Most people are primarily externally driven; they do what they do because they want to impress other people. This is bad for many reasons, but here are two important ones.
First, you will work on consensus ideas and on consensus career tracks. You will care a lot—much more than you realize—if other people think you’re doing the right thing. This will probably prevent you from doing truly interesting work, and even if you do, someone else would have done it anyway.
Second, you will usually get risk calculations wrong. You’ll be very focused on keeping up with other people and not falling behind in competitive games, even in the short term.
Smart people seem to be especially at risk of such externally-driven behavior. Being aware of it helps, but only a little—you will likely have to work super-hard to not fall in the mimetic trap.
The most successful people I know are primarily internally driven; they do what they do to impress themselves and because they feel compelled to make something happen in the world. After you’ve made enough money to buy whatever you want and gotten enough social status that it stops being fun to get more, this is the only force I know of that will continue to drive you to higher levels of performance.
This is why the question of a person’s motivation is so important. It’s the first thing I try to understand about someone. The right motivations are hard to define a set of rules for, but you know it when you see it.
Jessica Livingston and Paul Graham are my benchmarks for this. YC was widely mocked for the firs