When it comes to finding your way in life, one of my favorite ideas has to do with motivation and fulfillment.

Why do we do what we do? What makes us feel truly rewarded?

On Jan. 4, 2010, I was driving to work and listening to NPR. The guest that day was a guy named Daniel Pink, who’d written a book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. During the interview, he explained that what we usually think of as our main motivators—money being chief among them—aren’t as effective or unquestionable as we might think. In fact, research has shown that what truly motivates us are internal rewards: happiness, creativity, and freedom.

One bit of research Pink referenced related to children coloring. When children were allowed to color for fun, they colored more pictures and reported having more fun doing it. When researchers offered the children 25 cents per drawing, the children’s productivity increased at first … but ultimately waned. When asked why, the children said coloring for money felt like work.

And of course, that’s exactly what it was. No matter how fun something is, it becomes a job—at least partially—once you start getting paid for it. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it can become a bummer if there’s unwanted baggage that comes along with it.

For a movie buff, getting a job as a movie critic might be amazing. Unless, you know, your boss is a jerk, you only review direct-to-video movies, and the only snack you can ever eat is Peeps (which are, as we all all know, are a crime against nature).

As a younger man, I was convinced I wanted to be a touring musician, signed to a label and enjoying the acclaim. How cool would that be, to do what I love and get paid for it? The truth is, I would have hated it. Being onstage is awesome, but I wasn’t thinking about the late nights, unstable income, or crowded drunken bars. All of which I hate. In hindsight, I am extremely grateful that music has remained wholly untarnished for me.

But, we should find our jobs at least somewhat fulfilling, right? We should absolutely try to get paid to do something we love, but it’s just as important to make sure it’s all in the right context.

A good first step is exploring some basic questions about yourself and what you enjoy. Think about the questions below to get you started.

  • What are your 2-3 top passions?
  • What kinds of jobs involve them?
  • What are those jobs like? What are the pros and cons? (I highly encourage you to use “Internet Google” to find out more about whichever jobs come to mind! It can be found on a “computer machine.”)
  • Based on what you’ve discovered, which of these jobs sounds most appealing to you?
  • Which jobs contain deal-breakers?

It might take some thinking, but this might help you get started. If you know what kinds of jobs you might be interested in, you can begin figuring out how to get your foot in the door.

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