Redefining External vs. Internal Rewards to Help Choose Your Goals Wisely
Rewarding yourself can often be an excellent way to get things done. If you work on a project for an hour, you can take a break by walking outside, getting a treat from the pantry or taking a nap in a hammock on a lazy afternoon.
Rewards at work look a bit different and are usually about reaching for the next promotion or raise. We fight for statuses that will earn us more money and higher titles or look for ways to set ourselves apart from our coworkers and gain more recognition or favor with the higher-ups.
Thinking about how far you have to go to get into the C-Suite can be exhausting, but focusing on the next open position in front of you can help you put one foot in front of the other. While that can be a good plan for a while, it’s essential to look up now and again and make sure you know where you’re headed in the long term instead of stepping towards the first benefit that appears before you.
Listen to this week’s episode of the rich & REGULAR podcast as we discuss the details of our new book, Cashing Out (available now!), and keep reading for ways to redefine rewards to help you think about what’s best for your life.
Rewards can be a distraction
We’ve previously discussed setting goals and creating a financial plan, and having a strategy to break down larger goals into smaller steps can help you find success. It’s not uncommon to reward yourself with little treats along the way to help maintain a streak at the gym or motivate yourself to work on a side hustle daily.
But when you start going after promotions or raises at work simply because they’re there and you think they’ll earn you more external respect, you run the risk of distracting yourself from your ultimate career goals. It’s vital to understand when you’re using a reward or benefit as motivation that gets you closer to your ultimate goal of cashing out and when you use it as a distraction that keeps you from moving forward.
As you start to think about the types of rewards you have pursued in your professional life, spend some time with your journal or take a long walk and ask yourself the following:
Are external rewards helping you get where you want to be?
This can be a tricky question to answer. On the one hand, receiving a reward at work often feels like an accomplishment—you’ve been recognized for your hard work. You got a bonus, earned a raise or were acknowledged for your contributions. That’s all good.
On the other hand, you may have never intended to be the vice president of anything, and now you feel like you have to put in the hours to live up to the title while your dreams and time with family keep getting pushed aside.
As you review how external rewards may be keeping you from the life you want, compare them to the financial and professional goals you have set for yourself. If you find that the immediate, external rewards you’ve been chasing are taking you further away from your objectives, it may be time to look into changing how you approach things.
What do internal rewards look like for you?
It can be scary to do things differently when you’ve only known one way forward. Instead of focusing on the next promotion or raise, think about the internal rewards that would help you further your plans.
Consider the internal rewards you can offer to yourself as stepping stones along the way. That might look like signing up for a class to help you upskill for your next intentional role at work or asking a potential mentor to meet you for coffee.
Working towards internal goals can be scary, and putting them off is easy, so consider giving yourself a small reward or treat for accomplishing them. Remember that taking action is about improving your life, not just getting a cookie when you’ve crossed a task off the list.
Are you helping others?
We may justify focusing on external rewards by telling ourselves that we have to provide for our families. While being an adult often means going to work or doing things you may not want to do in service of your family, you need to be aware of the unspoken messages you’re sending to the people around you.
It’s also important to recognize that our kids are watching us, and when we only focus on climbing the corporate ladder, they learn that giving up on your dreams is something you have to do when you have a family. You may not mean to communicate that our days are best spent striving for the external rewards and the validation we get at work, but you may be doing so anyway.
Rewards can be a tool that help us accomplish what we set out to do. The problem comes when they become the only reason we see for taking action or making changes. It can be easy to get distracted and let outside forces push us off our intended path. It’s OK to want things and be successful, but it’s crucial to recognize why you want a particular role or title and whether it is ultimately serving you and your dreams.
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