The power of motivation to advance your career

The power of motivation to advance your career

Do you know exactly why you want to advance your career?

Is it because you want tenure? A promotion? A higher income? More influence? Opportunities to work on more interesting projects?

Though you might have an idea of what you want your career trajectory to look like, knowing why you want it to look like that might not be quite as simple. Of course, in school and when you enter the workforce, you’ll probably discuss the general progression of someone in your profession. But all too often, people simply accept this advancement as “the logical path.” Though this can be sufficient motivation to put in the hours and apply for promotions when the time’s right, it lacks the power of strong, personal motivation. What’s more: it could even indicate a stronger tendency towards avoiding failure by taking the path well-traveled rather than pursuing success by going out of your comfort zone.

So what role does authentic motivation play in your career advancement, and how can you find yours?

Failure-avoiding behavior vs. achievement-motivated behavior

In a Psychology Today article titled “How Do High Achievers Really Think?,” Carl Beuke, Ph.D., explains that there are two types of motivational behavior.

People who display failure-avoiding behavior do things not so much to succeed, but rather to protect themselves from the distressing experience of failing. Embarrassment and feelings of incompetence aren’t pleasant. Consequences such as losing value in someone’s eyes, being taken off projects, or even being fired are all very difficult to deal with. So it’s not surprising that a large number of people are inclined to stay within their comfort zone, where they’re confident they won’t fail. When faced with challenging tasks, they’ll likely procrastinate or avoid the situation entirely by employing “self-handicapping” tactics such as reporting in sick.

People with achievement-motivated behavior want to accomplish something significant. Successfully completing demanding tasks is gratifying to them. Consequently, they’ll both seek out challenges that they believe add value to their lives and that of others, as well as put in a great deal of effort over extended timespans. If they fail, they’ll keep trying until they get it right.

How to become achievement-motivated

Clearly, if avoiding failure is your modus operandi and you want to advance your career, you need to adjust your behavior so you’re motivated by achievement. The way to do this is by finding something that you want so badly, you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

Let’s say you want a promotion but right now, because you haven’t been stepping out of your comfort zone, you’re not even in the running for it. To change your behavior, first find out why you want it. Is it about the salary raise? Is it because you want to take the lead on projects? Or is it because it will bring opportunities for more interesting work that will keep you engaged and allow you to really use all of your skills?

Find the reason that resonates most with you. Then imagine how you’d feel if you didn’t get the promotion. Disappointed, right? So now it’s time to get to work to make sure you’re the best candidate. Make a list of things you can do to stand out. Perhaps work a little faster or volunteer to help a colleague who’s swamped. Take on the tasks other people don’t want to—this will make your supervisor take note. If you need to acquire skills, talk to your supervisor about learning them on the job, or sign up for a continued education course. Above all, work hard and never give up!

Being deeply motivated is the single most important driver of success. So take an honest look at the reasons you do things in your professional life, and determine if there are ways you can increase your motivation to advance your career.