Like many people, I started my own business after being “downsized” from a corporate job. For me, it was an easy choice; I’ve always been inclined to work for myself. Of my four-plus decades as part of the “work force,” I’ve spent well over three as a freelancer in one career or another.
Admittedly, it’s the nature of the beast for musicians, artists, producers, and other professions in my own career evolution. But it’s also just my own personal nature — I’ve just never been good at the 9-to-5 routine. During the early days of my working career, I was “let go” from more than one traditional job, usually for failing to be a good soldier and follow the rules. I say this with neither shame nor pride, but just as an observation that not all of us are cut out for a “normal” job.
I’ve often heard friends and colleagues remark that they wouldn’t have the motivation to have to constantly hustle for the next gig. And surely it’s not for everyone — it can be challenging, brutal, and scary, especially with a family to support. As one of my clients, a successful entrepreneur himself, once told me, “my motivation was that I wanted to eat.” But beyond survival and necessity, motivation is an inherent part of what makes the entrepreneur tick.
So what’s the secret to motivation? Turns out, motivation is directly intertwined with autonomy — the choice to take control. Motivation is part of the bargain we make to maintain autonomy.
In his excellent book, Smarter, Faster, Better, Charles Duhigg writes, “Scientists have found that people can get better at self-motivation if they practice the right way. The trick, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings. To motivate ourselves, we must feel like we are in control”
Indeed, studies have shown that when people feel they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They also tend to be more resilient, bouncing back faster from setbacks and frustrations.
This instinct for control is hard-wired into many of us at an early age. As I baby I apparently insisted on holding my spoon and feeding myself, even though most of my food never made it to my mouth. And just like the aforementioned entrepreneur, huger was a great motivator.
So what’s the secret to finding motivation? Entire books, courses, and self-help gurus’ careers have been built around answering the question. And while to a certain extent, what works for one may seem pointless to others, the evidence is pretty clear that having a stake in your own destiny is a big part of it all. Having made the choice to run my own ship, I choose every morning to open my computer and do the work. Not merely because I like to eat, but because I cherish the notion that I get to choose.