Does motivation matter?
Motivation lets us know how to behave. It’s our why. Some of us are motivated extrinsically, inspired by other people or outside events (awards, achievement, peer pressure), and some of us are motivated intrinsically, inspired from within (need for acceptance, FOMO, need for respect). Either way, motivation keeps us moving forward and pushes us toward growth.
I’ve been told that motivation matters, but does it? If so, doesn’t it depend on the other ingredients in the scenario? Below, I explore hypothetical situations and offer an opinion on whether the motives matter or not.
Jane falls ill. She’s an older, solitary woman with no immediate family. Courtney, the single, young woman next door, never spoke to Jane. In fact, the only thing she knows about her is that Jane lives alone in the big house next door. When Jane received news that she would be in the hospital for an extended period, she gave the hospital staff her address, and they were able to put Jane in touch with Courtney. Jane explained her situation to Courtney and asked her if she could pick up her mail and hold it for her until she returned home. Courtney agreed, and decided to bring the mail to the hospital for Jane to review in person on a weekly basis.
Jane had no family and appreciated that Courtney made the weekly trip to the hospital. In fact, she looked forward to her visits. Courtney, although generally thoughtful and compassionate, fantasized that Jane had money and that helping Jane now, will pay off later. As the weeks went by, Courtney also looked forward to her visits with Jane. They became friends. In addition to hoping that Jane had money, Courtney is also helping her out of guilt. She was unable to help her dad in the same way that she is now able to help Jane. The fact that Courtney grew to enjoy her visits with Jane, was a side benefit. Her motives had nothing to do with wanting to help her.
Does motivation matter in Scenario 1?
Should Courtney’s motivation matter to Jane? No. In this case, it’s a win-win for both parties. Sick Jane gets the benefit of Courtney’s companionship, while Courtney’s getting some of her needs met. Whether or not she actually receives money at the end of it all is irrelevant. That’s her issue to deal with later.
Although, if things were a little different in the scenario the motivation would matter to me. For instance, if Courtney stole from Jane, or opened her mail to take advantage of her in some way, the motivation would matter to me.
Barbara begins her new job working for Janine. Almost immediately, Barbara and Janine hit it off and become friends. They start celebrating each other’s birthdays, mutually attend family parties, exchange Christmas gifts, and have their families over for dinner. A few years later, Barbara takes on a different position within the company and no longer reports to Janine. Janine cheers Barbara on and expects to maintain their established relationship. For the first couple of months, things remained the same, but eventually Barbara stopped asking Janine to do things with her and declines Janine’s invitations more and more. Janine gets frustrated and stops inviting Barbara to events. Before long, the two barely acknowledge each other in the hallway. Janine starts to think that Barbara was only friends with her because of their reporting relationship at work.
Does motivation matter in Scenario 2?
If Barbara’s intention to befriend Janine was to see what Janine can do for her at work, then the motivation matters. It seemed, to Janine, as though Barbara befriended her because she thought she would be able to advance her career in some way. And while Janine enjoyed the friendship, she was extremely hurt when Barbara cut her off. Motivation matters when someone gets hurt.
That’s the tricky part. How would you truly know that Barbara’s motives were insincere? Maybe they were friends of circumstance. They worked together closely and had a lot in common. Perhaps, Barbara had no motive and genuinely enjoyed Janine’s company and working so closely made it easy to plan to spend time together. When it became less convenient, they may have both expected it to be just as easy as it was. When they found it wasn’t, neither put the extra work in to maintain the relationship.
Brian calls Terry every evening during his long commute home from work. He uses this time to dump his emotional baggage on Terry. When it’s Terry’s turn to talk, Brian is conveniently “just about home” and needs to get off the phone. There are so many nights the phone rings that Terry doesn’t want to answer it because he’s in the middle of dinner or helping the kids with homework. He’ll answer anyway and ask that Brian call back later, explaining why he can’t talk. Brian usually ignores Terry’s request by saying, “Ok, but I just have to tell you what happened quick.” Terry listens to his “quick” story and before you know it, it’s time for Brian to get off the phone.
Does motivation matter in Scenario 3?
In my opinion, Brian’s motives matter as they are selfish. He doesn’t care what or, more importantly, how Terry’s doing. Hell, he doesn’t even care that he’s talking to Terry, he just wants to be talking to someone to get through his time on the road.
To me, it wouldn’t matter if Terry was also on his commute, although I would hope that Brian allowed for a two-way conversation.
How do you control what others think of your motives?
It’s fun to judge and offer an opinion on the motivation of others. But, in reality, there is no way to know what they are. I have a hard-enough time understanding what my own motivation is at times.
Years ago, my job began to require monthly travel around the country. While I loved travelling, the frequency was too much for me at that time. After thinking long and hard, I decided to seek another position within the company. A co-worker asked why I was leaving. I responded with, “If I request to cut back on travel, it will mean more for you and I don’t think that’s fair.” With that she replied, “Oh, how noble of you.” As if to say, ‘way to make it look like you’re being selfless, when, in fact, you’re looking out for yourself.’ I was very confused by her response, but looking back at it she was right. Saying I was leaving to be fair to the team, while partially true, that was not my motive. My motive was to spend more time with my young family. That was the bottom line. I wasn’t trying to advance my career or make the job more comfortable for my co-workers. But, the motivation I presented to my insightful co-worker sounded ingenuine. My motives were in fact ulterior. I was trying to soften the blow and sound less selfish, but doing so made me look like a liar. My intentions were misunderstood. If I had just been honest about why I wanted to leave, my co-worker would have believed me and not have been forced to make up a story about my motives.
You can’t control what others think, you just need to be true to yourself.
Motives matter when they’re in-genuine, manipulative, or with bad intent. You can’t control why people do what they do. You can only control how you react. If someone calls you during dinner with some time to kill some time, it is your responsibility to say, “This is not a good time for me to talk, call me back later.”
Tell me this? Does motivations matter to you?