinsically motivated” or not?
It goes without saying that I’m much more motivated to do things that make me feel happy and self-actualized. I find it comparatively harder to do things that don’t make me feel this way. The problem is, we tend to treat intrinsic motivation as a trait, something that is absolute – but this is wrong. Motivation is relative and depends heavily on context. We all have things that we like to do and don’t like to do. Motivation is not a static attribute like height, hair color or vision acuity, it varies wildly by task and over time.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Edward Hopper and passion. My central thesis was that passion made Hopper a great artist. This week, I want to take that a bit further and posit that all motivation is tied in some way to passion.
Our passions manifest themselves in our day-to-day lives as tasks we enjoy and are motivated to complete.
So what does this mean for “intrinsic motivation”? In short, it’s a total myth. It simply does not exist as an absolute trait. As a job applicant, it is a waste of time to tout your intrinsic motivation. Instead you should showcase how you are personally passionate about the job you will be doing. Demonstrating a history of hard work is good – it suggests discipline, dedication and solid performance from 9 to 5. However, hard work can’t touch passion. Passion follows you home. It visits you at nights, on the weekends, and in your dreams.