Hi there, thanks so much for reaching out. What a great question you've brought up! Finding motivation in life can be a challenge. Sometimes that is because we are experiencing something like depression or anxiety, or even just burnout and exhaustion. Other times it can be because we are not in touch with our inner value system.
It is important to recognize that what motivates you might not be the same thing that motivates the people around you. There are several "motivators" we come up against throughout our lives. Most can be placed into one of two broad categories: external and internal motivators
1. External motivators come from outside of us and are often helpful when we are struggling to find motivation from within. These external motivators include things like: parents (in childhood/adolescence), rules (at school or at work, or the law), societal norms and expectations (such as feeling motivated to work because we need a place to live, or wearing clothes in public because we can't enter a place of business without them, etc).
2. Internal motivators are usually linked to our internal value system. An example of this would be something along the lines of what you described as feeling proud when you got the manager position at the bowling alley. Perhaps that pride was a guiding motivator to show up to work and do a good job!
In order to get in touch with our internal motivators (which we need for those times when the external factors aren't strong enough to create that motivation we are seeking), we need to connect with our values. I want to take a minute to talk more fully about values because they are vital.
Values are defined as "a person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life." We usually form these by internalizing the values our parents held when we were children. For example: if a parental value is achievement, a child might internalize the importance of accomplishing goals or reaching for great heights in life. Sometimes, however, our parents have their own struggles and what they value is unclear even to them. This is when we start to look to people in the outside world to define our value system. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but it can lend itself to confusion as a person's value system is complex and has many layers. We can ask two people the same question: how do you define success? Someone who values achievement might answer that success is linked to accomplishing goals, whereas someone who values connection might answer that success is linked to having deep relationships with friends and family. Neither are wrong, just different. This is why it is important that we connect with our own value system. How do we do this? One way is to find a list of values and determine which ones resonate with you. Some examples of values include: honesty, adventure, courage, family, wealth, safety, trust, compassion, humor, authenticity, community, friendship, justice, leadership, knowledge, kindness...the list is endless. More examples can be found by googling "values list." Getting in touch with our values increases independence. This is because we typically make decisions based on what we know and what is important to us. If we do not know what's important and/or we are looking to others to tell us, we end up confused and uncertain of our own ability, which decreases confidence and leads us to uncertainty.Further, knowing what is important to us in life and being in touch with our value system is a powerhouse for motivation and leadership. No longer do we need another's opinion or approval to make a decision that feels right to us. Not that we want to operate in a vacuum, we still need each other to help us stay balanced and grounded. We still want to ask for counsel when we need it, ask for opinions when we want them. The difference now is that we can take the information from people around us, set it against the backdrop of our own value system and then keep what resonates with us while letting go of what does not. In doing this, we are no longer at the mercy of what the world around us thinks. We are connected to ourselves, filled with greater confidence and able to make decisions that honor our own needs. We MUST honor our own needs before we can be effective anywhere else. Ultimately, this is how we live a life of fulfillment--by choosing what we do or don’t do, what we will or will not tolerate, who we will or will not allow into our lives—based on how these things align with the things we value. When we do this, we are often able to then connect with the motivation that previously has been lacking.
Try it Out—journal prompts for values exploration The following exercise can be beneficial for many reasons. --One, it can help us get in touch with what is important to us. --Two, it can help us distinguish what we SAY our values are vs. how we are living/not living them. --Three, it can help us take action to more fully live in accordance with our values. --Four, it can ground us in our own truth amid the many changing opinions of others. --And five, it gives us a framework to build on as we make decisions that shape our lives. We can begin exploring our own values by asking ourselves these questions: 1. What are the top five things I value in life? 2. What is it about each of these values that feels important to me? 3. Why do these values feel important? 4. How do I imagine each of these values manifesting in my daily life? Once we have gone through our list of values and written out the answers to the four questions above, we can then examine our lives and ask the following questions:1. Am I living this value today?2. What is the evidence that this value is represented in my life?3. How will I recognize it if this value is NOT being represented in my life?4. If the value is not currently part of my life, what is one action step I can take to move toward a life that does incorporate it?
Not knowing your life story in detail, it will be hard to speak specifically about what might be motivating to you, or why you are not experiencing the lack of it. One thing that stands out to me in your writing is that you felt proud when you got that job as a manager. Ask yourself, what contributed to that sense of pride? What did you enjoy in the beginning of that career path? Perhaps that can be a key to connecting to some of your values, which can then help with that internal motivation we need for life. I do encourage you to consider the journaling prompts above for your own self-reflection. I also encourage you to consider if you are experiencing depression or even burnout. If so, getting evaluated can be helpful as those have a big impact on level of motivation.
Finally, therapy can be a helpful tool in exploring your lack of motivation as well as some of the other struggles you've noted. It is a great way to show up for yourself and connect with someone who can assist you as you explore.
It is brave that you reached out. Be kind to yourself and give yourself lots of credit for doing so.