Skip to main content

DE Week #3 Reflection

This week, we were assigned to watch a TedTalk by Dan Ariely discussing ‘What makes us feel good about our work’. Ariely’s words about the motivation behind labor certainly resonate with me, although they did not encompass everything that motivates me. When it comes to schoolwork, of course recognition by the professor plays a part in how I psychologically assign value to it. The farther removed my work is from being recognized by someone else, the less fulfilling it feels (i.e. I care less about some automatically graded online quiz than a paper quiz I hand in). Ariely is right that effort combines with a myriad of other factors such as challenge, ownership, and identity to equal our motivation for work. For me, school work is especially motivating when it concerns an issue I’m truly passionate about. I never felt as motivated and prideful about work as when I was researching voter suppression in my home state of Georgia for a public policy memo, or the use of solitary confinement as an 8th amendment violation for an ethics class. Work that I feel prepares me for what I want to go out into the world to try to chip away at and fight for is truly magnified in the motivation I feel for it.

This isn’t too dissimilar from my DukeEngage work. I was lucky enough to be placed with an organization and project that does work I’m truly interested in and want to be involved with in the future. While I think there are lots of problems with philanthropic and public litigation work like the labor done by FJI (there is a very valid argument that working on reform legitimizes truly cruel and unequal structures like the prison system despite making positive changes within them) fighting for an immediate and long term improvement in conditions for prisoners is something I find truly important. My money for the work I do this summer is a lump sum coming from DukeEngage, not my organization, so it hasn’t really crossed my mind as a motivator. Recognition from my superiors certainly helps make the work feel more fulfilling despite how important it is on its own. Each individual incident report I code or batch of reports I bookmark feels good to complete, but finishing an assigned set and receiving a little ‘good job’ email in response always gives me a greater sense of completeness. The Ikea effect certainly exists even in my DE work. All the tools are set out there for me to succeed, and most people could do the work I’m doing with a bit of training. But putting all the pieces together and signing off on it makes me feel like I’m playing some part in a greater good. There is an element of selfishness in all labor, but is that necessarily a bad thing? In my opinion, as long as greed is not the main motivator and overshadows any other sense of humanity, intrinsic psychological motivators are of no great harm.