Charles Starrett


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Culture consultant & social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo & Northeastern University. He/Him. Dad, Harvard and NEC alum, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele, electronic music, 한국어, and TTRPGs.


Autonomy and Purpose

In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink argues that intrinsic motivation is a greater force than extrinsic motivation (once our physical survival needs are met), and that the three strongest intrinsic motivators are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Our schooling, and many of our workplaces, have already trained us to value and develop mastery, but not so much for autonomy and purpose.

We are taught to do what we’re told, for the reason of, “I said so.”

Or we may be told to “take initiative” but punished when we do the wrong thing.

Or we may be given a reason for why the work we do is important, but in our gut we either feel that the reason is bogus, or not aligned with what matters to us.

To thrive with these three intrinsic human motivators, we need to develop the inner skills. Inner skills of compassion to have resilience and keep going when acting from a place of autonomy fails. To worry less about failing and more about learning. Because the gift of failing when I’m acting out of my own initiative, is that I get to learn the most. I can see more of what happened—what went right and what went wrong—and I can take those learnings to my next attempt.

However, most of us weren’t taught to learn by failing. We were taught (and rewarded) to get it right the first time. Finding our way through failure takes some practice.

It’s the same with acting from a place of purpose. Most of us weren’t taught to follow our own inner compass, either. We were taught to do what we were told, and rewarded when we did so.

Finding our inner compass and learning to navigate with it also takes practice, and support from people who want us to succeed on our own terms, rather than on their terms.

Developing the skills and capacity to thrive with autonomy and purpose, as well as mastery, isn’t easy, but it can be done with commitment and a community of like-hearted learners.

If this way of working and living calls to you, the rewards are well worth the investment of unlearning the old say, and learning the skills we need for greater satisfaction and well-being.

10 September 2022

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