The Only Person Who Can Motivate You at Work

July 20, 2016, 12:00 AM UTC
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The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you stay motivated?” is written by Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose officer at PwC Charitable Foundation.

I was flattered when a colleague I have worked with for the last 10 years told me recently I was a “great motivator.” She’s smart, driven, and successful – and I am in awe of her accomplishments! I was truly dumbfounded, although absolutely flattered that she believes that I have helped her persevere and stay on top of her game, but also felt troubled that I don’t think that I specifically set out to do so. The truth is, I think motivation is something that comes from within. Other people can inspire, mentor, and support you. They can help you maintain focus or be a sounding board when you’re struggling with a tough decision. But, ultimately: you motivate yourself.

When I say that we motivate ourselves, I don’t mean that other people aren’t a big part of what drives us to be our best and make a difference. I strive to emulate people who have demonstrated courage in the face of adversity and the tenacity to overcome obstacles. It’s not about comparing myself to others, but remembering how they persevered. Their example helps me keep things in perspective.

For instance, my son has amazing, curly, wild hair that matches his exuberant smile and boisterous spirit. I am motivated by the idea of how my work may contribute to his future, to a world in which my son, and every child, will have the opportunity to thrive. It’s easy to stay motivated when you take your work personally, and I want to live up to my family’s expectations and make them proud. I want to honor the memory of the women in my family who taught me to be myself, work hard, and pursue my dreams. I lost both of my grandmothers, my mother, and an aunt I loved dearly all within a few years of starting my professional career. I am motivated to keep their voices and spirits alive by working to be better every day than the day before.

What motivates me also is a challenge. I like to bring to light the “hidden gem” — that small, barely visible idea or project that has the potential to grow into something powerful and meaningful. Belief in that end goal keeps me going when I get tired or frustrated, or when others express doubts about the plan. It’s not hard to keep my eye on the prize when I’m helping to solve an important problem or change something that isn’t working well or as well as it could be.

I’m motivated, too, by intellectual curiosity and by opportunities to disrupt the status quo. It’s rarely easy, but it’s always worth the effort to think in creative ways about something we may have taken for granted. Sure, it can be exhausting at times, but the chance to continue learning and changing keeps me going. And I’m motivated by the desire to excel—even in, or especially in, difficult times. The pursuit of excellence is a great motivator. I can convince myself to be patient when doing the highest quality work depends as much on persistence as on passion.