Self Care October 21, 2020

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

Dagobert Renouf @dagorenouf

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.

  1. 1

    "I don't want to live in a world where someone else is making the world a better place better than we are" (Belson, Silicon Valley Tv series)

    I think that is the real philosophy of most unicorns. Those big monopolies with fancy inspiring missions splayed on their walls are more self driven than any one person. They burn their markets, put prices in the ground and spend all their day trying to get perfect retention. There is no love and fluffiness there.

    Google is not dismantling itself any time soon and the SEM part is becoming more and more relevant than SEO, will not go into the Social Dillema stuff (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11464826/) yet making a better world seems more of an accidental afterthought. Having a mission is more of an acquisition/retention strategy now a days.

    As you are pointing out, philosophy only works on a full belly.

    Yet I do believe you can get yourself inspired, but it has to come from a internal driving pain and not some fluffy nice sounding mantra.

    Like how batman can't accept injustice, he doesn't need to write it on the wall, it's a raw real pain, from his life and experience, which informs and makes believable a billionaire character crazily running on the rooftops and beating up bad guys. Imagine the army I'd have if I were a billionaire cartoon.. justice at scale, not too inspiring, but the parties and yachts...

    I expect part of jumping out of bed on Mondays is not necessarily money as much as the pain and headaches that would go with losing that predictable source of income. Money feels more of a translation layer that hides the real cause. We are emotional creatures, and a strong pain seems a very good motivator.

    And for most of us here there is a lot of struggle in not being free, I can't really accept living the 30 years living dependent on a job, not being able to do what I want, when I want. It sounds childish because that's how the best pains are :) deeply rooted and all.

    So if you can find a nice, deep pain you can always count on it to help you move forward. Can't stand dependence? Side-hustling and grinding here I am. You can always spin it into a more commercial vision for your product:

    "Our mission is to create a freer world where 9-5 jobs are not a norm, where people are free to find themselves and to grow their passions. Join a place of diversity, of artisans and quirky talents, where value and fulfillment are created each day. Together we'll create a free world, a diverse world, a fair world."

    Click subscribe ;)

    Good luck on getting those millions, I understand it's not the end all, be all, but I firmly believe you gotta get there personally before you can move forward.

    Thank you for posting.

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