The career fear that motivates Millennials

No more false illusion

Goodbye to confusion

Stand out from the madding crowd

Motivation is symphony

Bowie, D. (1986)

Thinking of your career so far, what has motivated you to get to where you are?

Of the Millennials that I interviewed, the first thing that around 80% told me when I asked this question was that they ‘fell into’ their current career and didn’t do any conscious planning to enter their current field. Considering a good number of the interviewees will have graduated from university at the time or in the acute aftermath of the 2007-08 financial crisis, it’s perhaps sensible to interpret that many grads took whatever job they could at that time – and many have stayed in the same field ever since.

So, what has motivated them to get to where they are now? Well, money really was not a major motivator. Indeed, only one interviewee cited money as their main career motivator to date. Some mentioned it as important, but it’s not been a hugely influential motivator to get to where they are in their career.

The motivator that most people referred to was recognition, or even more accurately, approval from others. In other words, career progression and development has been achieved to date due to the interviewees being motivated to prove their worth to others (managers, leaders, peers). Some went even further – they have been motivated to prove doubters wrong. This was a theme that female interviewees in particular brought up.

I was quite surprised that only one interviewee cited positive mental health as the main motivator for getting to where they are in their career now. Perhaps there is still a concern within society that by prioritising mental health, other areas such as money, progression have to take a hit and positive mental health is at odds with a progressive career?

A more worrisome theme uncovered is that quite a number of interviewees cited fear, anxiety and even panic as a motivator. These interviewees explained that they have been motivated to keep learning and progressing primarily so as not to be ‘found out’ by their peers, leaders or even their clients (e.g. should they not know the answers/ some critical information relating to their work). On the other hand, it also links to the need to keep a competitive edge over their peers – and a worry that if they’re not doing this, they will stand still compared to the competition for promotions or, worse still, end up getting “kicked out” for poor performance.

Fear is a big motivator. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

So, it seems that many Millennials are in a career into which they fell many years ago, and within which their mindsets and behaviours to date have been motivated by fear or needing to prove to others.

I’d love to hear from you – does this sound familiar?

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