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The question of money and motivation has been around for a long time Google “money and motivation” and you’ll get 531,000,000 results. Years of research, and countless books and articles have been, and continue to be, written, about money and motivation. From my perspective, much of the focus on money and motivation points to the superficial needs of people or points toward the immediate gratification that money seems to bring. The inquiry around money as a motivator must be explored more deeply if one is to truly understand the nature of the so-called relationship between money and motivation.

There are a number of personal orientations relating to money and motivation. Some of these are:

1. I’m not making as much money as I’d like, but I absolutely love my work, or the flexibility, or the control I have, or the opportunity for creativity, etc. ( (the “starving artist” perspective)

2. I need to be in this salary range, make this much money, because I need to be seen as “somebody” as opposed to “nobody” in my circle of friends, acquaintances, family, etc. who view “money” as a merit badge of some kind.

3. It’s not the money, per se, but what the money “gets” me….i.e., possessions, stuff, materialism…which point to some level of status, “being somebody”  and being recognized, which gives one an egoic sense of “having arrived.”

4. I need more and more money as I’ll never have enough, reflecting the reality that “your expenses always rise to meet your income” syndrome. As I said recently to an attorney client of mine who is living from this orientation and feeling frustrated, financially, “If you feel you cannot live on two million dollars a year, what makes you think you will live, comfortably, on three million?”

4. Unconsciously filling the psycho-emotional “hole” of lack and deficiency which subsumes one or more of the above orientations and is the driver of the obsession with having money and needing more money, and what money “gets” one in order to feel (albeit fleetingly) whole and complete – the illusion that money provides a sense of self, or a sense of one’s worth or value. Yes, money can and does give one a sense of control, safety and security, but, as Abraham Maslow and other research suggest, once one’s basic financial needs are met, additional money probably won’t increase one’s true and real happiness.

At the end of the day, it’s important to look at the intrinsic notion of motivation, that motivation is driven by one’s inner values and so it’s important to explore one’s values and from where one’s values emanate, i.e., from one’s True and Real Self, one’s Inner Core or from one’s ego-driven needs for control, recognition and security which result in often-misguided values, the relentless pursuit of which, usually leads one to experience a “lifestyle” (certainly not a life) mired in the self-sabotaging thinking and behaviors reflecting frustration, resentment, anger, hate, rage, entitlement, misguided choices, and the feeling of never having or being enough.

When one comes from one’s Core Values, one’s Inner Sense of what is important in life and living, then intrinsic, or self-motivation, is at the heart of a life well-lived, at work, at home, at play and in relationship. Intrinsic motivation is at the heart of creativity, self-management, self-responsibility, healthy behavior (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological social, and, yes, financial). Money, in this sense, has a different emotional and psychological energy around it, a softer energy, not unlike the energy reflected by one who says, “I love my work and I can’t believe I get paid for doing this.”

Many folks, in the relentless pursuit of “money,” actually lose sight of what it was in the first place that got their juices flowing, e.g., having the “corner office” blocks, or short-circuits, the initial love of the work; or obtaining the” title” or position interferes with one’s initial love of mentoring and supporting others and finding that the relentless pressure to make and have more money, or a bigger title becomes more important than the joy one used to experience when one was focused on one’s love of the work itself. Losing one’s way along the way. The mid-life crisis that now often starts at 30.

Money, as the ultimate driver, then veils the clarity of one’s choices and one often makes unfortunate and self-sabotaging choices when controlled by money. I often experience this kind of illusion in my work with some clients, individuals who have made self-defeating choices in their work life, social life and spiritual life because the lens with which they viewed their world and their place in the world had become “green.”

For many of those who believe that “money” is the sign of “success,” or that money is what it takes to be “somebody,” etc., long-term success is often unattainable; it’s a “Sisyphean approach to living.

For many folks, it’s when they have experienced enough anger, anxiety, frustration, feelings of inadequacy unhappiness and loneliness, fueled by their misguided values and beliefs that “money buys happiness, so I need or more of it,” that they then have a real motivation to change and adapt a life and lifestyle that is truly Values-based, values that emanate from their True and Real Self, where money is important, but not an obsession (conscious or unconscious).

Motivation from this Inner place is much different. Motivation from this Inner place is not bounded by internalized pressures to have more, or by rigid, self-sabotaging inner structures or beliefs, or by paralyzing self-criticism that one is not (“_____ enough”) for lack of more money. From this Inner state, one realizes that one’s true worth and value is not financially driven. That one’s purpose in life and the meaning one derives from life and work is intrinsically driven from one’s Inner Core Values.

From this place, one comes to one’s world of work or play from the perspective of a whole person, as one whose choices, volitions, motivations and intentions are driven by a freedom that was heretofore restricted and constricted by the “value” of money.

Finally, I have crossed paths with folks who feel that money allows them to be autonomous. Actually, the opposite seems more true that money has forced many of these folks to live in an emotional and psychological prison whose bars are the self-defeating, self-sabotaging and controlling beliefs and behaviors driving these folks to do, be, and have in a way that forces them into a lifestyle (again, not a life) mimicking the lifestyles of the folks living in their own prisons on either side of them…the illusion of autonomy, not the actions of one living from the place of one’s True and Real self.

From this Inner Self, the energy of “I am,” “I can,” “I will,” “I have,” “I choose,” “I love,” “I create” and “I enjoy,” that is, intrinsic motivation and intention, flows with a sense of purposefulness, ease, grace, settledness and grounding that does not have a “price tag.” Money is almost a by-product.

Some questions for self-reflection are:

  • How would you describe your relationship with money?
  • Do you feel accountable and self-responsible when it comes to managing your money?
  • Do you know exactly how much you own and how much you owe?
  • If you were independently wealthy, would you continue to work?
  • Do you balance your checkbook properly and regularly?
  • Do you buy gifts for others even though you can’t afford them?
  • Do you have a tendency to blame others for your financial troubles (boss, parents, banks, credit card companies, etc.)?
  • Do you constantly worry about money?
  • Do your expenses rise to meet your income?
  • Is money your primary (or only) motivation for going to work?
  • Does your self-worth at work and outside of work depend on how much money you have or earn?
  • Do you cheat or lie in order to save money?
  • Are you envious of others at work (or elsewhere) who earn more than you? How so?
  • Does your financial state interfere with your ability to focus and be completely engaged in your work during your workday?

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(c) 2020, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful. Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, www.truenorthpartnering.com or pvajda(at)truenorthpartnering.com

You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.

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