How Do I Find The Motivation To Get To The Next Stage Of My Career?

Leadership coach Lolly Daskal and Psychologist Art Markman answer our first reader question.

The office can be an overwhelming and tricky landscape. To help you navigate the often uncertain terrain of work-life, we’ve tapped a panel of experts to answer your trickiest questions. In this new weekly series, we'll find answers to any dilemma you throw at us--from how to get people to notice your fledgling business to the best way to handle a difficult boss or ethical grey area and anything in between.

Our first reader question is from R. Ale of San Francisco, and is answered by a psychologist and a leadership coach:

When I started out my career, I was incredibly passionate and had a burning desire to succeed. But as I’ve entered into my 30s, I’ve accomplished all the goals I set out to do and am having a hard time finding that desire and passion for the things I want to do next.

How do I map out the next chapter of my life and maintain the drive to keep going onto the next stages of my career?


Dear R.,

First off, congratulations on your success! Your initial dedication and perseverance have paid off.

Given the way you described your situation, though, I’m not surprised that you are feeling unmotivated now. Psychologists have found that the more satisfied a person is with what they have achieved, the less motivated they are to advance, and vice versa.

If you want to advance but need a jumpstart of motivation, start thinking about what you haven’t accomplished yet.

Looking Back to Look Forward

To help you explore your options, I recommend the technique of looking back to look forward.

Studies on regret show that, when people in their 70s and 80s look back on their life, they often regret things they didn’t do (like never learning to salsa dance or playing a musical instrument) rather than mistakes they made or ventures that failed. You can use a little mental time travel to think about what you might regret.

This perspective often helps bring to light other dreams that you can pursue as you move forward.

Focus on Specific Actions

Once you set your sights on a new goal, it is time to generate a specific plan to get there. A common thing that holds people back from really committing to make a significant career contribution is that the path isn’t clear because their career goals phrased abstractly. In order to get there you need to take specific actions.

Abstract goals can’t engage your brain’s motivational system directly, so you may feel unmotivated by them.

Instead, you need to focus on actions that you can take on a daily and weekly basis that will move you forward in your goal.

Learn New Skills

Finally, as you enter your 30s, you have hit a great age for picking up some new skills. If you want to completely change your perspective on work, or start an entirely new career, consider a master’s degree.

Even if you don’t want to go to graduate school, consider what other skills you want to build. I recently read an article about parkour enthusiasts. These individuals have learned to navigate urban environments by leaping over obstacles and climbing walls. The people interviewed talked about how their growing skills helped them to see handholds and footholds that were invisible to them before. Similarly, the expertise by expanding your skillset will help you to see opportunities that lie dormant in your world.

Good luck!


Dear R.,

Congratulations, you should be really proud!

Finding the next step is not an easy one, especially if you had an incredible passion and now you have to cultivate it all over again. The first step is letting go of your expectations and trusting what you may uncover in the next phase of your journey.

The road to connecting with your passion and desire begins with going inward--slowing down, tuning in, and spending time with yourself.

It means you literally have to shut off your mind so you can hear your heart speak and find the things that bring you meaning.

Here are some starting places as you plan your next move:

1. Make time to tune in.

The mind keeps us going in circles, saying the same thing over and over again. We need new feelings to get us to the next adventure in our lives. When we make time to tune in we can pay attention to any and all feelings.

To help you tune in, reflect on these questions:

  • What gives me great energy?
  • What makes me happy?
  • What do I love most about myself?

2. Observe your surroundings.

Watch your surroundings and the people in your life. Look for clues in everything you do and every place you go. A song on the radio, conversation with a friend--anything may give you an indication of those things that will lead you to your passions. Life is always giving us clues, but we don’t always make the time to notice them.

As you observe your surroundings, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I make the time for new things, adventures, and people?
  • Am I doing all I can with myself to move forward?
  • Where can I go that I have not gone yet?

3. Understand what makes you different.

Your process will be unique to you. You are different and distinct from everyone else. Reflecting on what makes you special, through your own perspective or that of a friend, a coach, or mentor, will help you with the next adventure in your life.

These questions can help you determine what makes you different:

  • What talents do I have?
  • What do people come to me for advice about?
  • What are my strong points?

4. Look for Inspiration.

Read about the career paths of people you admire for inspiration on how they did it. There is also a wealth of courses and coaches to help you find your inspiration and tackle any confusion you might have--which is the most detrimental feeling of all.

Seek inspiration by asking yourself:

  • What did I do today that inspired me?
  • What book have I read lately that sparked me?
  • Who is out there doing work I admire?

5. Take a risk.

Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start doing something that interests you. When you don’t know what to do for sure, try something that you think might be on the right track.

Take a risk and step out to try something new. By challenging your fear with action, you'll not only raise your self-esteem, you'll expand your comfort zone. If you're not sure of what to do, do something. Enlist a friend, take a chance.

Remember that life happens when you’re in action. By trying something new even if you're not sure of the outcome, you may discover a passionate interest by accident.

It’s all a process of discovery, about yourself and what you want. It’s not simple. It’s all trial and error.

We’ve been taught that we should have it all figured out, but that’s unfair. It is natural to feel frustrated. Committing to the next step can be quite daunting, but taking small steps each day inward can help you take giant steps outward.


If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or Tweet us a question using #AskFC.

[Image: Flickr user Michael Pollak]

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6 Comments

  • Lucas Robak

    I love taking risks and facing my fears. I do not do it all the time but that is something new that I am working on and this post definitely helped me realize that facing my fears head on is what I need to do http://bit.ly/1oGFzUe

  • Kami Guildner

    R - It sounds to me like your starting to hear a calling for something more in your life - which is such an exciting place to be! Great things are going to unfold for you - especially if you follow some of Lolly's great advice to slow down, tune in and listen to your heart!

    One way you can explore your passions is to take a journey back through your most memorable experiences in your lifetime. A time where you felt on fire with excitement for what you were doing and all the opportunities that were unfolding before you! What parts of your essence - who you are at your very core - were you tapping into and lighting up?

    Were there specific values you were aligned to? Strengths you were engaging? Passions you were playing in? You recall your stories from you were 12 years old - to your career experiences - and in your lifetime.

    When you look across the full spectrum of peak experience stories, you'll start to see patterns. There are clues there! Good luck!

  • Ajay Goyal

    So I now know it's just not me. :)

    I was feeling lonely and depressed that hey whats happening and why.

    However now it's clear that i no longer have the zeal to do that what I did yesterday and years before.

    I no longer feel for that what I felt for so long.

    I no longer believe in that what I did up until now.

    It's risky as having a very tuff emotional moment. When I give up I see I gain myself.

    There is nothing more important to me than myself. Yes being a man it man appear as I am narcissist, yet that's others perception and I can't prove it wrong as i don't have the time to do so more than that it's so much fun not proving anything to anyone.

    I love this moment. Came with a lot of price. Surely calls for a life time achievement.

    I feel calm in me, no more hunger to get more, no more need to live for, just me.

  • Tom McDermott

    Like so many before you that were driven by our traditional definition of success, we've realized it's not the right and best motivator, because it doesn't provide a lasting and true sense of fulfillment. It sounds like you're looking for meaning and purpose. Take a look at this article "There's More to Life Than Being Happy." http://bit.ly/1fTBh6w It does a great referencing some of Viktor Frankl's work, from his book "Man's Search for Meaning," along with recent studies on happiness and meaningful work. And Lolly is spot on; you have to discover and realize what makes you unique - your purpose is to share your unique gift with the world. This is the only way to find true, lasting happiness and fulfillment. Tom McDermott, Teacher and Chief Ignition Officer for www.ignite.com

  • I think a big part of this it taking the Risk that Lolly mentioned. Without that, there is no "charge," you're just punching a clock. Do somethign worth doing (and failing at)

    Dave Kaiser Business Coach www.DarkMatterConsulting.com