A hierarchy of motivation

Postive motivation: I am enjoying this and I wish to continue.
Neutral motivation: I want this to be finished, so I will continue.
Negative motivation: I must prove myself (and please people), so I will do this.

The negative motivation is negative because it assumes one is insufficient. It focuses very heavily on this insufficient self, who is insufficient and thus inadequate to the task, which then seems impossible.


It is the negative motivation which overcame me in Reeducation, which of course coincided with the job market and the tenure track. This is my key problem, I discern. If you have a negative atmosphere, negative mirrors and negative motivation, the air is a thick thing to move through.

But I think most people are more comfortable with the negative motivation than am I. Earlier in life, I had the positive motivation and sometimes the neutral one, but after Reeducation I have had mostly the negative one. Even the neutral one is difficult to manage, and insufficiently positive, when the negative one reigns.


I was, however, also trying to prove myself. Once I had done this, I was ready to move into the next thing, the life that would be my own and would not be a mere pre-life. I did not realize the pre-life was something I had promised to do forever. My research arises from this pre-life, the exercise based on recreational interests I undertook in order to attain equality.

You need a Ph.D. and tenure in the humanities, centering on Western civilization, at a good place. Then you will be a cultured person and will become equal. Once you are equal, you can do what you want: social science, science, non-Western studies, law.

What did I envision? Forestry, economics, agricultural economics, World Food Programme. Comparative Literature, a UNESCO post. Near Eastern Studies, and another United Nations-style post. Law, and work on migrations, trade, the global prison industrial complex. All of this involves work in a large international organization with a view toward influencing global policy.


What motivates me at work now? Anything having to do with program building, rights, grant-making, governance. Why?

Because freedom from oppression is the first thing. I am not wrong. The standard advice is that cultivating one’s garden is the first thing. But the first thing is to build the garden, as we have no garden here.


Every vision I had for my real life was research focused, and also policy focused. I am mostly interested in learning, understanding, knowledge, and I am not very choosy about field or topic. My research, I would be happy to do if it enabled a life I liked. Since it does not, I am restless and want meaning. My research is meaningful but others are working well on it. I see such need for my skills and talents elsewhere–in the fields I identified as vocations, not as recreation.

I have said these things for years. I say them each summer. Where is the gap? It is in not believing I deserve to believe in me.


We return to the beginning. Anything undertaken with the purpose of proving oneself, improving oneself, is motivated negatively. Anything undertaken simply to get it done risks turning to drudgery. Things must be undertaken in brightness and love.

I had not read Viktor Frankl since childhood but I have now, and he says success cannot be sought. This is one way in which professionalization distorts people. We were told to renounce discovery for success. I never agreed, nor does Frankl, and he should know.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s