Wednesday, 8 June 2011

What Motivates Us: A Deeply Personal Perspective

Further to yesterday’s post I succeeded - despite my puritanical streak and cynical outlook – to enjoy myself greatly at the Richard Branson / Sunday Times Fast Track 100 dinner last night.  The speakers included ‘Sir Richard’ himself of course but also a selection of highly successful entrepreneurs and - as a wild-card -  a NASA astronaut who had returned to our planet just a week ago (a line he heroically resisted using).

Listening to the speeches (where a common theme was ‘what has driven me’) and chatting with some of the wide variety of entrepreneurial types there I got to thinking about what makes a good entrepreneur and what motivates them.

Kev’s Theory of Entrepreneurial Motivation
My tentative conclusion is hardly controversial but runs as follows:  Successful entrepreneurs cover a wide variety of personality types, a range of different management styles, have differing degrees of financial ambition, pursue alternative business philosophies and range from highly intuitive/creative individuals to devoutly analytical and rational ones … but they all have something in common: they have something to prove.

Examples on show last night included (at least in my analysis) people motivated by personal academic failings, by trying to emerge from under an older sibling’s shadow,  by seeking parental approval or by the peer pressure of others’ apparent successes.

Now, for the record, I wouldn’t yet count myself as a successful entrepreneur, rather one who is striving to be a success (which may in itself tell you something about my personality type); but I feel it is only fair in the spirit of this blog to test my hypothesis on myself.  Here we enter the ‘deeply personal’ territory. I suspect I have saved a potential fortune on psychotherapist fees by always being pretty open about this stuff but if you are embarrassed by others’ revelatory back-stories, look away now.

My Back-Story
At its most fundamental I suspect my motivation is to seek the (unobtainable) approval of absent (or non-existent) father figures.

I never knew my biological father (or ‘DNA donor’ to steal Lance Armstrong’s rather apposite phrase) who I think left when I was a 2 year old.  I then had a step-father (and step-brother, who stole my first name as it happens but that is another story) for 8 years, neither of whom I saw again after my Mum ‘walked us out’ of that situation.  My next step-father was around for 8 years or so before suffering a rather dramatic break-down as that relationship ended; I haven’t seen him since. Then my Mum settled with a clinically insane paranoid schizophrenic (it’s a long story), but by that stage there was no pretence of this one being a father figure as I was off to University anyway.

This all led to a rather peripatetic lifestyle and some ‘interesting’ living arrangements – I think 16 abodes (including house-boats, caravans, a tent) by the time I was 12 – which in itself I am sure has influenced my outlook in later life; but let’s focus on the ‘father figure’ question which I suspect is the core motivator for me.

I’m a father of two and - although divorced now (go figure) – I strive hard to be a good Dad to them.  I find it unfathomable that my biological father and both my step-fathers failed ever to properly engage or bond with me. They all seemed to simply strike me from their lives when their relationship with my Mum ended (as, to be fair, I guess I did them … although how much say I had in that is a moot point).  Now maybe the fault lies with them, maybe with my Mum … but I guess somewhere deep down I must wonder whether it was my fault. What was (is?) wrong with me that none of these men seemed to want to be my Dad?

We each have our own motivations in life but I’m a great believer that most driven people are at their core insecure, desperately trying to prove something, desperately seeking approval.  In my case (as in most I suspect) it is a proof that can of course never be achieved.  Hopefully at least the energy and drive that comes from this insecurity ultimately leads to something positive.

The ultimate achievement may be to realise that in fact there is no need to prove anything, no need to seek external approval or validation. The hope must be that with that realisation comes the ability to relax, have fun and simply enjoy life for what it is.

1 comment:

Robert Barker said...

I think you have saved a few of us pschytherapy fees as well in running us through your self testing – I found that strangely cathartic reading?!
Well I am certainly at the early stage of developing my business, though have been in the SME world for 10 years now. I agree about the “need to prove” something. In my case, i came from a very stable family, conventional happy, great education.
A key motivation for me was that by the age of 21 i felt like an institutional bunny, churning out work to order, and operating within a very structured / ordered environment. And i started out my career in that way. But since then, I have constantly been trying to move away from that, and prove to myself that i can succeed in an increasingly unstructured environment, having to rely on my own intuition and creating my own success and momentum. I certainly haven’t succeeded yet, but I hope I will.