Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Pillars of Motivation

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The sense of a higher purpose can be a great initiator, but I don’t believe this transforms into motivation. Lasting motivation connects with a sense of a higher self. A self above “ourself”, because tomorrow I will not be myself any more. I may not even be. Even if I am still alive in a year, I may be entirely unrecognizable to myself today.

A higher self doesn’t necessarily define a higher purpose? I have searched for purpose. But why? Why do I search for purpose?

I like Motivation

Motivation is ambiguous and hard to chase. Fortunately, there is a lot of research on what motivates us. The best overview I’ve found is from the work of Dan Pink, animated by the RSA:

While Autonomy, Master and Purpose are presented as prerequisites to motivation, they are hard (or to me, impossible) to develop in unison. I’ve found it much better to work on each pillar individually.


My first approach is autonomy, which was the most frightening. At first, I thought that this meant choosing my own path and deciding what I do. This misunderstanding got in my way for a while, but I made progress.

I learned that autonomy can exist within substantive partnerships. This made autonomy much easier, but it still is a challenge to balance carving out a section to work within while collaborating with others.

Autonomy gave me pride in my work, allowing me to feel good about what I was working on.


Mastery always felt easier, or more natural. This is not exactly the way it reflected in my work, though. Often times the quality didn’t increase, but I would get more efficient. I’m not sure if this is true mastery, but it doesn’t feel like it.

True mastery, to me, is increasing quality and efficiency. It’s very difficult to do this without autonomy. If someone is pressuring you to get something completed within constraints you do not choose, efficiency is more important.

Mastery is the how, which requires Autonomy, the what, to support it.


The hardest and perhaps most ambiguous pillar of internal motivation is the idea of Purpose. Especially if you struggle with the notion of a higher purpose, something bigger than me. Autonomy can be bought, Mastery can be trained.

Purpose must be earned.

Purpose is struggling to find an answer to keep going, and realizing the answer is the question. It’s existing within a question about making something new, or something better. There is no answer.

Purpose is asking Why but not caring about the answer.