As I work through Daniel Pink’s modern-day classic, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, I’m struck by a profound truth:

If you want to create an engaging workplace, don’t focus on material rewards. Instead, offer meaningful work.

Pink claims that most folks managing organizations have an outdated view of human motivation, believing that carrot-and-stick motivation (rewards for good performance and punishment for poor performance) is the best way to ensure productivity from your employees. It’s not, and never has been.

Instead, leaders should strive to provide interesting, meaningful work for those they serve. We have an internal drive (get it?) for creativity, contribution, and autonomy, and extrinsic rewards like cash bonuses create only short-term motivation.

Teaching vs. flipping trumpets (yes, that’s a thing)

I haven’t finished Drive yet, so I’ll cut my analysis short for now. But let me ask you:

Does this jibe with your life experience?

It does with mine. I’ve had many jobs, and most of them have involved some form of teaching. They’ve all been fulfilling, but you couldn’t call any of them “high-paying.”

I have had one high-paying job, though. Once upon a time, I was a trumpet flipper.


As a music graduate student, I supplemented my teaching and performing income by scouring the internet for underpriced trumpets. They weren’t hard to find, as many folks just wanted Uncle Harold’s old trumpet out of their basement and weren’t interested in researching its value. When I found a horn priced far below its true worth, I bought it immediately, performed any basic repairs, and resold it for market value.

It was good money; sometimes great money. I occasionally made several hundred dollars for an afternoon’s worth of work.

Boy, did I hate that job.

What value was I providing? What was I contributing to humanity? Not a whole lot. Flipping trumpets felt like a huge waste of my precious time, and I’m happy to have moved on to more meaningful work. Helping others beats the tar out of clicking “refresh” on eBay all afternoon, chin in hand.

It’s worth remembering, as we seek to understand our own behavior and the behavior of those around us:

We’re built for meaning.