What is Motivation By Wonder? How It Changes The Way You Work

A friend who is also a reader asked me the other day to explain to him what I meant by being motivated by wonder.

Wonder of Art, photo credit blog.momtrusted.com


“Motivation by purpose, I understand,” he said. “But motivation by ‘wonder’? Can you tell me what you mean by that?”

I’ve touched on these ideas in previous posts if you want more context (see here and here).

But here’s a brief summary of what was said before: People are often motivated by two main emotions: fear or pride, both of which can be negative as well as counterproductive.

Fear and Pride
Some people, for instance, may be motivated in their work because they are afraid of life without money. They are motivated by fear.

Others find a lot of identity in their work and build their egos based on titles, awards, or recognition. They are motivated by pride.

There are healthy kinds of fear and pride (wisdom to not touch fire or pleasure when your child learns to ride his bike) and unhealthy kinds of fear and pride (decisions motivated by insecurity or ego).

A third option is motivation by wonder or purpose. I put these together because they tend to go hand-in-hand.

Motivation by purpose means understanding the “why” of your calling. If you wake up each day understanding the difference you want to make in a place, a project or in people, you are not just putting in time. You work to accomplish something that will benefit others.

Motivation by wonder is admittedly something a little harder to describe. It can also be referred to as motivation by beauty or awe. It can be explained with lots of illustrations, but let me start with raising children.

An Example From Parenting
When you love your children, you may have logical, rational reasons for taking care of them. But motivation by wonder means you also have feelings for them based on the instincts that come with irresistible love, no matter how difficult or challenging they may be at times.

It’s the feeling you get at night when you peek in their bedroom and see them sleeping–wispy curls on soft pillows and pale lamp light on soft cheeks. You have to pause and give thanks.

Other examples of wonder involve the feelings you get when you see a beautiful sunset, hear a moving piece of music, or see an awe-inspiring feat of athleticism or art.

When you want to create or experience this kind of beauty, excellence, awe, wow-factor (there are lots of names for it)–then you are being motivated by wonder.

Motivation by wonder means understanding the beauty in your calling. When you wake up with the motivation to create something meaningful, redemptive, or inspiring for others, then you are not only working, you are being motivated by wonder.

If we are simply biological creatures without any connection to spiritual or awe-inspiring meaning, then we might as well work to simply survive or for our own pleasure (fear and pride).

But “motivation by purpose and wonder” is just another way of saying you are not here by chance. You are created with a purpose. You are created to be loved and inspired and to love and inspire others.

An Example From School
Last week we hosted a Crash Court assembly at my school. A Tulsa county judge came and spoke to our students about the importance of safe driving.

She actually held court in our auditorium and brought three witnesses in front of the school with their attorneys. She sentenced them all for DUI’s and two of them were led out in handcuffs to serve time in the county jail. Obviously, their sentences were reduced by agreeing to have their cases tried in front of 750 students.

Before the assembly began, I reminded our students how important it was to show respectful attention to our guests. Then I invited a student named Hunter to join me up front.

Hunter was involved in a wreck last May. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the vehicle. He was in intensive care for weeks with brain trauma and multiple other injuries. He recovered but it was a hard road of rehabilitation.

When I stood in the waiting room of the hospital with his mother last May, I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. But I told her that when Hunter survived, I wanted to interview him in front of our students to talk about the importance of wearing seat belts and celebrate his fight to survive.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if that moment would come. But that’s exactly what we did on Monday this past week.

As a part of the Crash Court assembly, Hunter and I opened the presentation with his interview and photos from his wreck and recovery. It was a very short 5-minute presentation. But it was an inspiring moment for all of us.

Why did I do this? Because I am motivated by purpose and wonder.

As an educator, your job must involve good management, oversight, accountability, and instruction. But these qualities alone aren’t enough. These tasks must be married to a motivation that is deep enough to keep you going through the tougher times.

Motivation by wonder may seem like something you should only think about in a cathedral or from the heights of a mountain range. But if you look for beauty and awe on a daily basis–in the solitude of your own home, when you’re doing the dishes, when you answer emails, solve problems, meet with clients, teach children–then your work can move from drudgery to joy–or at least you can think of ways to find joy in those moments more often.

Now It’s Your Turn
What are some ways you find motivation to do your own work? Share with the rest of us.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker