How to Determine What Drives You (and Why It's Important)

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You know how it feels to work on a project that doesn’t excite you. Deadlines loom, the work drags, and you dread sitting down to complete any task associated with it. Worst of all, when you’re finally done with it, you don’t feel any strong sense of accomplishment or reward. You’re just happy it’s finished. Even if you don’t know why you aren’t driven by this work, you do know that it’s absolutely not for you.

When I ran the digital department at a beauty PR firm, the work didn’t resonate with me. For many years, I had thought that working in the beauty industry would be a dream. When that dream materialized, the reality didn’t match my expectations. I wasn’t driven by the core values of the company or my own job responsibilities, which set me up to make mistakes. It’s not that it wasn’t a great job. Ultimately, it just didn’t overlap with my passions and interests. The job didn’t light me up to think about, talk about, or do.

It was obvious that I was in the wrong job. And it opened to door to find a career that I do love.

I had always known that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, like everyone else in my family. It’s in my blood. When I was first considering it, however, I had no idea what my business would look like. Yes, I knew that I wanted to be my own boss and build something from the ground up. But what? What kind of work would make me excited to wake up every morning? What type of work would continually drive and motivate me?

Over time I realized that, what I enjoy the most, both in my personal life and my career, is supporting, encouraging, and cheerleading others. It’s something I do naturally, and I love it. When I realized that I could turn that into a career, it became clear that I should set my sights on becoming a coach.

When I prioritized a career that I felt passionate about, it allowed other aspects of my life to fall into place too. I’ve always been passionate about travel, and my career now allows me to work from other time zones and take trips to new cities, all on my own timeline. For the past several years, I’ve also been able to align my healthy lifestyle goals with my career. I can’t imagine what my health would look like if I was still working in a job that made me miserable. But now, my career, health, and lifestyle goals don’t have to compete. I feel driven by all my experiences, and they work together to help move me forward.

In my experience, many people find that when they evaluate their sources of drive and motivation, they realize that a career change is in order. For many of my clients, this means taking on entrepreneurship. They can build their own business, be their own boss, and choose work that drives and excites them.

Of course, determining exactly what drives you is easier said than done. You know when something isn’t working and when something is, but that involves trial and error...and error...and error. If you’re trying to find clarity on your sources of passion and motivation, there are actually a few easier ways to go about it.

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1. Think about it first thing in the morning. Right after the alarm clock rings, take a moment to gauge how you feel about the day ahead. It’s okay if you’re sleepy; that’s part of the purpose of the exercise. Because you’ve just woken up, your responses are less guarded. Are you motivated to put your feet on the floor and get going? If so, what about your day is exciting to you? If not, what aspects of it are weighing you down?

Or, come at it from another angle, and get specific about what drives you. Each morning, write down five things you’re grateful for and another five things you’re looking forward to. I like to save these lists and refer back to them after a week or even a month has gone by, as patterns of thinking are often revealed.

2. Make a list of your most rewarding professional and personal experiences. When we feel that an experience is personally or professionally rewarding, it’s often because we have invested a lot of our time or talent in it. When we do this willingly, it’s a strong indication that we care deeply about it. Think about the experiences that made you feel the proudest. What factors do they have in common? What parts of your personality did you rely on as you navigated them? If you end up recounting experiences that all happened a long time ago, think about what changed between then and now. Did you change career paths because you thought you should? Did you give up on a dream? If so, do you want to make changes to your lifestyle, making room for something you find more rewarding?

3. Talk to friends and family about how they see you. Impressions from anyone — friends and family included — have to be taken with a grain of salt. Sometimes, though, listening to how others perceive you can help you find clarity. It’s easy to take your best qualities for granted. For instance, when I became a coach, I’d already been acting as a cheerleader for my friends and family for years. They knew me as someone who loved supporting people, and though I always knew that was something I loved doing, I didn’t think it was a quality I could build a business around. Of course, I was totally wrong about that!