Skin in the game: why I was never motivated in any job

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

After graduating, I spent five years working software engineering jobs, first in a global hedge fund, then a VC-funded AI startup. In both jobs, things were going great at first, but at some point, I started being chastised for not taking the job seriously.

It became a recurring theme in my performance reviews: Kacper is strong technically and works well with others, but to advance his career he needs to take on more responsibility.

To be fair, my managers were always friendly and genuinely tried to help me. After all, any employee should want to grow and not stay a junior developer forever. But my attempts at taking responsibility always ended up being half-hearted. Even when I initiated projects that were by all appearances a good fit for me, over time I would lose interest and gladly hand them over to somebody else.

What was the reason? I always felt that the effort I would put into the job would not be proportional to the reward. If I spent more time and effort on working harder, what would that give me? If I’m lucky, a promotion with a 15% raise — hardly life-changing. Not worth the investment.

The real beneficiaries of my hard work would be major shareholders: the hedge fund manager who’s already a billionaire, or the startup founders and a bunch of VCs. I had stock options in the startup, but my share was minuscule. Even in the case of a very good exit, my profits are unlikely to be life-changing.

The system of getting a fixed monthly salary does not incentivize giving your best performance. It incentivizes putting in the minimum effort necessary to meet expectations. Hence various motivational mechanisms: stock options, bonuses, promotions, kudos… For me, that always seemed like a band-aid solution. I knew I could never thrive in a system that doesn’t incite me to do my best, and one that stifles my creativity by forcing me into a specialized role with a narrow focus.

So I finally reached a breaking point, gathered my courage, and quit to be an entrepreneur. I’m now working on a micro-SaaS idea as a cofounder and CTO. Now the stakes are very different.

If I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. The product doesn’t get built. The users do not come. I don’t get paid. I don’t become successful.

It’s challenging and exhilarating. I wear many hats, work on every aspect of the business and learn a lot. I am looking forward to the joy of turning an idea in my head into a product that real people use, love, and gladly pay money for.

Most importantly, I reap all the rewards. I finally have skin in the game. The future looks bright.

2151cookie-checkSkin in the game: why I was never motivated in any job

4 thoughts on “Skin in the game: why I was never motivated in any job

  • I am having similar doubt however I had been feeling progress since my salary rise in respect to the work I am doing, but eventually lost motivation finding out that however more I get the tax man is taking 40%, I can have an amazing bonus in reflection of my hard work but after tax would be not as impressive at all. Also came to the conclusion that after being able to afford a comfortable life, more money just doesn’t make me happy – in the past I can spend it all on travelling, eating out now it go straight to investment which is pretty boring, I can pay more for the mortgage but the interest rate is so low doesnt make that much sense, don’t want to buy cars since its bad investment and renting a car space in my area is crazy expensive, my house is full of stuff already doesn’t make sense to purchase more stuff, plus stuff does not make me happier – first world problem.
    Now I am slowing coming to piece with some learning, especially the Ikigai mindset – (look it up there are books and is a girl who is trying to do coaching), a few different books on personal development and currently doing this course about happiness: https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/home/welcome

    However instead of going freeland like you I am taking a different approach – partly due to my immigration status that still required me to be employed and not trusting myself enough to do that – I am taking a job on a different domain and as I am new also lower salary – not sure how it will be yet but will see – maybe the same thing or worst but I will be learning things in the domain I am interested in and hopefully reaching closer to my Ikigai/purpose. And within a few years hope to take a year/few month off to travel full time before settling down.
    Anyway – it was lovely to learn about your journey, would be interested to know how it goes, and glad to know I am not the only one having quarter life crisis 🙂

    • Hi Mira,

      First, sorry for taking so long to approve your comment and reply. I somehow missed the notification!

      It’s great that you’re making a change. I think a lot of people get caught up in the standard conveyor belt of going to school, getting a “good” job, even if it doesn’t fulfil them, and staying there until retirement. It’s better to have a quarter-life crisis rather than a mid-life one, as there’s still a lot of years ahead! A lof of people never make that leap and they end up being bitter their entire lives, so congrats and wish you all the best.

  • I think your idea of motivation is very limited, to your ambitions. You want to make money and a lot of it. Most employees in othe jobs would think a pay rise of 15% very good and substantial. But you want it to be life changing, soclearly you are talking of something much more immediate something that will enable you to buy a bigger flat using your bonus, or maybe a Porsche. For others in different jobs there is the satisfaction of doing a job well and your boss recognising you. In my work experience, before I had a family, I cared much less about the pay and much more about whether I could enjoy the work. The money was an additional bonus. Later when I had a family to support the money became more important but not the most important. Probably now, near retirement, I could do a few more jobs for the money would be useful. I have less need to feel I have done a good job, tho I still want that satisfaction. Now, if I had enough money to live on, I would be grateful for the opportunity to do interesting work for no financial reward, just the satisfaction of being appreciated.

    • Hi Alistair,

      Certainly people have different motivations. A lot of people are happy in their careers. I am motivated by money and the freedom that it would bring. But there are more important things, like health, fulfilling work and relationships. Money is not worth much if you don’t have those. I’ve never had a job that was truly fulfilling in the long run and the freedom to choose what I work on is partially why I’m attracted to entrepreneurship, as that could allow me to construct a career tailor made to what I find interesting and fulfilling.

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