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Must…Could…Want



One of the unavoidable aspects of your work is that expectations are set for you. You have job responsibilities, both individually and as part of a team, that determine outcomes you are expected to achieve. This, in turn, influences how you use your time. Hopefully you feel fulfilled doing your work, and a sense of accomplishment from it. Whether you generate enough fulfillment and sense of accomplishment is a large factor in how happy you are, with at least the career aspects of your life.

It can be useful to think through what exactly it is about a work life that motivates you. Is it the recognition you get from others when you do a good job, or is it the self-esteem you garner from the work itself that gets you going?

Psychologists have studied these two types of motivations and have labeled them: extrinsic and intrinsic. We all have some of each.


Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation

Purpose of participation: Enjoyment in the process itself

Purpose of participation: Benefits derived from participating

Emotions experienced: Pleasant (enjoyment, freedom, relaxation)

Emotions experienced: Tension and pressure (social approval is not under direct control)

Rewards: Effective rewards (enjoyment, pleasure)

Rewards: Social or material rewards

More likely to stay with task long-term

More likely to do a necessary task of little interest

Self-motivation to take on new tasks and innovate

Increases social compliance

Mitchell, S. E. (2013). Self-determination theory and Oklahoma equestrians: A motivation study: Oklahoma State University.


For those who are closing in on retirement, with all the time flexibility coming your way, you will have better line of sight to happiness if you’ve reflected on your natural balance between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Executive careers involve a great deal of extrinsic motivation. This does not diminish the sense of accomplishment that can be achieved. But it comes with the set of implications listed above.


When you transition from full time work, the dial is turned way down on the extrinsic motivators you have dealt with in your career. You are left with the happy problem of designing a new portfolio of activities for your time. And you will more than likely be benefit from a new balance of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, favoring the intrinsic.


So, what are your intrinsic motivators? When retiring you are coming from a life filled with a lot of “musts” and “shoulds” to more freedom to “want”. Self-reflection about your professional and personal life experiences can help you pinpoint those times when you felt most fulfilled, most happy. What was it about those moments that bolstered your self-esteem? Unpacking your unique formula for fulfillment can guide your path to an intrinsically motivating life after full time work. This forms the basis for your purpose. It is worth the effort, so you make the transition to retirement with a clear head and a solid plan. You can make this the best time of your life.


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