Today I turn 30. When I wrote my birthday reflections these past 2 years, I wrote a list of things I learned. This year, I am going to reflect on one big lesson, the journey.
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”
When I graduated high school, I chose this quote by tennis great Arthur Ashe to go under my picture in our yearbook. Looking back on it, it is a pretty profound quote and one I did not fully appreciate when I picked it at age 18.
I am sure I am not alone, but when I was 18 I had a romantic image of where I would be by 30. I imagined by 30 I would have “figured it all out.” Out of all the things I have learned in my first 30 years, one of the most important is how big a trap “figuring it all out” can be.
These past few years have really been a journey of self-exploration and discovery for me. I thought this past year, pursuing my MBA, was the culmination of that self-exploration. However, what I have learned is that this journey of self-discovery and awareness never ends. We never “figure it all out” and those that appear to or say that they do, probably don’t.
The important thing to figure out, is our purpose in this life. I am still working on this one, but I do believe I have a better sense of my purpose after investing in my personal growth and development. I believe it is important for all of us to think about and define our purpose and what motivates us to live up to that purpose.
In one of my classes this year, we learned about theories of motivation. Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor theory refutes the idea that job, and life, satisfaction is one vast spectrum with satisfaction on one side and dissatisfaction on the other.
According to Herzberg, there are aspects of our job, that if not done right, can cause us to be dissatisfied. He calls these elements hygiene factors. These are factors like job status, job security, pay and working conditions. If you have poor hygiene factors, you are likely dissatisfied with your work. Interestingly, having good hygiene factors does not mean you will be happy, it just means you won’t hate your work.
On the other hand, there are intrinsic parts of our jobs that act as motivating factors. These factors include work that challenges you, opportunities for recognition, a sense of responsibility and room for personal growth. It is these elements of a job that make us love to go to work instead of dreading another day.
I believe, and hope, that we have all had experiences where we have felt that kind of motivation.
I also believe that many of us, myself included, make choices only in the pursuit of hygiene factors. When I applied for graduate school, I wrote my application essays about my goals of being an entrepreneur and making an impact on the world. I still have that dream, but it is interesting how easy it is to fall back to a focus on those hygiene factors.
I can’t help but think about the pressure to prove that the investment of time and money to get this degree was worth it. I can’t help but feel the pressure to land a job with a good salary to help pay back the loans I took to go back to school. Even with the best of intentions, the pressure to settle for the hygiene factors is always there.
Herzberg’s theory is not just about work, it is about life in general. You don’t have to look far to see stories about celebrities or the ultra-wealthy who have all the hygiene factors covered but seem to live deeply unhappy lives.
Again, it is easy to focus on these external markers of success. These are the symbols that tell the world we made it. These are the things we can show off to our friends and family on Instagram or LinkedIn. Most likely, these kinds of symbols are serving our ego and not our purpose. As one of my favorite authors, Ryan Holiday writes, “Ego is the Enemy.” Motivating factors are much more personal and harder to articulate in a social media post, but they are the factors that lead to a happy and fulfilling journey.
To be clear, I am not saying that making money or having a high-status job means you will be unhappy. I am saying that if you let those kinds of factors be the priority, you may end up running on a treadmill that never stops. Herzberg’s theory suggests that if you prioritize motivators over hygiene factors you are much more likely to enjoy your job and your life.
I encourage all of us to ask if we are on a path that is meaningful for us. Ask if we have an opportunity to grow. Ask if we are learning new things. Ask if we are in a position to succeed and be recognized for it. These are the important questions, not just the external measurables that are so easy to focus on.
This year has truly been one of the most impactful in my life thus far. I have studied with colleagues from over 40 different countries who have become family to me, I spent time studying and traveling in Europe for 6 weeks and next week I graduate with my MBA. All of these moments, the good, the tough and the in between, have made me a better person. At the end of the day, life is made up of moments and it is important to appreciate them as we tackle our goals. I am grateful for all of it.
As I embark on this next decade of my life, I recognize my journey of discovery and learning never ends. However, it is time to put some of this learning to work and I am excited for this next chapter in my life. Thank you to all who have been a part of my journey so far.
Anyway, happy birthday to me. Happy regular July 31st to you. I hope we can do this again next year.