Rewards — 75

This post is part of Project: Inception, written ~8 years ago. It has been untouched from its original, pseudonymous, form. It is also part of the larger “farewell” tour and countdown as I turn-off this blog and head to the metaverse where I will live out the rest of my wonderful days. I hope to see you there!


The typical reward-based systems that seem to motivate most folks on the planet do not really affect me much at all. Things like money and power and position seem to rank pretty high on the list of must-haves for go-getters in the professional world and although I enjoy being recognized (or at least not ostracized) like everyone else I don’t find that these things provide the motivation that  most others submit themselves to.

I am moved to do certain things out of compulsion – some things, like my obsessions, I simply cannot explain. Why would any sane person want to spend so much time doing the things that I do, the things that many autistics choose to do with their time? An aspie creative is motivated to do the thing because that very thing is the reward, in and of itself. I have often had much trouble communicating this as well as trying to understand why others do not see it in this way.

Building a small application that takes images via your mobile device, adds a filter, and then posts it to a website? Who would want to do that, especially knowing that it was going to take roughly 1,400 hours to complete (which is almost 9 months of solid full-time work) for zero pay? Nilch, nada. Oh, but that one seems so easy to tackle though as one could say He’s an entrepreneur and he hopes that someone will invest in him or buy him out for $1.0b dollars! Eh. Not really. I didn’t start because I wanted to cash out or be noticed – I wanted to build it because I wanted to build it. Plain and simple.

Perhaps that’s what makes aspies so darn special and unique is because we exemplify what social behaviorists and psychologists have come to realize about rewards, intrinsic motivation, and self-determination in our own behavior. What the two foremost leaders in experimental psychology, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, have discovered is that motivation develops not from outside of us but from within us; it’s grounded in our most basic human need to develop our own skills (mastery) and capacities as well as to act on our own accord (sovereignty).

What they came to conclude, which is really neat, is that when the person is deeply engaged in their work, their most creative work, we feel connected to ourselves in the most intimate of ways and the person feels as if they are acting in accord with their own will and on behalf of the goals that we find meaningful and full of purpose. The most startling finding for the two? It was clear that rewards, such as prizes, money, and even the resulting career advancement were not only less effective but could actually diminish interest, feelings of engagement, and especially motivation.

I know that exact feeling. I have often baffled people, especially when I was being courted away from companies by recruiters from other businesses, that I would rather take a lower paying salary (sometimes a much lower salary) if I could be guaranteed the ability to do what I love with little disturbance as possible. Sometimes the gap of salary would warrant a literal demotion of the role so as to “fit” into their corporate structure.

But, we’re interested in hiring you for the Executive Vice President over Product Development at MySpace – that’s $220k plus incentives, bonuses and stock options! But you’re telling me you’d rather spend more time with the engineering teams and building software? Well, that sounds like more of a Senior Engineer III position which is only $135k plus incentives. [Insert long pause here.] That doesn’t really make a lot of sense and we’re not hiring you for that role.

The recruiter couldn’t have possibly understood – I wasn’t motivated by position or money or any prestige of working for a very well-known technology player in my field at the time. I wanted to build stuff and if this role didn’t allow me to do that then I had no interest in it whatsoever. Thankfully I turned that job down because it would have required me to spend far too much time with other people and having to manage them as well. I can barely manage what I at going to eat for the day – how can I managed an entire division’s roles and responsibilities, much less care about it in the first place?

What’s funny is that Daniel Pink, when pondering Deci’s research as well as doing his own, discovered that “those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards eventually receive them.” Imagine that. Those that are doing their greatest work and are hyper-focused on building great pieces of art with their work eventually receive the extrinsic rewards, as he calls them, like position, recognition, and the financial rewards of being amazing.

Go figure.

If you can learn from an aspie what it’s like to pursue one’s interest without regard to external factors then you will have gotten one step closer to being the best version of yourself, one that is not bound by man-made constructs of motivation and reward but one that is free to do great work simply because great work must be done. It is demanded of you and it is the reason that you exist.  No man (or woman) was created to just earn a salary and go home and watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – we were made for things so much greater.