On the Nature and Scarcity of Drive

I have had a bit of a personal revelation lately, and I’d like to take some time to explore it here in the dark reaches of my mind.

The revelation was this: Drive.

No, it’s not a command, and I’ve no intention of going after that driver’s license yet. In this context, it’s a noun. And it’s an important noun.

Drive is at the center of accomplishment. Without drive, one cannot work up the motivation to achieve. But what exactly is it? I’ve asked myself this question a number of times in the last couple of weeks. It’s not an easy question to answer.

Drive, from what I can tell, is on the outskirts of a number of other qualities. In the days leading up to my realization of the importance of drive, the idea teased me, always eluding me when I searched for just the right word to encapsulate it. I was attempting to describe a characteristic that I saw in someone, and never could seem to get it just right. All of the words that I considered and rejected are the ideas on the periphery of drive. Here, in the order that I recall them, are a few examples of these words:

  • Motivation
  • Gumption
  • Stick-to-it-ive-ness
  • Ambition
  • Capability
  • Effectiveness

None of these, for me, encompass all the things that make up drive. They all leave something out, or hit just barely off the mark that “drive” hits perfectly.

It was, actually, a friend of mine who solved this riddle for me, quite by accident. I read him a passage from Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which, by the way, I highly recommend) regarding gumption. He mentioned to me that his preferred term for what Pirsig refers to as “gumption” is “drive”. As soon as he said it, the idea clicked into place, and I realized that my word-search was over. (Thanks, Aaron!)

It was also during this conversation that I realized what a deficit there is of this vital quality of drive among the members of my generation. We are not, on the whole, as driven as previous generations were. Perhaps I am incorrect in this evaluation, as I’m basing it on a rather small sample population, but I have observed a startling lack of motivation and ambition in myself and my peers.

Why is this so disturbing to me? Why does it bother me so much? Because drive is the only sure way to any sort of improvement. Only through wanting something enough to devote time and effort to it can we actually improve our lives, or the lives of others. Intelligence, though helpful, is subordinate in importance to drive. Good intentions, similarly, are certainly a positive, but without the drive (there’s that WORD again!) to act on them, they accomplish nothing.

I certainly have more to say on this topic, but the need for sleep before work in the morning must take precedence over my web ramblings. My next rambling should come up within a few days, and will cover more ideas related to drive, including my categorization of types and sources of drive, and possibly how I think it interacts with other positive qualities.