Where does personal drive come from?
About a month ago I had an interview. It wasn’t for a new job, it was part of an application for a scholarship I’m going for. In this interview I was asked “what drives you?” My response talked about the enjoyment I get from seeing people in my team grow, get better, gain more confidence and so on. The interviewer nodded in agreement, but then took me by surprise and said “yes, but what drives YOU?”
A little startled I went blank on an answer. In my mind, my response had been accurate. I’m driven by seeing others succeed.
In what can only be classed as an interview blow out, I stammered for a good ten to twenty seconds. So much so I actually saw the discomfort on the interviewer’s face. It was all kinds of awkward.
Later that day, as a bit of a personal debrief, I. pushed around why I’d struggled to answer this reasonably straightforward question. I applied a technique I’m a big fan of, and have written about before. I don’t know if it has an official name, but I can it ‘the five whys’.
The idea works on the principle that if you ask ‘why?’ a number of times, you will get to the true reasoning behind something. It works particularly well when trying to unpack individual motivation or thought.
The exercise loosely went as follows:
Why do I care about the development and success of people I work with? Because I get enjoyment when seeing them reach and redefine their potential.
Because I find the opposite saddening. Everyone is born with something that is unique or superior to others. It’s sad to think there isn’t the personal realisation of this with some people; that they think they can’t achieve anything. So conversely, it’s really great to see a rise in people learning their potential, and hopefully having a Petri dish effect with this thinking.
Yes, but why do I care about people who don’t reach their potential? There are some billion odd people in this planet, what’s with the hang up? Because I don’t like waste. When you’ve got one unspecified length of a life to live, why not make it as rich as possible? What sense does it make not to try and find out where that personal narrative could go? Especially when you’ve got a choice. I don’t like to see things wasted.
Ok, but why is this idea of waste such a concern?
Because some people don’t have the choice. Some people are born into situations of disability, or inability to ever reach the potential of those who came out alright. That doesn’t mean they can’t achieve things within their own context, but why, if you’ve got a perfectly functional brain or body, would you not see where that could take you?
And why do I care about this?
Because I grew up with an older brother with a complexity of disabilities, who quite frankly, doesn’t have the capacity to achieve what other kids his age can, simply because his brain doesn’t work that way. I care because I’ve seen first hand someone who doesn’t have the same chance as others to do things.
It was a bit of a zig zag to get there, and the way I’ve written it makes it sound like it was a straightforward train of thought. But in reality it took me a few days to get to the core of it. And I did question it for a while.
In a way, because I grew up with this particular situation, it wasn’t something I saw as a particular abnormality. I was born into it. And it definitely wasn’t something I ever considered an excuse or ‘advantage’ in my point of view, so to speak. Therefore, for it to suddenly crop up at the end of all my ‘whys’ felt foreign.
But the more I processed it, the more it made sense.
We are the product of our environments. Our experiences influence our world view and our opinions are naturally shaped by what we are exposed to. Of course growing up with a disabled brother contributed to the way I viewed the world, I’d just never really linked his inability to achieve certain things to my drive to see others, and myself, do exactly that. But when you lay it out, it seems an innate connection and a truthful response to the original question that triggered this thinking.
Today I had another interview as part of the selection for this scholarship. It was with two new interviewers, and almost predictably, they asked me the same question.
You’d think with the build up I’ve just given, being hit with this question a second time would mean I’d have come out with a well articulated version of what I believe is at the core of my motivation. And to that I have to say, thanks, but you have too much faith in me.
While I didn’t completely blank like the first time around, I skirted around my answer. I’d say I got 2 or 3 ‘whys’ deep, so, better but not as spot on as I knew I could’ve been. My answer still came across compelling (I think) but having gone through the specific exercise of figuring this question out, I was surprised I fumbled.
I’ve been thinking a lot about it this afternoon. Throwing the ‘why’ exercise at again to try and determine what made me pause. And I may not have the full answer, but I suspect it came down to a point I alluded to earlier. That using my brother as a rationale or excuse for something feels wrong to me. I’d always grown up being taught that he, and his condition, shouldn’t get in the way of anything. So again, for it to factor at all, particularly in an explanation for something so personal as ambition and drive, wasn’t something that rolled off the tongue easily.
But I think I need to shift my thinking on this, because it’s not an excuse, a cry for pity or an attempt at the sympathy vote. It’s quite simply a reality that has had a huge influence on me, and by default, impacted the way I think about and approach life.
Delivery of this thought will always be important, largely to avoid any cynicism that I am in fact just after attention, or taking advantage of a situation. But I think it should be something I acknowledge and embrace, rather than hide. I always talk about the awareness of disability being important, so why limit that? Awareness of everything it touches, especially when its impact is positive, should be talked about as well.
I am driven and inspired by seeing people around me reach and redefine their potential. Along with the contagious enjoyment everyone gets from success, this is driven by something more personal. I grew up with a brother who is very disabled and doesn’t have the luxury of the tools, like a fully functioning brain and body, that many of us take for granted. To see him not be able to achieve in the traditional sense has made me realise the importance for those of us who can, to really take advantage of it. We should pack as much into our lives and take as many opportunities as we can for no other reason than we have the ability to. ‘Dense’ is the word that keeps coming to mind. When it’s down to managing teams, contributing to social circles, or simply pushing myself forward, it’s this thought that ultimately keeps me driven to keep going.
That’s not an excuse, attention seeking, or any form of post-rationalisation to ‘sound good’. It’s fact. And while it feels a bit strange now, it’s something I’m going to work on becoming more comfortable with talking about. It’s real. And being real about these kinds of topics is a positive thing.