This week’s post is by a guest blogger, Kate Allen. Kate is a writer whose first book, Love. Life. Liturgy celebrates beauty and spirituality in the everyday. Kate also blogs at lifeloveliturgy.com, where she shares thoughtful discussions about her faith and her calling to the priesthood. She can also be found at twitter.com/lovelifeliturgy and facebook.com/thealogicallady.
* * *
Last week, the N.Y. Times featured an article on two kinds of motivation: inner and instrumental. Studying over 11,000 cadets at West Point in the United States, researchers sought to examine the relationship between these kinds of motivation and success. The cadets who were driven primarily by inner motivation (e.g. the desire to be trained as a military leader) were significantly more likely to graduate from the academy and become commissioned officers than those motivated primarily by instrumental motivation (e.g. wanting to get a good job later in life).
As a woman in discernment to become a religious minister, I find myself seeking my own deep motives. Am I drawn primarily by instrumental motives (e.g. the desire to be respected, admired, revered as a result of my future position), or am I drawn primarily by inner motives (e.g. the desire to serve my God with my whole life)? Does it make a difference? Does that difference apply equally to other professions? Why?
These are questions I wrestle with, not just in terms of my own vocational discernment, but in terms of rearing my two toddlers. What am I to teach my daughters about making the most important decisions of their lives?
One thing I’ve discovered in these last several months is that inner motivation may indicate a strong relationship between one’s deepest desires/skills and the path one wishes to take. The path itself is valued, rather than particular outcomes, so unexpected outcomes have minimal power to change one’s path. With instrumental motivation, a particular outcome is what is valued, and when the path itself seems to make the outcome impossible, both the path and the desired outcome may rather easily and simultaneously be tossed to the side forever.
I don’t want to dictate to my daughters what path they should take in life, but I’m learning something important that I want them to hear loud and clear as they grow up: finding a path one loves, and remaining faithful to that path, matters more than any particular outcome. The path is where one discovers the stuff of which she is made. The path is where one’s shadow side may be met and one’s light may find fuel to burn with fiery brilliance.
For me, this is a hard lesson. I have long been oriented toward achieving specific outcomes and dismissing what lessons might come from paying attention to the path itself. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig paints in sometimes vivid, sometimes subtle strokes the disparity between instrumental motives and inner motives. When outcomes are valued more than the path, one might become one’s own roadblock, one’s own inability to move forward. In the case of two of Pirsig’s leading characters, they want to keep going for the sake of getting to the end, and the art of going in itself is ignored or angrily dismissed when it presents an unexpected difficulty; in the case of the other lead character, the going itself is the goal, and roadblocks are a chance to find alternate ways of going when the usual ones fail.
As I learn about my own motivations, I find that the path itself–with its joys as well as its hardships and profound struggles–is what teaches me about who I am and who I most deeply wish to be. And it seems to me that no outcome could be more vital or rewarding than the knowledge I gain from faithfulness to the path to which I am most insistently drawn.