Everyone wants to achieve greatness, but we’re all motivated by different things.

Sure, money is an obvious inspiration. But you may be driven by ego, personal satisfaction or pride, like Howard Schultz. He grew up in a poor family in the Bronx, earned an athletic scholarship, and eventually founded Starbucks.

Innovation may be something you’re born with, as may have been the case with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Or, like Apple’s Tim Cook, you may need to fulfill an obligation or live up to a legacy-;such as the extremely large shoes left behind by Steve Jobs.

What about us mere mortals? How can we find the courage to start a new business, sell into new markets, relinquish control to someone else, stay the course through choppy waters, or push through the latest crisis?

Try using one of these powerful motivators:

Tap Your Competitive Spirit

Pepsi and Coke. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Years ago I had a business partnership that turned sour, as many do. Years of frustration and expensive legal attacks ended when I finally purchased her interest in the company and we parted ways. I turned all my anger and fatigue into fuel. I had only one thing in mind: “The best revenge is living well.” There could be no better motivator for me than to drive the business forward and leave my former partner in my rearview mirror, covered in my proverbial dust.

Don’t Take No for an Answer

Want to see someone highly motivated? Try taking away a toddler’s favorite toy or food. Every cell in his or her body will scream, “I want it, and I want it now!” Capture that same passion and energy-;without actually acting like a baby, of course--and channel it into something really challenging.

There is perhaps no better example of entrepreneurial tenacity than Fred Smith, who turned a mediocre college term paper into the world’s largest overnight delivery service, FedEx. Creating a $43 billion company is a hell of a way to prove your point.

Knowing You Can Do It Better

Experiencing mediocrity is a huge motivator for innovation. It’s easy to identify something that doesn’t work well, but only a few people have the drive, expertise and resources to build a better mousetrap. Your idea or business may be better, but if you can’t prove it by making it happen, you’re just a hater.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos took his negative experiences in corporate environments and vowed to do business without crushing the souls of his employees. Now, his online shoe and clothing store is widely recognized for its fun culture and crazy-good customer service. In 2009 Amazon.com bought Zappos for $1.2 billion. Hsieh’s success shows that you don’t have to invent a new product or service - you just have to do it much better! 

Each of my parents, aunts and uncles faithfully toiled at large companies for more than 40 years. So when I held six jobs in 10 years and then started my own business, I didn’t have a lot of support. I’ve used all three of these motivators to give me the courage to start a business, keep it growing for 15 years, and generally keep kicking butt.

What’s your biggest motivator? 

Published on: Feb 20, 2013
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.