One of the core findings in motivational psychology is that we’re driven by meaning.
If we don’t see a higher purpose in what we’re doing, we sputter to a halt. We’re no longer self-propelled. We have to be prodded with carrots and sticks.
I think this is one of the reasons that teachers get paid so little money, while office-drones command quite generous salaries. Office workers are sealed up in tin-can offices, working away on abstract problems while teachers get to see the fruits of their labor in a living, social environment. Teaching is hard, but it’s meaningful. Office work? Not so much. And that void needs to be filled with something ($) to make the job attractive.
Yes, I know. The life of an office worker does contain moments of purpose. We sometimes go out into the field to observe (and interview) our customers, and there’s nothing quite like seeing one your creations in the wild… but, still, most of our time is spent in “abstractland”.
And our brains aren’t built to find real meaning and enjoyment from such conceptual, abstract stuff.
In other words: We didn’t evolve to be divorced from the fruits of our labor.
In the ancestral environment, we always saw the tangible impact of our efforts. When we dug up a tuber, we could see it, feel it, and taste it. When we built a shack, we could touch it (and sleep in it).
Today, though, most of us office-folk never see the significance of our work. Sure–we get numerical reports: This metric went up by 10%, that metric went down by 3%, and so on. But we didn’t evolve to get jazzed-up by numbers.
We evolved to get excited by the smiles of others or the final touches of a new gadget we’ve fashioned.
This is why it’s necessary for office workers to go out into the field. If you work at a desk, you have to escape for at least 1 full day each week. You have to go watch your customers. You have to talk to people that use your product. You need to remind yourself *why* you’re chained to your chair, grinding away in Outlook or Excel.
You have to see the joy you’re bringing to others. You have to see the marketing program you designed live in the store. You have to see that all your work was worth it.
Why? So that when you’re sitting in bed at 6:59, you don’t hit the snooze button one more time.
And so that when you’re on your deathbed, you have some sense of what you were able to bring into this world.
The last thing we want is to look back on our lives and see an endless string of numbers and equations. That doesn’t make our hearts buzz. That doesn’t set our souls aflame.