Career advice to “follow your passion” or “do what you love” has fallen out of favour in recent times and is often dismissed as hackneyed and unrealistic. But a new study suggests that finding one’s vocation, or a special calling to do a certain occupation, will always be an invaluable way to motivate yourself to overcome academic and career challenges, the Huffington Post reports.
And, in contrast, motivation based on the influence or monetary rewards of a profession – especially for difficult and elite jobs like military leadership – makes you more likely to perform poorly and quit earlier than if you are motivated by passion for the work itself. In fact, the negative impact of motivation based on power or money is so strong, it can lead to less success among those who both love their work and the prestige that comes with it.
Amy Wrzesniewski, an associate professor at the Yale School of Management, and Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, surveyed 11,320 cadets across nine classes at West Point and followed alumni careers for up to 14 years in an effort to determine the relative career impact of different motivation types. They found that the most successful West Point graduates wanted to become Army officers because they loved the job responsibilities – what the researchers called an “internal” motivation.
Their study, published recently in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first of its kind to examine different types of motivation over the long term, with real-life outcomes, as opposed to controlled, short-term lab experiments.
“We found, unsurprisingly, that the stronger their internal reasons were to attend West Point, the more likely cadets were to graduate and become commissioned officers,” wrote the researchers in a New York Times op-ed about their study. “Also unsurprisingly, cadets with internal motives did better in the military (as evidenced by early promotion recommendations) than did those without internal motives and were also more likely to stay in the military after their five years of mandatory service...”
Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester, who was not involved with the study, praised it for demonstrating that valuing the work activity itself is critical to staying committed and engaged, despite adversity. He also said the study is in line with past research that shows offering too many instrumental rewards can actually erode internal motivation – something that has been shown in schools, sports, arts and other fields. “The main points of convergence seem clear,” said Ryan in an email to Huffington Post. “A true vocation is one in which you value and find satisfaction in the work itself.”
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