My Drive to Nowhere and What it is Not

by Terence

I took some behavioural/personality tests recently. The results brought some surprises for me, but on the whole, they confirmed what I’ve known all my life about myself.

I have very little drive and ambition.

Having this fact mirrored to me on a piece of paper was kind of uncomfortable, but as it was the truth, I didn’t think much of it until confronted over it recently. Over the weekend, I did a lot of thinking about it.

Today, I concluded that I may be deviant, but I’m not defective.

Most people have drive, and I’m sure it helps them in their career and life in general, but I don’t find myself missing it very much.

Having low drive doesn’t mean my life is aimless or meaningless. I do have goals for work, but they have nothing to do with status and position. Rather, my career goals have and always will be an extension of my life goal, which is to be happy.

This sounds airy fairy, nebulous and hugely idealistic, but it isn’t. Before you dismiss this as idiocy on my part and stop reading, let me explain. Most people haven’t thought through what they mean by wanting to be happy, and I’m willing to bet that most people also don’t spend much time wondering why they are here on earth. I have spent a great deal of my life pondering and struggling with the question of what life means, and how it connects to being happy.

To some people, “Happiness” is something similar in concept to a Platonic Form. There are people who think achieving happiness is to earn a billion dollars, to find the perfect mate, to get the ultimate promotion, award or recognition of some sort. There are people who seek God, Heaven or Nirvana. I’m not sure they realise it, but all these ideas of happiness involve achieving a final goal or end state. Happiness for them is a static, unchanging thing that you “attain” and that’s it. The end, case closed.

That isn’t it. Not for me at least. Happiness to me is to be found in the journey of life itself, and rather than being an end state, it’s a lifelong, ongoing process. There is no end goal that signifies the final state where I can finally declare “I am Happy”. Being happy is really my reason for living, and it’s central to how I want to live my life.

So what makes me happy? I’m happy working towards being good at what I do, making a positive difference to the world around me, and having rich and varied life experiences. This then is my life goal, and by extension, my career goal. With such a broad-based goal, “normal” goals like working my way up the corporate ladder or getting recognised for my achievements are nice to have, but mean very little to me in the grand scheme of things unless they contribute towards my long term happiness in life. What’s the point of getting promoted if it doesn’t make me happier in the long run? What’s the point of achieving recognition or riches if it doesn’t make me happier in the long run? On the horizons that I am working with, my goal is to focus on things that will matter to me if I were to look back on my life at the end of it.

So to the outside world, I lack “drive”, and most people would find it hard to understand me without a detailed explanation, which I’m guessing few people would have patience for. I’m willing to live with it. Like I said, I’m deviant, but certainly not defective.

Having broad-based life goals mean that I won’t fall apart if I can’t achieve certain things that I set out to do. I’ll just pick another goal and chip away at it. Eventually, some seeds will grow, and others will wither. This to me is a valid form of achievement, and I take the same approach at work too. The goals that are given to me by my bosses are of course on the “must do” list, and I will give them my all, but they may or may not contribute to me being happy.

At the same time, I have my own little pet projects or pipe dreams that I will try to bring to fruition during my time on the job because I believe they are for the greater good, and every step I take towards making those pet projects happen will make the path of those who come after me easier. But I don’t sweat it if those pet projects fall through or can’t be done for whatever reason. They may not be important to my bosses or the organisation, or simply a matter of wrong timing. Whatever the case, I do what I can, when I can, knowing that I’m not building a one-off monument, but planting seeds. Eventually, some seeds will take root and grow, and that will be my legacy. No one needs to know, as long as I know that I had a hand in planting the seeds. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t altruism or some misguided idealism. Doing this makes me happy, and I think that this is probably why I’m a good fit in the public service, despite having an intense dislike for bureaucracy and redtape.

So I may not know what I want to be doing at work in 3-5 years, or where I see myself after 10 years on the job, but I certainly know what makes me happy, and that’s what matters to me.

The end result of my early exposure to philosophy is the realisation that lasting happiness (for me at least) comes from my life experiences and not in my achievements. Over the years, I’ve developed a love of travel, photography, aesthetics (I can appreciate art and beauty, though I cannot produce much in the way of aesthetic value), geeking out and pondering philosophical questions. These things are part of my life, and they make me happy. What’s a little lack of drive?