By Tina Teng-Henson
On Daniel Goleman’s website some years ago, he described the “Traits of a Motivated Leader.” These folk are motivated less by external factors (salary, status, and so on) — and have an ability to achieve beyond the expectations of others. They learn for the simple joy of learning; they achieve success because they have an inherent passion for the work itself.
They eagerly explore new and more effective ways to get something done, taking on creative challenges because those will help them change the status quo that much faster. Some might find them competitive, but they’d insist they’re not. After all, they’re only keeping score with themselves.
Most people who know me would probably say that all of that is true of me, and that I am very internally motivated. Largely, I’d probably agree. These days, I’m serving as a pastor of life groups at an incredible church in the Bay Area. I help people find community within the 50 existing life groups, we seed new life groups, and we’re developing the core leadership team of our large singles population. I have a deep inherent love for what I do, I am deeply grateful for this particular opportunity to serve this unique community — and God’s blessed our shared work over the past 5 months with quite a bit of success.
But somehow, when I was invited to reflect on this topic of Internal Motivation, this third element among a total of five that Goleman focused on in his understanding of Emotional Intelligence, I felt led to say more about how many external factors scaffold, support, and spur on my own internal motivation. I simply couldn’t do what I do, or be who I am, if it wasn’t for all of them. As I offer up some brief reflections, I invite you to notice the parallel externalities in your own world — and offer up a word of thanks to them if you feel so led.
First off, I get to work with three phenomenal pastors who, together, supervise my work, challenge my thinking, and nurture my spirit. Internal motivation is one thing, but collaboration and learning to work within the parameters set by trusted others has helped me to refine my plans and sometimes curb my impatience. Talking through shared goals for the year’s work — and setting goals that land at that healthy zone between “attainable” and a “stretch” — has helped me feel greater freedom and less anxiety as I go about my business. Being asked to check my thoughts and strategies against the work of others has initially chafed at my pride, but ultimately, this kind of due diligence and accountability will fuel greater confidence in next steps down the road. And simply being around others who I deeply trust and respect cultivates the pastoral heart I have and teaches me the way down this path that is still very new to me.
Secondly, I am surrounded by circles of community and layers of relationship that both inspire and energize me — and help me come down off the mountain too! I think about the very diverse staff team I get to serve alongside: they just brim with talent and humility and an ability to get a lot done in any given week. Our church numbers over a thousand, and I meet amazing ordinary people everyday. But I also am so aware of the beloved community we have here in the region from our last two churches where we served. We are still deeply in relationship with many of them, still partnering in God’s kingdom work, still being formed by the lessons we learned alongside them. And I couldn’t do what I do or be fully alive if it weren’t for the friends I have who aren’t regular church-goers. I get so much out of being with them too; they remind me I am human, we are all on a journey, we all need each other. I think about our oldest, deepest friends from Boston, some of whom are still there — others of whom have been scattered by the winds of graduation, vocation, and marriage all over the world. They still have the ability to make us think and propel us into action — and make us care about politics and justice and our children — like no one else.
Finally, I’m not sure who I would be or what I would amount to if it weren’t for my husband John, whose life example and witness, on multiple fronts, puts me utterly to shame. He cooks, cleans, brings home the bacon (even as a vegetarian), bathes the kids, and seems to endlessly know how to engage them with big smiles and belly laughter. He lives well: the man exercises, gives to charity, follows the news closely, cares for his inner circle, deeply loves his parents and siblings and extended family… and I watch and I learn. Our daughter Beatrice’s joy at going to an amazing preschool and our son Peter’s happy daytime care at our friend’s house make me feel permission, sanction, and the Lord’s blessing to go serve him and his church in a full-time capacity. We’re all differently focused on each other when we’re at home, even if sometimes one of us is simply tired and hungry and ready to go to sleep. And at the start of each day and at the close, too, what could I muster beyond myself if I haven’t had a moment or quite a bit longer with the word of God? That book fuels my very existence in ways I do not understand. Cut off from it, I feel like everything falls apart in very short order. With it, it’s like someone defrags my very being and every thought in my brain, and suddenly way opens, the road clears, and I’m good to go.
And I haven’t even mentioned mentors or former teachers or college roommates or the public schools we went to or the ways that living in one place for a long time is deeply good. But all this to say, sure, I’m internally motivated. And that’s great. But any and all of whatever good within me that I “have,” I am convinced has been cultivated over many long years of love, investment, and care from others — all given by a very good God — way beyond any credit due to the recipient or anything anyone could possibly deserve. This life, such pure GIFT. What a joy to say thanks.