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Are We Pushed or Pulled Toward Meaningful Work?

tug of war image, meaningful work

Image by Oliver Tam

By: Mark Guterman

People are motivated by a combination of excitement and hope on one side and fear and anxiety on the other. These opposing forces, if you will, are the central drivers in our lives, and the strength, proportions, and hold they have on us can and does change over time. As a result, our choices and decisions are better or worse, leading to a wide range of outcomes. The good news is that, with focus and discipline, we can choose how to integrate the push and pull of these motivators.

We are taught to believe that excitement and hope are our better natures and that fear and anxiety are to be overcome. I’d like to suggest, instead, that both ends of the spectrum can provide energy if we learn how to balance and use them to get on with our lives. Think for a moment about the last time you accomplished something significant. Odds are that along the way, your motivation waxed and waned, moving in some ways through both fear and excitement, and all of it leading to your achievement. Let’s celebrate both the push and the pull.
So, how can one harness both sides of the motivational equation to achieve maximum affect?

  1. Explore your insides (thoughts, feelings, memories, dreams, and so on) to figure out where you are on the motivation spectrum and how strong or prominent the specific elements are. You can discover this through any “quiet” practice such as meditation, journaling, drawing, listening to music, etc. Once you know what all the pieces are, try to bring them into your search for meaningful work.
  2. Clarify, define, and claim your values. Identify what makes them important to you, how you want them to show up in your work life, and what risks you are willing to take on in order to make them integral in your work. This “values risk analysis” may trigger your anxiety; hang with it long enough to find the motivation waiting inside.
  3. Practice imagining a time in the future when your work life is everything you hope and wish for. Let yourself immerse in that vision and then come back to the here and now. Next, determine a pathway to that future, being sure to include all of the things that are working for you and those working against you. Be honest and realistic in this assessment and try to figure out the best ways to make everything you have work in your favor.

Owning and using all of who we are leads to a deeper sense of self. Our “authenticity” then becomes the “touchstone to see us through the inevitable ups and downs on the journey to meaningful work. This push and pull is part and parcel of who we are and when we harness it fully, we are more likely to experience a deep sense of success and happiness in our work lives.


MeaningfulCareers.com was created by Mark Guterman and Dan King, two guys with a shared commitment to the power of meaningful work. They help professionals find greater meaning in their careers, lead happier, more satisfying lives, and instill lasting value through their work. For more information and resources visit: http://meaningfulcareers.com.


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