Internally Driven

I have recently wrote that being yourself is a major competitive advantage — nobody can compete with you in being you. Upon further reflection, it should be noted that in order to be one’s self, they need to be internally driven. When someone close to me is unsure about my work, it can occasionally throw me off course, and this is the enemy of authenticity. In my essay, I touched on the importance of grading yourself using your internal scorecard — the values and principles you have cultivated that you want to practice at all times. More broadly, however, it is important to consider the prospects of being internally driven. This topic deserves it’s own essay because it doesn’t just apply to authenticity, it applies to every aspect of our life, especially ambition and careers.

The majority of people we encounter on a day-to-day basis are externally driven. They do work because they seek status in their social groups — they want a prestigious job title, a large home, the ability to name-drop a well-known person. These people are not so interested in yielding high-quality work, but rather conforming to the norms other people have imposed so that they have a better chance of immediate success. Seeking status is a short-term game. Most people looking for a promotion will work hard, but are driven not by the prospects of being able to do better work in the future, but rather the status that the position would bring. They are driven by the validation that post gives, not the personal value it will provide in their life.

There are a few major reasons why I think people default to being externally driven. The first, as mentioned in my essay on authenticity, is that it is easier to follow the crowd than to go on your own path. If you go with the crowd and you are wrong, then at least there will be a few other people that are wrong as well, which will comfort you. Further, the crowd represents the collective wisdom of all of its members, and so it can be very difficult for you to develop the mental strength you need to go against the opinion that so many other people hold. The problem here though is that the crowd is often wrong, and so your following the crowd for security is not a good long-term strategy. We care too much about whether other people think we are doing the right thing; we should care about whether we think we are doing the right thing.

I think that people like to be externally driven because it makes their progress easier to measure. If you are driven by your salary, your job title, or something similar, it can be very easy to measure your progress. “This year I was appointed Head of Sales” is easier to evaluate than progress that people who are internally driven are making. This is because, as aforementioned, people who are internally driven are usually playing a long-term game. We seek validation in most of our endeavors, and so following the crowd makes it easy for us to get an immediate source of validation, which assists us in measuring our progress over time. Job titles and the approval of others in our work is easier to track than our internal will. That being said, these goals are not likely going to add a significant amount of benefit to your life in the long-term. If you follow the crowd on one decision, do you think they will all remember your input in a year? Conversely, if you don’t follow the crowd on one decision, do you think they will remember your input in a year?

Many successful people have attained their level of success because they have not been afraid to look wrong in the short-term, but know that they may be able to look right in the long-term. They don’t give in to external calls for them to stop their work because other people don’t believe in their work; they are driven by their passion for meeting a certain goal. Smart people often default to being internally driven because they are focused on inspiring a certain change in the world or accomplishing something that will provide a lot of people with value, and they understand that it can take some time for that to happen.

Being internally driven is more optimal for a variety of reasons. Firstly, if you are internally driven, then you will be pursuing a social change or aim to change someone’s way of thinking, rather than immediate wealth. You are not looking to get a higher salary or a new job title in the short-term, you are looking to change the norm in the long-term. Generally, people who are internally driven are more attached to their core principles than those who are externally driven — they understand that holding onto their values will be a critical component of their success. Naval has framed this very well by saying that being ethical is being greedy over the long-term. People who are internally driven get access to a significant amount of upside, and they are able to access that upside by not compromising their values in pursuit of an immediate status boost.

Being internally driven can also keep you going when you have already achieved a certain goal. Let’s say that you aimed to start a successful blog. If you are internally driven, then you will care more about maintaining the blog and guiding it to future success. If you are externally driven, then you will likely care more about finding ways to get additional status out of the blog — finding sponsors so you can make money, doing more interviews, even if your target audience would derive little benefit from them, et cetera. Internally driven people know that even when you reach a goal, there is always room for personal growth. Externally driven people will always go to the next goal and seek more social status along the way. These people will often give up quicker when something fails as well, which limits their ability to access all of the potential upside their work would create. Being internally driven will help you reach higher levels of success after you reach your initial goals.

It is really important to understand a person’s motivation before you work with them. I always try to figure out what motivates people to do the work they are interested in, because it gives me a greater insight into their thought patterns and vision of the world. I am less interested in working with someone who is looking for a great project to help them get a promotion, than someone who has an ambitious goal for the future that could be wrong, but they are driven internally to accomplish that goal. It is indeed difficult to determine one’s motivations, but you can usually tell by the way they approach certain tasks.

It is very difficult to become internally driven, but it is worth it. In order to be internally driven, it is important to focus not on the outcome of your work, but rather the journey you are taking. My goal for this blog is not to reach a certain amount of followers — I write because I want to better articulate my thoughts and share them with the world. I understand that writing consistently over the long-term may help me become successful because writing compounds. But I am not interested in people sharing every article I write, because ultimately it is the process of writing that I enjoy more than the prospects of an article going viral.

It is difficult to think about the journey more than the immediate status boosts you could get if you become externally driven. Internalize the fact that sacrificing short-term gains is part of the journey to long-term success — successful people know that winning one game is not important, but winning the sum of all games is. If you are invested in the journey, it is easier to respond to those who do not believe in your path, because you know that the only way you can stop is if you compromise your values. These values are part of you, and so you will be less likely to give into external pressure when you are pursuing an ambitious idea.

Disregard those who don’t see the world the way you do — if you see the world differently, you are already ahead of the game. Think in the long-term. Don’t seek immediate status boosts. Be internally driven.