Ah, motivation. That elusive muse that keeps everyone going (in)sane. Motivation is everywhere: Why do people fall in love? Why do people go to the gym? Why do we buy certain things? What is motivation anyway?

Motivation is the fuel that drives people to achieve things despite being faced by obstacles to the goal. Motivation can come in many forms; whether financial, emotional, physical or other, motivation is a necessary ingredient to keep us going on. One of the most common places where motivation is most needed is in the workplace, where long hours of work and difficult relationships can get us to give up, if we’re not properly motivated. What does it take to be motivated in the workplace? Here are a few ideas:

Live in the present
According to Nancy O’Hara in her book Work from the inside out, “We are looking for certainty… and when we construct in our minds a vision of how things should be…we can’t help but be disappointed, since the reality is always different.” Eliminating expectations should be the first step to gaining motivation. When we desire material things, we get saddened when we don’t get what we want when we want it—like right away. We expect certain outcomes and when we don’t see it materializing, we feel disappointed and ultimately, resentful about it.

O’Hara writes, “Desire is the first cause of disillusionment and disappointment.” She adds that the best way to eliminate expectations would be to just live in the present. Scott, a 30-year old supervisor shared, “Joking around is what makes the day go by; a long loud scream in the morning pumps me up and gets me ready.” It sounds easy, but living day by day would be hell if you don’t like what you do. You can only do so much with what you have.

“You are your work”
O’Hara hit the target when she wrote that “Work is not something that doesn’t matter, that has no merit, that is just something to get through, to endure….” If you find that work is something you trudge through instead of something you breeze through, it’s time to analyze your position. Work gives us dignity. Why are you where you are now? Looming unemployment is not exactly a favorable option, but working in a job that (at the most extreme) you hate may well be just as bad.

Though money is a determining a factor, there are jobs out there that don’t pay much but offer rich sources for gaining experience. Instead of working for a fast-food outlet and earning minimum wage, why not be an intern in a company that matches your interest? It may not pay much or you may not even be compensated at all, but you will learn a lot, which will give you an edge in building up your résumé. You may well find that an impressive résumé is one of the best tools you can use to open up bigger and better opportunities to yourself.

Know what your plans are
A map is useful if you know the destination. Working in a job without any definite goal or plan in mind will make you liable to drift aimlessly. This experience can be a waste of time that scatters energy and creativity. Time does not stop for anybody. Before you know it, the year would have passed and you have nothing to show for.

Most of the people I talked with didn’t have any semblance of a plan. Most of them stick to the here and now. An employee in a testing company, 29-year old Travis, confided, “I can tell you what gets me up in the morning: [the rock band] 311 blares on my stereo, and I lay in bed wishing I could sleep all day. Then my kitty [cat] comes and licks my face, and I pet her and eventually I decide [that] if I don’t get out of bed I never will, so I get out of bed and into the shower. That’s it. That’s the magic that gets me to work day in and day out.”

Some are hindered by fear: of failure, or of making a wrong decision. “Why should I change jobs when I get compensated well, have great insurance and I’m familiar with what I’m doing?” asks Jenny, a 25-year old secretary in a publishing house. Jenny has a bachelor’s degree in English, but never had the guts to try out in one of the school districts where she could really do what she went to school for. Every day, she feels like a zombie, going to work just because she has to. Knowing the root of the problem can help you plan where you truly want to be.

“Challenge yourself every day to find something in your work to be grateful for.”
Artists have a more interesting take on motivation since theirs is a struggle with creativity. Mark, a 24-year old composer simply stated, “I love music.” Loving what you do makes for good motivation. Max, another musician who has recently left his day job to concentrate solely on his music told me that: “No matter how foolish it is, you always think that you’re the greatest composer who ever lived. It may [or may not be] correct, but that’s your conviction.”

Gordy, a 25-year old freelance musician as well, avowed, “If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think of is music, that’s what you’re meant to do.” Yet another musician, John, added, “Friday comes around and if you’re really into music and [in] what you’re doing, [my] weekend is a time for people not to bug me [so I can work on my music].”

At the core of attaining motivation, many struggle to pre-occupy themselves with anything that will make life a little less burdensome. Mike, a 21-year old programmer explained, “I start talking to myself, saying that I won’t get anywhere if I don’t try. Nothing is impossible, it only requires some effort.” Philip, a middle-aged employee in an administrative position, summed it up, “[I get motivated in] a number of ways, music always does it. I love to hear it and play it. These days poverty is a big motivator. It sucks. I am here because the schedule allows me to go to school. Believe it or not, God motivates me a lot. To clean up my life and do good and stuff.”


Write down your goals. It will help you gauge how far you’ve gone and how far you need to go to attain them.

Don’t linger in the past. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

Respect other people’s opinions. Ultimately, getting along with other people can also affect how you spend your time getting to where you need to be.

Don’t be prone to burnout. Take a break when you need to recharge.

Get into the kind of work that you like. You can solve this by just applying for jobs that you believe would bring you joy in the doing.

Expect a lot of bad turns to go your way. Do not set yourself up for unreasonable tasks.

Remember the why’s of your actions. Keep a record of your decisions: start a journal and refer to it occasionally.

Shape your own style. Learn to work with your own rhythm.

Be exposed to inspirational sources. Listen to good music. Read books. Watch movies that could elicit the kind of sentiment that will give you that groove to work on tasks at hand.

Know that you’re not alone. Everyone feels lost sometimes. Some people takes several years to figure out what they really want to do with their lives, so don’t stress it.

By Andrienne Gaerlan