I sat through a safety training class a few weeks ago with several guest speakers. These speakers talked about what makes them passionate about safety related work and many of the stories were based on incidents that they were exposed to. Witnessing someone dying during their construction job or dealing with medical limitations due to exposure. There is also the recreation side of things: The runners that painfully train for a marathon that alone is a difficult journey, the gymnasts that tirelessly build their strength and flexibility, and the other sports we push ourselves through to get a sense of accomplishment. Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, has many more examples of motivation through his research in behavioral economics.
When I tell my story as to what motivated me to enter into the field of engineering, I do talk about the exciting parts of wanting to use my creativity and be on a track of continuous learning. Although there is another aspect of my motivation, it is that I want to be able to be financially independent. I grew up babysitting for many women who were financially dependent on their husbands due to them being in a military field. These women had a difficult time sustaining their own career due to the demands of military life and regular relocations. Engineering is one of the most difficult things I could think of doing that would maximize my starting income in the shortest amount of time. I also thought through the potential of ease of transition into other areas as my career develops, which has worked well for me.
There are countless stories of people becoming doctors or researchers after witnessing hardship with their families or friends. This misery builds a fire and is a very interesting tool that is difficult to argue against due to it being so personal for building motivation. Harnessing and sharing that passion and motivation can bring out the stories in others and drive up their motivation.