There may not be a more stressful question you could ask a high school or college student. If it’s any console to them, many adults in their forties and fifties struggle with the same question.
Do you really want to keep doing this for the rest of your working life?
This question can be difficult whether you’re at your desired destination or in the last place you could have imagined. The students of today may need to perfect answering this question. It is likely they will be asked this often through 2060 when many of them will still be working.
If you are like most, you have struggled to answer one or both of these questions during one or more times throughout your life. While there are no easy answers, key insight may lie within us.
We should feel good that we have the luxury of asking ourselves these questions. It’s a luxury few had 100 years ago when over 90% of people worked on farms or in factories. At that time, people felt grateful for any paycheck and proud to be able to meet the basic needs of their families. While 100 year old stories don’t help with answers, they do help explain that this new era of prosperity (a good thing) is the reason we are so ill-equipped to respond.
The 3 billion base pairs in our DNA make us each unique on the molecular level. Our views and knowledge on 3 billion topics make us unique on the intellectual level. This makes giving advice on what is important to us very difficult. We all have unique extrinsic and intrinsic needs. Our needs are dynamic, altered often by success, failure and the acceptance of the changing realities. Our unmet needs can frustrate us forcing us to alter expectations or provide the motivation to take action.
Paycheck (Extrinsic Needs)
- Earnings – Income to purchase what we want
- Lifestyle – Be able to dine out, go to sporting events, travel, club membership
- Potential Earnings – The chance for a big promotion
- Wealth – Nice home, car, clothes and a big retirement fund
- Reputation – Show people your success with your career, car and home
Purpose (Intrinsic Needs)
- Purpose – being a good parent, making a difference in a person’s life, success of a business.
- Social Network – many enriching relationships with family, friends and colleagues
- Control – ability to leave work early to pursue a passion or watch your kids game
- Competition – the ability to enjoy competing and winning.
- Sense of Accomplishment – the feeling you have successfully made things happen
Now back the two dilemma questions. Insight into the answers may lie in how you feel about your extrinsic needs and intrinsic needs. Your best course may be somewhere between protecting your needs that are being met and taken action to address your unmet needs.
Paycheck or Purpose? It is a healthy dilemma that requires us to make choices and compromises to achieve our desired level of both. You can’t live day-to-day without the paycheck, yet its importance diminishes when we reflect back upon our lives. While paychecks pay the bills and enable dreams like college education, there are few end-of-life discussions about the size of the paycheck.
The study of human motivation has evolved with our prosperity progress, from the basic needs described by Freud and Maslow to the extrinsic and intrinsic needs of the Self-Determination Theory. Self-reflecting insight on these needs may help you decide what you want to be when you grow up or whether to make a career change. It’s insight that will help you determine whether to pursue a dream, big idea or a breakthrough innovation. It’s insight that may help you make almost anything happen.