The Myth of Money Motivation

By Jonathan Timar
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I’ll never forget the moment I heard those words.

I was sitting in the back row, at a sales training seminar. I had already made up my mind that I was in the wrong place, training for the wrong job. But I had not yet found the courage to be true to myself and leave.

We were cooped up in an office tower, in a room with that was much too small for the number of people in it. I was wearing an uncomfortable, cheap suit that was slightly too small, and I had been wearing it for far too many days in a row. It was the only one I owned, purchased out of necessity by a man who hates wearing a suit.

The seminar was lead by a middle aged Italian guy, a veteran of the industry. Tall, well dressed, smooth talking, likeable, and just sleazy enough to get away with it. He’d talked to us about various steps in what he referred to as the “sales cycle”. Lead generation, cold calling, follow ups, ask for the sale. In other words, nothing ground-breaking. All in all the seminar had been more than a little boring, but I wasn’t ready to give up and admit that I’d made a mistake by heading down this path. Not yet.

Then he said it.

“You have to have some money motivation.”

Well shit. I was fresh out of that. To me, money was a necessary evil, a means to an end, not a goal in and of itself.

He went on. He explained how are job is actually kind of un-interesting, so you needed to excite yourself by always thinking about the money you were going to make. Thinking about the money was going to give you the strength to do those cold calls, pressure those customers, make those sales.

Well, actually, no. It wasn’t. And I knew it right at that moment without a shadow of a doubt.

I don’t remember how much longer I kept attending the training seminars, pretending that I had any hope of ever doing the things I was being told to do. But it wasn’t long.

What really motivates people

It’s a pretty loaded question isn’t it? And obviously it does not have any one answer. We are all so very different, and what matters to one persons might be completely meaningless to the next. But I do believe we all have one thing in common:

Money is not what motivates us.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, you know people who love money, and you are pretty sure they are more than a little motivated by it. Maybe you are one of them. But are you sure that money is really at the root of it?

Money, in an of itself, has no value beyond the value of the paper it is printed on, or the metal it’s cast out of. If you were suddenly unable to spend money, it would cease to have any value whatsoever for anyone other than collectors of currency, and perhaps for people who enjoy looking at monochromatic portraits of royalty and dead politicians.

Money is worthless. It’s what money represents that is worth something. For most of us, money represents the ability to buy things, or stuff. For some of people, the acquisition of things is their primary goal in life, and really the only thing they truly care about. Bigger house, better car, a giant lawn mower.

If the only thing you care about is buying stuff, then you’re probably happy doing whatever it takes to get the money you need to do it, and you might be the sort who could be convinced you are motivated by money, when in reality you are motivated by things.

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    But what if you don’t care about “stuff”?

    What if you feel like you have enough stuff, or you feel like a lot of stuff can actually be a hindrance?

    What if you are more concerned with living a life of purpose, and making a difference in the world?

    What if you value creativity, passion, and derive your sense of fulfillment from something that money can’t buy?

    What if you are lifestyle motivated?

    Money motivation versus lifestyle motivation

    The following table compares money motivation and lifestyle motivation using the best tool we have, language.

    Money MotivationLifestyle Motivation
    attaining statusstaying healthy
    ownership of thingsownership of life
    being richhaving a rich life
    good jobgood life
    family planningmaking plans with the family

    I could probably make this list a lot longer if I sat here long enough thinking about it, but I think you get the idea.

    Now, consider yourself in relation to this list? Which column more accurately describes what’s important to you in your own life?

    If you’re squarely in the left hand column, congratulations. You are truly money motivated, and it probably doesn’t matter what you do with your life, you’ll still be happy.

    If, however, you are in the right side of the list as I believe most people are, then perhaps it is time to examine if the way you spend most of your time is in line with these things. If it isn’t, then you probably live life in a state ranging from vaguely dissatisfied to downright miserable, especially if you have ever attempted to do something “for the money” that negatively impacted your enjoyment of life.

    Putting lifestyle first

    Years ago, I used to read the website of a man by the name of Ken Kifer. He passed away back in 2003, but his website still exists today, a testament to the impact he made on people.

    I used to read his travel logs back when I was a young teenager, and I quite frankly I found them riveting. Ken was a lifelong cyclist, and particularly enjoyed long distance touring. He would pack everything he needed on his bike, and then ride around the continent for weeks at a time. He was also something of a philosopher, and was very open about his views on the way people live their lives.

    Ken himself lived a modest life by any estimation. Somewhere on his website he mentions that he got by on an income of $5000.00 per year. Most of you probably hear that and wonder who a person could possibly be satisfied with that. But Ken was, and it’s abundantly clear from his writing.

    He was satisfied because he had made lifestyle his priority.

    Now I am not saying everyone should be satisfied with self-imposed poverty. Obviously not. But what I am saying it that if you have been going after money on the hope that it will provide you with a lifestyle, the perhaps you should consider doing to opposite.

    Making the decision to put your quality of life higher on the priority list than money can be difficult in our world. Most people won’t understand it. But if you ignore the negative opinions of those around you, it will pay off.