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Motivation – Am I having a mid-life crisis?

Everything you need – is on the other side of FEAR!

What does asking about a midlife crisis have to do with a blog on motivation you ask? Read on and I’ll explain.

The renowned philosopher Socrates has been quoted to have coined the notion that “wisdom is knowing that we know nothing”. He is credited with the “Socratic Method” of questioning. Questions intended to stimulate “critical thinking” to draw out our underlying presumptions and beliefs.

As I ponder about motivation, I can’t help but think about “the meaning of life” as I’m sure, many of you will have no doubt done at one time or another. Before I share my story, let’s have a look at some of the underlying questions.

On a personal level, we may ask ourselves questions such as;

  • What is motivation?
  • What triggers it?
  • How do we get it?

From a professional perspective, we may ask;

  • How can we motivate people (our workforce) that add value to our business?

What the research says

Much has been researched and written about motivation with various strategies about how to go about understanding it and using it to motivate others.

In 2006 I embarked on an MBA, graduating mid-2008. In a couple of my modules (Leadership and Organisational Development) there were three motivational theories in particular that I recall;

  1. Taylor’s “scientific theory”, best summarised as; be efficient in what you do, and you will be rewarded (paid) based on your productivity.
  2. Herzberg’s “two-factor theory”, the main point being, that getting the balance between motivators (intrinsic – responsibility, meaningful work, achievement and recognition) and hygiene/maintenance factors (extrinsic – pay, conditions and appropriate leadership) is critical.
  3. Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”, outline five needs that must be satisfied – physiological (basic needs), safety, love & belonging (group/connection), esteem/respect and self-actualisation; in that order.

I tend to identify more with Herzberg – balance.

Many more have contributed to the study and have provided further findings including Daniel Pink’s idea of AMP in his book “Drive – The surprising truth about what motivates us”. In summary, he notes that there are three key elements that humans need to be motivated;

  1. Autonomy: Our need for independence and freedom from external control or influence;
  2. Mastery: Our need for comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or activity;
  3. Purpose: Our need to understand our reason for being.

Others have taken a different perspective and provided us with a lens to understand how our brain works, such as Dr C.Dweck with her book “Mindset” where she talks about the fixed and growth mindset. Others like R.Bandler & J.Grinder provide tools such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) made famous by people such as Tony Robbins.

Having read, studied and implemented these various theories and methodologies on a personal and professional basis, experience has taught me that it still comes down to one motivational question – what is my purpose in life?

So, am I having a midlife crisis by asking that question at this time my life?

And, at what age do we ask this question? Is it different in men compared to women?

Have I/we always asked this question? What is the difference between the other times that I may have asked this question and this time around?

Perhaps, the difference is that I am ready to take action.

Perhaps, as M Gladwell puts it in his book Outliers, I have achieved my “10,000 hours” of mastery – therefore, perhaps I feel that I am now ready to fulfil my purpose.

But how do we know what our purpose is supposed to be?

I would like to suggest that my purpose in life, was established in my early years around the age of seven.

Here’s why.

Here’s a part of my story.

As a child, I grew up in a Christian home on the pacific island of Samoa. I was the eldest son and from an early age, I was taught by my parents, that service to others is the duty of a leader.

My mother often relays stories to me about my childhood. A story that gives me warm feelings, was when I was seven. My parents had gone to the markets and whilst they were gone, I had climbed a breadfruit tree and collected breadfruit (think very large potatoes that grow on trees).

I then climbed a coconut tree and gathered coconut to make coconut cream. I removed the outer husk and then cracked open the coconut shell to expose the eatable flesh, but I could not squeeze the cream out, so I went to my grandmother and asked her to do it – which she did.

Making coconut cream

I then collected taro leaves from our plantation, layered several of them together into a pouch-like shape, poured the coconut cream in and made them into little round bundles ready to cook.

Then I made a umu which is an outside oven made by putting down a bonfire and putting rocks on top of the food to cook. Once the wood had burned down to hot coals and the rocks were hot, you spread out the rocks and coals and then you proceed to place the food where you want and layer them based on what you were cooking, separating them with hot stones and banana leaves and covering with a hessian cloth. I did this all on my own at the age of seven, motivated or what!

Side Note: If you want to learn more about these “earth ovens”, watch this Youtube video featuring a good friend of mine and comedian Tofiga Fepulea’i.

A couple of hours later when the umu was ready, I removed the covering, plated the food for my grandparents and took it to their house which was next door on our custodian land. Just then, my parents came home to witness what was taking place.

My mother’s eyes often fill with tears of pride whenever she tells me this story. She also tells me about how I slept next to my grandmother’s bed when she was sick so that I could empty her bedpan in the middle of the night once she had used it.

On the day that I prepared the umu, and once my grandfather had eaten his meal, he gave me this blessing – that I would be successful in whatever I do and that I would “be a blessing to others”.

The amazing thing is, I remember those exact words from my grandfather’s mouth. My mother’s stories have reinforced that memory. I have often reflected on that day and it has had such a profound impact on my life, that I have taken small actions to this point to make progress in fulfilling that purpose.

The aha moment

So, in what might be considered by others as a midlife crisis, I tend to view it as an awakening and a coming of age.

My heart has spoken, and I will honour it.

To that end, in recent years I have changed my direction, starting with taking my family around Australia on a Bare Essentials Adventure for six months, then I paused and strategised. To check out the Facebook diary of our trip, click here.

Following that, I started my own business and connected with link minded people.

What’s my purpose in life? What motivates me?

Answer – to be a “blessing to others”.

How do I plan to deliver on this purpose? By establishing the Village Business Incubator (VBI). In concept, it is a facility, a shared working space of sorts that will enable At-Risk and Disadvantaged Youth to realise their human potential to be successful through setting up a business. For more information about the VBI, click here.

How does this relate to our own motivation and our employee’s motivation?

I suspect that you already know what motivates you and that your employees already know what motivates them. The skill is in the asking as Socrates puts it.

As leaders, let’s ask what people’s personal stories are in order to help them realise their own “reason for being”.

As thought leaders, let’s continue to ask and critically question ourselves about our underlying beliefs and assumptions about why we do the things that we do.

Whatever the case, be curious to explore the opportunities that present – then listen by taking small incremental actions to build self-confidence and momentum.

As always, I would love to hear your own thoughts.

PS: What’s your purpose in life? Perhaps it was established in your early years. Tell that story that matters – Yours!

Share my Insight and help someone else!

About the Author

Trusted advisor and implementer of transformational change, business turnaround and restructure strategies for CEOs and Boards in not-for-profits, public service and blue chip multinationals.

A visionary strategist and pragmatic operationalist with 25+ years experience that can bridge Technology, Operations & HR.

Having worked in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, he is very aware of the impact of technology changes on culture in organisations big and small.

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