It took me a long time to realise that one of the big differences between working in a corporate role and working for myself, or ‘doing my own thing’ as I prefer to describe it, is your motivation. The reason why you do what you do is way more important when you work for yourself that the things that you actually do.
I had a complete blind spot on this because, well, you do work to make money, don’t you? As long as you find it mildly interesting and you’re good enough at it to get paid, that’s enough, isn’t it? Bring in enough dough to have a nice lifestyle and everyone’s happy, aren’t they?
Well, no. As Seth Godin explains in this blog, we need a narrative to fuel our forward motion and there are many choices of fuel available to us. They all work and his argument is that we should be careful which ones we pick. As he puts it, “Some of them leave you wrecked, some create an environment of possibility and connection and joy. Up to you.” He helpfully provides a list for us to choose from.
As I went through the list I marked all the ones that I felt had been my ‘go to’ ones when I worked in corporate, the ones that seemed normal in that environment, the ones that seems to be encouraged.
I then went through it again, marking the ones that I look to use now, the ones that I have learnt are most effective in the world outside ‘After the Mothership’, when you are ‘doing your own thing’.
What amazed me was that there was almost no overlap between these two groups.
You see, when I was in corporate, my narratives for doing things were competition, compliance, pay, peer pressure, professionalism, selection – not a bad set of reasons but they are mostly external motivations. They don’t really make any sense (well, as far as I’m concerned) outside of that environment. Like refined sugar, they will give you a short-term energy boost to get you through the next thing but they are not a long-term, sustainable diet.
I know now that the ones that are important for people who ‘do their own thing’ are big dreams, connection, creative itch, engineer, generosity, possibility and revenge. These are the narratives that will continue to drive them forward over the long term, that will get them through the challenges they face. They are mostly intrinsic motivations, the stories you tell yourself about yourself, the things you think about when you wake up in the morning.
And this second set of motivations, whilst not entirely absent in corporate life, are often not seen as important. Whereas outside of corporate life, they are essential.
It’s entirely possible that you’ve never even thought about your intrinsic motivations, that you’ve been entirely governed by extrinsic motivators. It’s also likely that you’ve buried or ignored those intrinsic motivations because they have not been valued or particularly useful in corporate life. Finding and connecting with them, whether for the first time or going back to them, can be a difficult thing to do but they will provide you with the everlasting fuel for the journey you are embarking on After the Mothership.
If you’ve ever used the wrong pump at the garage (yes, I know it’s really hard to fit the nozzle for the leaded petrol into an unleaded car but it IS possible), you’ll know it can make things run very badly. Sometimes it can cause a lot of damage that costs an awful lot to repair. So it’s worth taking care when you are choosing
Are you putting the right fuel in your engine?