Why do you do it?

Have you ever asked yourself what’s the point? Why do you do whatever you do? What motivates you to wake up early and go to work every day?

Between May to August, I worked as an intern at a media production house. At the beginning of my internship, I was enthusiastic about the job. Like most places, they gave interns drudge work. But I didn’t mind. After several months of looking for an internship without any success, I was glad that I at least had one.

Then again a new job is like a new relationship. When you’re in a new relationship you don’t ask your partner sensitive questions or say sensitive things. You’re cautious about what you ask and say.

“Baby, how do I look in this dress? Does it make me look fat?” your new girlfriend asks.

“Not at all sweetheart. You look gorgeous. That dress really accentuates your figure. You’re going to knock them out. I’m just jealous I won’t be there to see the look on their faces when you do.”


“Yes, really. You look lovely babe.”

“Thanks love. You’re the best,” she says as she struts out of the room.

She has a petite figure but that dress makes her look massive. Actually, it makes her look like an elephant. But then you couldn’t tell her that. Because if you did you would then have to confront the elephant in the room. And she has a memory like an elephant so she would definitely catch feelings. So you kept your mouth shut. Attaboy. But you wonder how she didn’t see past your bullshit. Who says accentuate anyway? Or maybe she did see past it and she’ll pick it up later when you’re watching football. You never really know with women.

Anyway, that’s how most new relationships are. They’re pretentious. Conversations aren’t open. They’re like walking on thin ice. People say the right things because they don’t want to rub their partners the wrong way.

So at my new job, I kept my head down and did as I was told to avoid an early break-up. Because early break-ups suck. They always make you think about what could have been if you had kept your mouth shut. But as time dragged on, my enthusiasm for the job began to wane. I began to get restless.

My work at the production house mostly involved transcribing interviews. Transcribing interviews is monotonous work. I know some people do it for a living but it’s mundane work. You listen to someone speak, you type down what they are saying and if you don’t get what they are saying you rewind and listen again until you get their exact words. It’s boring work.

And then again, the difference between me and people who transcribe for a living is I wasn’t being paid to do it. I was doing it for “experience” and “exposure”. Worse still, most of the interviews I transcribed were of Pidgin English speakers. Pidgin English speakers for goodness sake! I was transcribing interviews in Pidgin English with zero Nollywood movie watching experience. I struggled to decipher what the speakers were saying. The work almost made my ears bleed.

In July, I couldn’t take it anymore. Every day I’d wake up feeling lethargic and I’d drag myself out of bed to go to work. I started counting down the days to the end of my internship. At some point, I even thought about quitting. I was tired of busting my ass transcribing interviews for “experience” and “exposure”. The questions why am I doing this and what’s the point kept reverberating in my head.

So I decided to write an e-mail to my internship supervisor listing my concerns. She read the e-mail and decided to meet me and the other interns to listen to our grievances. After the meeting, she promised to address our grievances. For a while, we didn’t transcribe as many interviews but there wasn’t much else to do. However, with more free time on my hands, I got to write scripts and edit videos. The work became more fulfilling.

According to Deci and Ryan’s Self Determination Theory (SDT), there are three psychological needs that motivate us. They are competence, autonomy and relatedness.

In his groundbreaking book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink expounds on SDT. However, he lists the three psychological needs as autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy: Many people say they want to be independent, but rather than independence, you should seek autonomy. Unlike independence, autonomy means acting with choice–it means you can be both autonomous and happily interdependent with others, Pink writes. And autonomy doesn’t mean self-employment. Autonomy means control over what you do. It means control over task (what you do), time (when you do it), technique (how you do it) and time (who you do it with). Writing scripts and editing videos gave me autonomy over task. I was expected to complete the work within a specified period of time, with a random group of people and in a specific way, but at least I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do.

Mastery: We all want to become better at what we do. If you aren’t trying to get better at what you do, then you probably aren’t passionate about it. Still, you’ll never achieve mastery. No matter how hard you try. But if you love what you do you’ll keep striving to get better at it. That’s what mastery is all about. Mastery is like an elusive chick a guy is hitting on. She may decline his advances several times but if he loves her, he’ll persistently keep hitting on her. Because the thrill isn’t in her saying yes, but the chase. I love writing, and I’m always striving to get better at it. So when I was given a break from transcribing to write scripts, I was thrilled. Because writing scripts enabled me to sharpen my writing skills.

Purpose: Autonomy and mastery are important motivators, but purpose is the heart of motivation. Purpose is finding meaning in what you do and doing it for a greater cause than yourself. Purpose may explain why some people quit high paying jobs to do their “own thing”. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Unlike transcribing, writing scripts gave my work meaning. The thought of writing a story that could impact someone gave me a  sense of purpose.

In Drive, Daniel Pink emphasizes the importance of the intrinsic motivators: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Pink, however, doesn’t dismiss the importance of extrinsic motivators like money, benefits and perks. But he writes that once these extrinsic motivators are sufficiently satisfied, then autonomy, mastery and purpose are what motivate people.

Drive is an enlightening book and an enthralling read. Read Drive if you’re in HR or management and you want to increase productivity among employees. Read it if you’re a career counsellor and you want to give students career advice. And if you have been asking yourself why you do it, read this book.

PS: Pay interns.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.