What do you stand for?
Musings on motivation, values and decision-making in our work.
In between Origin Stories, I will be sharing insights related to purpose & career, and answering reader questions.
One of my favourite parts of Mimi’s story is when she reflects on her motivation, “My hope is to set an example.” Through her work, she hopes to show what’s possible for a young, Black, Asian woman in Charleston, SC and offer inspiration to others.
The topic of motivation came up again yesterday when I watched the penultimate episode of the wonderful Ted Lasso series. In it, Jamie Tartt, AFC Richmond’s star player, reflects on his motivation to play soccer/football.
For many years, he was driven by a desire to show up his abusive, alcoholic father, “I always did what I did because … f*ck him.” Things come to a head after a match, when Jamie’s dad hurls insults at him for losing while asking for a tour of the football pitch. Jamie finally stands up for himself and says, “I’d rather not.”
A year later, Jamie confesses to his mom, “I thought I was finally rid of him… but now that I don’t give a sh*t about him, it’s like … I’m impotent… in my soul.” Jamie is no longer playing to spite his father. He feels lost and his game suffers. He doesn’t know what he is playing *for*.
This resonated deeply with me. When I left my corporate job and decided to write GenXpat, as a first attempt to explore my interests, skills and experiences, I didn’t have a strong sense of certainty in my mission. The writing felt good and I felt confident, but those pesky voices at the back of my head kept saying, “What if it doesn’t get published? How will I make a living?” As a backup option (and to appease my doubters), I studied for my GMAT and applied to business school.
I got in.
In December 2003, I found myself with my first draft of “GenXpat” three-quarters finished, a substantial tuition deposit paid and a one-way ticket to Europe to start my MBA in January. I was anguished: I had to choose between my book - the first thing I had done for myself, almost complete, but with no guarantee of success - versus admission to my dream business school and an on-ramp to a high-potential career. How could I choose? What choice should I make?
I wish I had then had the benefit of Ruth Chang’s TED talk on the topic of hard choices. She begins by explaining why some choices are hard: they require you to choose between things that are mutually exclusive, but not directly comparable. Choosing between two MBA schools that are similar, but one offers you a $50,000 scholarship, is easy. The are comparable, and one is clearly better than the other. But choosing between an MBA and an unfinished book is difficult because each option is different in kind - it represents different values and a different end-game.
Her crucial insight is that these kinds of choices represent a unique opportunity. Rather than agonize over which choice is better, she makes the case that we should consider which choice better represents who we are, and whom we want to become. In fact, Dr. Chang says, “When we create reasons for ourselves to become this kind of person rather than that, we wholeheartedly become the people that we are. You might say that we become the authors of our own lives.”
After weeks of agonizing about my choice and my future, I decided that that I wanted to be the kind of person who finished my book and submitted it to publishers, who was willing to take a chance on myself, regardless of the future. So I called the school and requested to defer my admission. I was told that I could do so, but that I would have to reapply and might not get admitted if I was not competitive in the new pool of candidates, losing my deposit. I took that chance because of whom I wanted to be.
Mimi’s values both shape and shine through her business driving it’s success. Jamie finds his mojo when he allows positive values - his love of the game, and of his team - to inspire his play. As Dr. Chang shows, every time you face a choice, you have the unique opportunity to express your values and become wholeheartedly who you are.
So, next time you face a decision, ask yourself: who are you now? And whom do you want to become?