Recalibration I.

I read an article in a recent issue of The Atlantic which focused on the worsening employment outlook for today’s economy. The article painted a fairly dismal picture connecting unemployment with a vast number of downstream impacts, including socio, interpersonal and self that had negative consequences many years after the economic downturn.

The article sheds light on several impacted demographics – including recent graduates looking for work. This particular demographic – known as the “Millennials” or “New Boomers” – is referenced in a book called “Generation Me” by Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

In her book, Twenge ties the manner by which this generation was raised, their resulting high self-esteem, and their potential long-term success, particularly when faced with a jobless economy.

She notes that “… self-esteem in children began rising sharply around 1980, and hasn’t stopped since.  By 1999, according to one survey, 91 percent of teens described themselves as responsible, 74 percent as physically attractive, and 79 percent as very intelligent. (More than 40 percent of teens also expected that they would be earning $75,000 a year or more by age 30; the median salary made by a 30-year-old was $27,000 that year.) Twenge attributes the shift to broad changes in parenting styles and teaching methods, in response to the growing belief that children should always feel good about themselves, no matter what. As the years have passed, efforts to boost self-esteem—and to decouple it from performance—have become widespread.

“These efforts have succeeded in making today’s youth more confident and individualistic. But that may not benefit them in adulthood, particularly in this economic environment. Twenge writes that “self-esteem without basis encourages laziness rather than hard work,” and that “the ability to persevere and keep going” is “a much better predictor of life outcomes than self-esteem.

This really struck a chord with me as I have always believed that the key to success is self-confidence.  The fact that “… the ability to persevere is a better predictor of life outcomes” is a refreshing perspective.  In fact, I wonder if my challenge isn’t more about perseverance than it is about confidence.  This is an opportunity.

In thinking more about my development in 2010, I would like to improve my skills in three main areas – self-motivation, persistence and connection.  While I am not necessarily lacking in these three areas, it can be difficult to measure progress without a clear understanding of the underlying maturity model associated with each.  This exploration is also key to further push the “advancement envelope”.

The concept of motivation is something that ultimately drives one to achieve something. If you aren’t motivated to do anything, then it’s unlikely that positive things will happen to you (or anything for that matter).  However, motivation can be measured on a scale all of its own.

Of course, the two extremes are obvious – you are motivated to act, or you aren’t.  But what’s in the middle? How do you measure motivation?  And is there just one dimension to this motivation scale?

Let’s explore this concept in more depth.

A wish to learn new things has been a primary motivator in my life.  To go a step further, formal education can be an excellent motivator all on its own – you pay someone to teach you and indirectly hold you accountable through deadlines, quizzes and exams.  Through the process, you naturally become motivated to get a good grade.  In essence, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of its own – i.e. I want to learn so I take a class, which pushes me to learn more through the identification of a “grade” which allows me to achieve the goal I originally set out to do.

Another commonly heard motivator is money or material wealth.  While money does not bring happiness, studies have shown that people who have a reasonable amount of wealth are generally happier than those who do not.  Thus, attaining money is a powerful motivator.  But is money the motivator, or is the happiness that seems to come with it?

A third motivator is the simple act of pleasing others.  Your relationships with your family and friends may be important enough to drive you to act independent of goal.  Doing something to please others can be its own self-fulfilling prophecy  – i.e. your contributions give a sense of happiness to the other party which can improve the relationship (you are both happy).  The complexity in this case arises when the motivator begins to take on a life of its own.  Using the example just described, this motivator can start to work against the actor if the entire reason for acting is the underlying happiness of the other.

As you can begin to see, the concept of motivation is fairly complex.  What may be labeled as the motivation “source” may in fact be a mask for the true motivator (i.e. is it money or happiness?)  Motivators can also be deceiving – a genuine motivation source may begin to erode over time if the aim isn’t becoming increasingly visible.  Motivators can also be visualized to gain a greater understanding of what is driving (and perhaps what should be driving) the activity.

In a later post under the same title, I’ll explore this concept in more depth.  I’ll also start to introduce the concept of perseverance as I believe the two are closely related.