So which is it – pursue your passion hoping you can succeed, or follow the money motivation instead?
As a parent, I advised my children to do what they love if they can – in particular, to explore whatever catches their fancy while they’re still young. But I also modeled the necessity of being responsible. In other words, the bottom line is the bottom line – as in the ability to support one’s family.
And in a contest of love or money?
Ideally, we possess an abundance of the former and a sufficient amount of the latter.
Naturally, my value system is reflected in that remark, although in my world, and possibly yours, money is a must.
Internal Motivation vs. Instrumental Motivation
In an article dissecting the nature of motivation – internal versus instrumental – The New York Times makes a case for pursuing your passion. Rather than taking the usual pop culture, feel-good angle, “The Secret of Effective Motivation” offers research on more than 11,000 cadets at West Point, and examines their level of commitment, performance, and how motives contribute to their overall success.
The article describes “internal” motivation as a passion and drive for the task or subject matter at hand. (I’m paraphrasing.) Sources of internal motivation might include a desire to know, to create, or to lead. “Instrumental” motivation is action propelled by the ways it will serve you. Examples include recognition, money, or power.
Professors Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz explain the value of the practical (instrumental) side when it comes to motivation:
… Whenever a person performs a task well, there are typically both internal and instrumental consequences… Just because activities can have both internal and instrumental consequences does not mean that the people who thrive on these activities have both internal and instrumental motives.
In other words, we sometimes look at a career – surgeon, for example – and we might assume that the man or woman who is a surgeon must be (at least) internally motivated by a desire to save lives, and may also be motivated by the income such a specialty will generate. However, the research cited shows that we often ascribe motivation to the activity and not the person.
Just because being a surgeon is lucrative, that doesn’t mean that an individual is motivated by money. He or she may be far more passionate about something else in life – basketball or baking – and if that’s the case, then motivation may yet become a problem.
The Success Motive
Here is what intrigues me. We profess that if you do what you love, then success will follow, yet we know this formula is dangerously simplistic. To make that point, I might say that I adore playing basketball, but at 5′ tall, I will never make a living at it. Or, I may be blissful when I’m baking for my friends, but not possess the breadth of skills required to transform my bliss into a profitable enterprise.
Does that mean I can’t enjoy basketball or baking? Of course not. But I’d be well advised to opt for ways to make my living.
The real issue I have with the hypothesis described in The Times is the applicability of such a narrow scope to a wider range of motivational scenarios. There is no consideration of the way life will change, and change us, including our definitions of success. Nor do the authors address external circumstances like market forces of supply and demand, or the economy in general.
Last, haven’t we all experienced the way time takes the gleam out of most activities?
We grow bored, we lose inspiration, we seek new challenges. The passion we pursue today may not be a passion in 10 years.
What about my mention of love or money – or both?
If I apply the logic of the article, we’re better off following our hearts when both love and money are involved. If our passions are aligned with our talents, when we mix in a bit of vision and luck, I just might buy it.
In other words, if I pursue a career as a painter (out of love) and I make a good living at it and money matters to me, I will continue to perform well and presumably, remain motivated to do so.
Even looking at the short term (five to ten years), if the above scenario holds true, it sounds pretty good to me!
So what about love or money when it comes to people? What about the woman who only dates rich men, or more kindly put, the woman who tells herself she will only date a man who is a “good provider?” Do we understand her motivations? Does she? Do we judge her more harshly when we don’t understand where she’s coming from?
What about the single mother who only dates wealthy men, in part out of financial need? Despite contemporary rhetoric (and reality) with regard to women in the workplace, do we scorn a woman who values financial security over love? Do we call her a gold digger? Do we consider her to be nothing more than practical?
Follow Your Passion in Order to Succeed?
Just as circumstances can alter our value systems, or what may have motivated us in one phase of life no longer ignites pleasure of any sort, our reasons far following our passions – pursuits or people – are rarely without complications, much less consequences.
I do not know men who have married for money; obviously, they exist.
I do know women for whom money was a serious consideration, though I wouldn’t say they traded everything else in order to live a desired lifestyle.
I would never counsel my children to ignore their passions anymore than I would leave my own fundamental interests back-burnered forever. I believe in pursuing what we love and cherishing those we love. But events can and do change us.
Necessity is vital to our decision-making. An illness, for example, may cause us to understand that money is a means to end, and thus as an instrumental motivator it loses steam. Or, we may have married for love and raised children, but find ourselves struggling years later. Passions of many sorts may indeed be left behind as issues of practicality become the sole motivations that count.