How Not to Fail: Examine Your Motives

To achieve a goal you need to master the steps that take you to the finish line. More importantly, you need to know why reaching this goal is so important to you, and who will benefit. Is your desire based on what you are able to do, or is it a substitute for a deeper need?

For example, you feel at home wherever you go in the world so you decide it would be fun to travel for a living. But if the day-to-day business of travel is not what you enjoy doing travel is not your passion, it’s a hobby, what you do for personal reasons, not to serve others who share your love of travel.

However, the desire to move around indicates you want more freedom in your work. Ask yourself if you are ready for the responsibility that goes with greater autonomy. Are you self-disciplined, can you structure your time without supervision? Do you prefer to make decisions on your own, rather than wait for direction? Can you tolerate the anxiety that goes with the unknown? If your answer is yes, set a goal that gives you room to exercise judgment: a leadership or entrepreneurial role.

As another example of passion versus a hobby, your idea of heaven is curling up with a good book for hours on end. But if you cannot write everyday, facing a blank page with courage and determination, reading is what you do for pleasure not for profit. Passion gives you both: it fills your emotional and financial needs and the needs of those who benefit from what you do. You succeed because there is a match between yourself and the customers, clients and employers who pay for your talent with data, people or things. Not only that, the right work makes you grow as a person.


In addition to emotional and financial rewards, the work that will bring you the most satisfaction transforms you into a more effective individual as you do it. Often the work is so challenging, you wish you could leave for a less demanding job, but you don’t. Like the times when you wonder why you had children. You love them so you hang in there and your ability to love grows in the process.

Admitting when you need help attracts the right information, a book, seminar or an expert who can show you how to improve. The willingness to drop what you are doing that is not working is a sign of intelligence. Often the problem is unrealistic expectations. When setbacks occur, see them as opportunities to slow down and think. Then you can review and reset priorities.


It’s been said that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. As the English poet, John Milton said, virtue unchosen is not virtue. Only by experiencing the consequences of our darker motives and then rejecting them do we become truly virtuous. Otherwise, we are one person in public and another in private, projecting what we do not like about ourselves onto others. Trust is such a major deprivation in the world one person whose words and deeds are consistent shines as a beacon of hope.

The work that makes the best use of your gift will confront you with what you’d rather not see about yourself: greed, laziness and envy. Looking without flinching also lets you see the lighter side of yourself and your fellow humans: humor, courage and generosity. With honesty as your guide, faith in the power of goodness increases, as does your awareness of the dark side of human nature.


The phrase “when you love your job you’ll never work again” is true because contentment is the result of devotion. Devotion is not the easy to leave stage of love. It is the steadfast affection that changes you as you experience it. This is why commitment is so feared and so rewarding: it requires your full attention.

Commitment means you aren’t wondering if there is something or someone better out there, or flitting from choice to choice hoping one will be the formula for success. Giving your all to what and whom you love, making sure those who receive your devotion deserve it, builds mental and emotional strength.

“I’m not sure I want to work that hard,” one of my clients said when I told her what she’d have to give up to succeed.

When she was a young girl, Marilyn learned to get what she wanted by manipulating her parents, particularly her father. He was a well-to-do businessman who called Marilyn several times a week, offering advice and assistance.

Letting children take risks is the biggest risk parents can take. It is tempting to rescue those we love when they are struggling. Marilyn’s father thought he was being helpful, but making it easy for his grown daughter prevented her from learning she could solve her problems. As a first step toward that goal, I asked Marilyn to limit the calls from him for the next several months.

“Tell your father you are working on your autobiography and that requires concentration.” I said.

Just the thought of asking her father to call less frequently stirred up intense anxiety in Marilyn. In addition to lack of confidence, I suspected anger about allowing herself to be controlled was the underlying cause of her anxiety, as was her fear of expressing that anger to the person who was crossing her boundaries.

There is a direct correlation between hostility and dependence: the more dependent we are on someone or something, the more hostile we feel toward that object. There is also an equal correlation between independence and respect.

“Anxiety won’t kill you,” I said to Marilyn. “You just feel like you are dying, and you are, metaphorically. The old, indirect self has to go if you are to succeed. Your father will push back, but in the end he’ll be proud of you.”

And that is just what happened. It took five years of tears, laughter and effort, but today Marilyn is doing well in her small business as a designer. And her father is proud of her.

“He says I’m just like him, stubborn and independent,” Marilyn said, and we both laughed.


Wisdom is not necessarily a factor of age. But it is concomitant with insight, according to the website, Beyond Today: “To be wise means to be marked by understanding of people and situations, to have keen and unusual discernment, and a capacity for sound judgment in dealing with people and situations.”

The ability to read your own and others’ motives sets you free to make choices that work. Each step of the way is a chance to ask yourself: am I honest? Am I direct? Is this choice authentic, or am I trying to rescue or please someone? Be assured, when your mind is quiet and still, wisdom will give you the answer.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need.Her website is

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