Unhappy Lawyers Book Club, Fall 2011: Drive

One thing that unhappy lawyers often tell me is that they don’t want to do anything that looks like a job; they just want enough money to not have to show up at work and deal with all the crap. That’s a huge sign of burnout, and of being in a job that doesn’t offer you what you need in any way, shape, or form.

Cover of Drive
What if carrots and sticks don't actually work well to motivate you? Find out in the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club on Sept. 15, 2011.

So of course the next question is: What job would give me what I need? Regulars here at Leaving Law know (and newcomers will soon learn!) there is no cut-and-dried answer to that question, much as you might wish there were.

But the reason why is the best reason of all. It’s that every one of you unhappy lawyers is a wonderful individual, with your own unique talents, skills and experiences. Each one of you has something unique that you find meaningful and important. That is the place where you will do your best work, and your happiest, most engaged work. The work that hardly feels like work at all.

Many lawyers, if not most, harbor the belief that the only thing motivating people to work are carrots and sticks. The carrot of big-ass, ridiculous salaries and bonuses, and the sticks of failure, fear, ridicule, shame and disbarment. Most lawyers, maybe even you, don’t really believe in intrinsic motivation. Probably because the last time you experienced it was in grade school, before the credential-accumulating, resume-building lifestyle began in earnest.

Yet according to Daniel Pink, author of Drive, intrinsic motivation is completely where it’s at not only for individuals, but even—gasp—for businesses. In the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club and in my blog, we’ll explore why that is, and how you can bring intrinsic motivation to life in your own alternative legal career.

I got a lot out of Pink’s prior book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. It really changed the way I view what’s going on in the current economy, and gave me a useful lens to see many corporate policies through.

In Drive, Pink builds on his thesis that right-brained workers will rule the future economy, and delves into the science and research of human motivation to explain why. Pink may be, as he calls himself in his TED talk, a failed lawyer, but he is certainly a highly successful writer and thinker.

In his TED talk in 2009, Pink explains his approach:

It’s an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, because they are part of something important. And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  • Autonomy, the urge to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery, the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.

Maybe it can also be the approach for a new operating system for your new career and life.

Unhappy Lawyers Book Club, the Details

So here’s the skinny on the Drive edition of the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club:

Date: September 15, 2011

Time: 1:30 pm—2:00 pm ET

Format: Conference call

Call-in info: (209) 647-1000. The access code is 535240# (yes you need to enter the # sign).

Cost: Free!

You can also like my FaceBook page and get more frequent updates about the book club, like questions I’m pondering as I read, or insights that may not make it into a blog post.

Want to get added to the email list for the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club? Drop me a line at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com. I won’t sell your info or otherwise give it to a third party.

I’ll talk to you on Sept. 15!

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who loves helping unhappy attorneys figure out their intrinsic motivation—i.e., what sets them on fire. If you’re having trouble figuring that out, schedule a discounted sample coaching session with Jennifer. Email jalvey@jenniferalvey.com for details.


  1. “intrinsic motivation is completely where it’s at not only for individuals, but even—gasp—for businesses.”

    What, like “corporate values”? “Drive, Commitment, Daring and Cohesion” (seriously)? Is there an “irony” font on here?


  2. “intrinsic motivation is completely where it’s at not only for individuals, but even—gasp—for businesses.”

    What, like “corporate values”? “Drive, Commitment, Daring and Cohesion” (seriously)? Is there an “irony” font on here?

    Edit, I think I’m being a little obtuse – I’m not calling into question the post or the idea behind it. “Intrinsic motivation” makes sense and would be wonderful if corporations truly adopted that approach as a guideline for developing employees. It struck me that lots of companies may think – or delude themselves into thinking, not sure – they do follow this approach by encouraging participation in things like online “Define Our Values” surveys, which always seemed more than a little contrived to me. On the other hand, I’m sure it’s hard to gather 20,000 employees worldwide that share intrinsic motivators that are even remotely similar, so constructing some “values” at the corporate level makes some sense. Maybe “sarcastic” would have been a better descriptor than “ironic”.

    • I totally get where you’re coming from, JB. I haven’t gotten very far into the book, but it seems like what Pink is talking about is tapping into employees’ intrinsic motivations to help companies achieve their business goals. As in, giving employees enough autonomy and space to create new, innovative ideas, products, methods, etc.

      What Pink tries to convey is that a sticks-and-carrots approach doesn’t work to motivate employees in most situations. (It does in a very limited kind of situation, which he discusses.) He compares incentives/punishment systems that most companies use for employees motivation to a color TV from the 1980s–yeah, used to be great. Been surpassed and is now proven inferior, so why do you still want to use it?

      I agree, corporate mantras are just stomach-turning. Usually they are utterly inauthentic, and that’s why they are (rightly) mocked so mercilessly.

  3. Duly added to my calendar (the call, that is).

    Let’s see, in my legal career I’ve wanted to get better (to not be yelled at or fired….) but I can’t say that Autonomy or Purpose were in there much. Maybe Autonomy as a way to be yelled at less….

    • You have to have purpose in there. Aren’y you some sort of corporate tax attorney? Don’t you help megacorporations protect their competitive profitability or something like that?

      Don’t tell me that earnings don’t matter. They do!

      The economy lives for earnings. When corporations don’t have earnings, the CEOs and stockholders get sad. 😦

      Then the people on TV talking about the corporate profits get sad, too.

      And sadness hurts! It does not feel good to be sad. Think of yourself as a sadness doctor. You prevent sadness and make the world a happier place.

      • I don’t want a pickle

        I just want to ride on my motorcycle.

        That will prevent sadness and make the world a happier place….. 🙂

        [I’m some kinda something but not sure what it is yet. You know, goo phase and all.]

    • Maybe you will emerge from your goo phase as a Senior Partner.

      That will give you Autonomy (you are after all Senior Parter, the very embodiment of Autonomy) and Purpose (to *be* a Senior Partner – the crowning achivement of a Life Well Lived).

      Then you can bask in your reflected glory from the junior Partners and the various associates.

      I wonder what it feels like to bask in reflected glory like that. I’ll bet it makes you feel all warm and cozy inside.

      • :cue Jamie Lee Curtis horror movie screams:

        I’d feel all warm and cozy, alright. Just like a snake digesting a rat in a delux heated snake-arium.

    • MJ says:

      “I’d feel all warm and cozy, alright. Just like a snake digesting a rat in a delux heated snake-arium.”

      Maybe if you billed some more hours you would feel warmer and fuzzier.

      Have you billed more than 24 hours in a day recently?

      How about working all through the night? That seems to make attorneys feel better about themselves and the world in general.

      Try wokring straight through this weekend without sleep. That might speed up your goo phase.

      Let us know the results.

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