The #1 Communication That Poisons Motivation

Unless someone asks for it, telling people what to do simply does not work. This is one of the basic ethics in our approach to career development and talent management at Inspired Work.

A few years ago, Barack Obama made a rather enlightened statement when he came to support LGBT civil rights. He said, “No one has the right to tell someone who they can love.” And yet, how many parents and extreme religious leaders try to dictate otherwise? Time and time again, we find the truth that “Don’t be you” produces the greatest damage throughout our culture.

At Inspired Work, our curriculum doesn’t tell people what to do with their careers, we ask people who they want to be. We ask questions that help people craft their ideal work, to describe the lives they want to have, and the impact they want to give to the world. As they respond, everyone crafts a unique and personal mission, vision, and purpose. These compelling visions pave the way for building the kind of support systems that help them succeeded. All of this is learnable.

He invited me to watch a video of their work. I witnessed patients demonstrating the great courage it takes to thrive in a radically altered life. But, I will never forget one of them.

Even though I practiced this philosophy, I didn’t realize my own limitations until I had a prescient event take place. About five years after I launched our company, I met a brilliant healthcare professional from UCLA Medical School. He specialized in the rehabilitation of patients with severe brain injuries. He invited me to watch a video of their work. I witnessed patients demonstrating the great courage it takes to thrive in a radically altered life. But, I will never forget one of them. She was a District Attorney who had built a stellar reputation in the community as a skilled and fearless leader. A horrific car accident wiped all of that away. After rehab, she got a job with Universal Studios as a ticket cashier. She looked into the camera with great joy and laboriously said, “It makes me so happy to give people exact change.”

This was one of the most emotionally impactful moments of my professional journey.

I had become used to clients and participants launching new careers, finding ideal jobs, launching new businesses or simply reinventing themselves and returning to roles that had become stale. Most of the stories attached to these graduates are glamorous and impressive. But, when I observed the joy on this remarkable person’s face, I was reminded that I have no right to push any form of work on anyone. The only ethical action is to help them discover and define their ideal.

As an extension of the industrial revolution, which is over, many parents and counselors routinely tell children what to do. When this happens, we often stagnate that child’s early process of identifying what is interesting and replace it with the notion that mom knows what’s best. But, in a world where today’s average college grad will change careers, not jobs, 4-6 times, loving our work, doing the work that we really want to do, will prove the most reliable incentive to change.

We have intervened with the beliefs of so many participants and witnessed their progress that it is our conclusion the most poisonous idea we can impose on another person is, “Don’t be you.” When someone buys that idea, they lose the incentive and the optimism to take action and change.

Dr. Mary Campbell and I are working on a new book to help families better understand how to prepare their children for the future of work. We are writing the book with the knowledge that many parents could use an intervention in their own careers. Because it is difficult for a parent to prepare their child for an ideal future if they are not having a good relationship with their work. We have been studying parents who are successfully providing an environment in which their children define what they most want to do with their lives. In fact, rather than dictating the role, we find far more value in helping our children develop the life skills that make all of us successful.

The success stories are not always happy.

For example, at a very early age, Alex Scott came down with neuroblastoma. Her parents Jason and Elizabeth Scott went through the unique hell that happens when a child develops a terminal illness. As their little girl went through surgery and chemotherapy, Alex was moved by the volunteers that came to the hospital to help keep up her spirits. To demonstrate her gratitude, Alex opened a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research. The stand was phenomenally successful and it launched a foundation. By the time she passed, Alex’s Lemonade Stand had thousands of stands across the country raising funds. Last year, the organization raised over 18 million dollars.

Her mother Elizabeth could have protected Alex from doing a thing. Instead, her parents gave her the right to establish meaning in her life. After Alex passed away, her mother said, “There are people who would say that Alex didn’t live long enough to find her purpose in life. Nothing could be further from the truth.” Alex ignited a movement that now brings additional meaning to other people’s lives. Today is one of the most exciting times in healthcare. Routinely, we are finding cures for illnesses that seemed invincible. The miracles we are witnessing today is due to the support of millions of financial contributors, passionate scientists, and dedicated healthcare workers.

The greatest good has not come out of dictating to others what they want to do with their lives. It has emerged by asking the kinds of questions that connect with their soul. The soul always has the message, a form of career DNA that elevates our lives. This cannot happen if our mantra is lowered to, “Give me another job, just like the one I hated.”

I have been at the game of orchestrating the success of our relationship towards work for 28 years. The joy that I get when someone not only identifies but successfully realizes their purpose in life is just as magical whether it is with a CEO who commits to category leadership or a cashier who loves giving exact change or a little girl who finds her destiny and never becomes a teenager. These are the moments that bring the greatest meaning into our lives. None of them would have occurred if someone had talked them out of it. They happen because we encourage them and make it safe for them to live their lives on their terms.


David Harder
David Harder
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.

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  1. WoW! A long-overdue article from someone who knows; Thanks a Million, David! I agree with you when it comes to guiding our young ones in their career pursuits. Gone are the days when parents decided if their offspring shall become a doctor, an engineer, or join the forces and serve the country.

    One point I noted with a grain of salt: “As an extension of the industrial revolution, which is over.” We are well on the way with the Fourth Industrial Revolution riding the wave of “IoT,” or the ‘Internet of Things,’ with its massive connectivity of “things.” What this means, regarding career choices is way beyond the reach of the ill-informed parents, as well as the Millennials.

    I have addressed more than one hundred of the yet unknown, and handsomely rewarding career choices based on this technology in my upcoming book.

    Thank You

    My family joins me in Wishing You and All Your Loved Ones, Happy Holidays & A Very Happy, Healthy, Peaceful, and Prosperous New Year 2019