What To Do If You Have Lost All Motivation For Your Work
Updated: Mar 22, 2020
Maybe some event catalyzed this change inside, or maybe it’s been a slow progression, but now you find yourself with very little of the motivation for your work and career that you used to have. And it’s a tricky spot to be in, as you may be looking around to see many around you working hard, taking things seriously, and continuing their drive to hit the marks. That used to be you, but now things feel different.
If this resonates, I’ve been there too. To be honest, I still am. To reveal that feels like exposing a secret as our collective culture values drive and ambition so much that lacking them feels like something to hide. Truthfully, I haven’t had any motivation since 2015. Losing it was scary and disorienting, but really a gift. It forced me to look closer at what motivation is often really about and see the real drive behind the drive.
I found “motivation” to actually be a potentially harmful, unhelpful at best, concept. Your losing it can be an opportunity to see this and open the door for change. There is something else much more sane, sustainable and nourishing to orient one’s life; real motivation that isn’t even motivation at all.
Before 2015, I lived my life with a ton of motivation driving me. It got me up every morning and propelled my day. I worked hard and gave "success" my all. Rest and enjoyment of life was a distant consideration or something that would only come in the future. It was exhausting. So much so that I completely burnt myself out. By the end of grad school and three jobs later I crashed.
Then I had to take a look at what all that motivation was really about—fear. And from speaking with my coaching clients I can see that’s the energy behind many people’s motivation in their work. To say, “I’m motivated” can often really mean, “I’m afraid and I’m going to work hard to get this thing I think I need to be safe.”
What’s actually driving you is often fear
For me, I was generating all my energy to work hard, strive and succeed from a place of fear that I'm not good enough if I don't make something important and successful of myself. I didn't have any genuine desire to do the things I was doing in my life. I was only doing them so I could meet the need of proving my worth through names on a resume or accomplishments. There was no authentic desire underpinning the motivation to get up every day, just a ton of fear.
Maybe for you it’s not about proving yourself. Maybe it’s a level of wealth you think will make you feel secure. Maybe it’s achieving something you think will finally win you your parents’ approval. It could be any number of things, but I bet if you look there’s some fear there that has been providing the fuel to your past motivation. And while your motivation may be waning now from sheer exhaustion, that fear is likely still there and creating panic that you need to get your drive back ASAP. But, you just can’t. And that’s an invitation to look directly at the fear.
The fear is likely lying to you. And it’s making you deny yourself for delayed rewards that actually never come
First, look closely at what your fear is telling you. What is it saying you need to be or get? What does it say the consequences for failure are? Fear is more often than not, lying to you. So see how your thinking is not necessarily accurate. For me, the truth is that I already am enough. We are all already enough. No proving is ever required.
Next, look at what your fear has been getting you to do and the lengths it’s been getting you to go. There’s usually an inner narrative that says something like, “I need to sacrifice myself, deny my needs, my genuine desires, my enjoyment of life for the future reward, for the thing I need to feel safe.”
But the thing is that the future you’re hoping for never comes. Even if you hit the mark, get the promotion, the job title, the raise, the fill-in-the-blank, the feeling of safety you're chasing and sacrificing yourself for never really comes—the target just moves further out. The fatigue from this hamster wheel is part of the burnout.
As I hit a wall I realized that no amount of "success" would make me "enough." There's always the next hoop to jump, there would be no end to this and to the sacrificing of the enjoyment of my life. No future rest, and no feeling of safety, ever. Yes, the burnout was demotivating, but what really pulled the linchpin out of me was seeing all this false logic I was basing my life on.
It’s wonderful to see all this clearly. By recognizing the lies and false logic we’ve been following we can reclaim our life back from a lifetime of forced striving. But, I was left wondering, as you may be as well, “What will get me out of bed in the morning now? What will get me back to being engaged in my work?”
Shift from fear to enjoyment
If we’re not going to move from fear anymore, what else can we move from? We’ve got to connect with the genuine desire that has been lacking. We can stop forcing ourselves to do things that are a means to an illusionary end and start doing things that fulfill our desires in the present moment. You don’t need motivation when you’ve got enjoyment under your sails.
The inner narrative can instead say, “I'm excited to do this thing today because I genuinely want to for the sake of itself. And it will be immediately rewarding to do because it brings me enjoyment and satisfaction while I’m doing it.” There is no promise of a delayed reward for your sacrifice because there is no sacrifice required. It’s a much more sane, sustainable and fulfilling way to live. You could say you’re now motivated by the enjoyment, but usually, when we speak of doing things we like to do we don’t think of it in terms of motivation—we would never say “I’m motivated to pet my dog.” You just do it because it feels good, it’s a natural and genuine movement for you to do. There’s something actually in it for you, as opposed to “motivation” where there’s really nothing directly nourishing in it. You’re just doing it because of the mental narrative that someday it will pay off.
So how do you find enjoyment and what does this mean for your work?
In a nutshell, you stop denying yourself and start honoring who you are, what you like, what you’re naturally drawn toward and how you want to spend your days. You drop the shoulds, you drop the false fear-based storylines and instead of letting them push your desires aside, they come to be front and center. They’re the guide to what kind of work is going to feel good to you and get you excited to do.
What authentically feels good to you? What needs to change for you to experience enjoying what you do? Maybe you need to change jobs, change careers, change the nature of the work you’re doing in your industry, shift the clients you work with. You know best what you need to find that alignment, to find that spark. I’m just giving you the nudge to value it more and start looking for it. That’s what you’re wanting to find, not “motivation.”