Unpopular opinion: you won’t succeed without your selfish drives (money, validation)

note: I just realized something about motivation and thought that others might benefit from it. Let me know if it gets you thinking.

When it comes to motivation, we would all love to be above the desire to make money or be validated by other founders. We would love to be solely focused on helping people with our skills in a benevolent way.

As I read mission-statements from famous startups, it seems like it's a very common drive to have:

  • Airbnb's mission is to help create a world where you can belong anywhere and where people can live in a place, instead of just traveling to it
  • Amazon strives to offer their customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience
  • Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful

When I read all that, it does feel quite inspiring: a great and ambitious purpose that can benefit mankind!

The thing that I’ve noticed though, is that it’s not a strong enough motivation for me to get up in the morning.

Sure, it’s quite thrilling to imagine that my startup could improve the lives of millions of entrepreneurs someday. I want that to happen! But as I’m still not making a living with my dream project, a big aspirational goal like this seems abstract and far off.

Although I’d love to be motivated by purely altruistic reasons, right now 80% of what I care about is making enough money to be able to keep working on it.

As I look around this motivation, I notice that what truly gets me fired up is way less glamorous than I would like:

  • I want to make millions in sales and never be afraid of lacking money ever again
  • I want to prove to all the people who doubted me that I’m better than they thought
  • I want to become a famous entrepreneur who people love and admire for his vision

There I said it!

These are motivations that I usually try to hide or push back, but right now as I’m looking for ramen profitability, they work. Even though thinking of money and social validation seems opposite to what a mission statement should be, it’s what does it for me.

It seemed strange at first, but it might not be. As I reflect on this, I’m reminded of Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

maslow pyramid of needs
(if you don't know about it, here's the wikipedia page)

Yes, a higher purpose is what we all aspire to. Finding a way to benefit mankind following our deep values. But the truth is that it only becomes tangible once we have our basic needs met:

  1. financial security
  2. recognition from our peers

As much as we try to avoid or push these lower drives down, they are still very much active. They won’t disappear until we meet them, and pushing them back is actually counter-productive. Instead of completing a level and resting securely on it, we try to jump too far ahead and lose our balance.

So next time you judge yourself for wanting to make lots of money or getting validation, remember that your desires are there for a good reason. You likely still need to focus on them for a while.

You’re actually on a path to help the world more deeply, it's just that right now you need to take care of yourself first.

When you look at mission statements from successful startups, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s what made them get up in the morning. Like you and me, all they wanted initially was to make money and get love from their peers. It’s only after they got it that they started focusing on higher aspirational goals.

The sooner you embrace your needs for money and validation, the more energy you'll have to make your project succeed. In time, you will find plenty of genuine motivation to make the world a better place.

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