Rocket Science Meets Motivation - Fuel Your Job and Career Exploration

Nov 13 / Julie Jones

One of my favorite movies is October Sky, based on the memoir, Rocket Boys. The movie features Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead character, Homer Hickam. Homer doesn’t quite fit in -- boys play sports and then work in the mine in Coalwood, West Virginia, a given since his father is the mine superintendent. But Homer doesn’t feel that calling ever since he saw Sputnik orbit the world. 

He was captivated by the next frontier on that evening in 1957; he wanted to learn more about rockets and space. Homer partnered with the socially awkward math genius, Quentin, to help him tackle the math required for rocket science and enlisted two more friends to start a rocket club. One of their science teachers,  Miss Riley, coached and mentored them in their mission to build rockets. The town initially supported the group and was interested in the rocket launching progress. But after a few disastrous attempts, their launch pad was shut down. Homer’s father demanded that Homer put aside these science projects, which won’t go anywhere, and focus on a real career.

Homer never let his dream die despite several setbacks. It was a glorious day when the Rocket Boys successfully launched and tracked their rocket. They won the West Virginia and the National Science Fair competition. All four boys received scholarships to attend college, which was rare in this coal-mining town. Homer became a rocket scientist, working for NASA designing spacecraft and missiles. He also trained astronauts for Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions. He fulfilled his dream of exploring the next frontier.

Homer’s story is not unique. Your parents may have specific career agendas for you, bosses may define your career choices based on their limited knowledge of your resume and experience, or you may hold yourself back, wondering if bold thinking is too risky. And, sometimes, you end up in a job where you can’t be your best self, live up to your full potential, or feel stuck.

I’ve heard these comments from people when they felt stuck in their jobs.

I’m operating on autopilot – I can answer the questions in my sleep. I’m not challenged anymore.”

“I have so much more to offer. I feel like I’m only using a basic skill set.”

“I feel like I solve the same problems over and over - Organizationally, we struggle with executing bigger solutions.”

Unfortunately, these types of comments come up often from those who want more, feel they are not being challenged, or maybe are ready to pivot to something new. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides guidance as you explore your next steps.  Scroll through the images below to see both the traditional hierarchy of needs and a hierarchy of needs translated for the workplace including types of examples of needs within each category. 

Write your awesome label here.
Write your awesome label here.

Abraham Maslow developed the hierarchy of needs pyramid as a motivational theory in the 1940s. The five-step hierarchy developed from his research demonstrates that lower-level (survival) needs must be met before individuals can attend to needs higher up in the order (creative and intellectually oriented). He noted that motivation and self-direction increase as individuals move up the hierarchy.

Fast forward to 2020, and think of how the great resignation, endless virtual meetings, and layoffs have pushed many people to lower levels of the hierarchy based on stress, burnout, and financial insecurity. It’s hard to operate at self-actualization when your basic needs aren’t met. There has been an explosion of initiatives for employee wellbeing, psychological safety, and inclusion in organizations since these elements are critical to fuel and promote positive performance, work culture, and retention.  

Rocket Science and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It would have been easier for Homer to stay with the status quo and follow others’ expectations. Think of the core elements of safety, love and belonging, and esteem and how these become enablers and motivators for Homer. Miss Riley mentored the Rocket Boys and provided a safe place to air their ideas (Safety). They were heard and encouraged to dream big. The boys formed their tribe to support each other in their goals (Love & Belonging). Finally, small successes bred confidence, and having others believe in them provided encouragement when times were tough (Self Esteem).   How would you evaluate your current job against Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Self-reflect as you ponder the questions below.

  • What is your overall sense of wellbeing or level of burnout?
  • What is your level of psychological safety – the ability to share your opinion, raise concerns, or be heard without fear of embarrassment, rejection, or punishment?
  • What is going well?
  • What might need to change?

Love and Belonging

  • Do you have “work” friends – people who support you?
  • What is your sense of inclusion or belonging? How important is that to you?
  • What is going well?
  • What might need to change?


  • How well does your leader support you, guide the development of your skills, and help you instill confidence in yourself?
  • What is the level of respect that you get and give? What is going well?
  • What might need to change?


  • How satisfied are you with the level of challenge? Are you fulfilling your best potential?
  • How well does your work align with your values and sense of purpose?
  • Are you able to grow your skills for future roles?

Job Considerations

  • How satisfied are you with your job right now? What is essential to consider before jumping into a job search?
  • What can I focus on or develop if a new job search won’t work right now?
  • Who can support you in your career discussions? What might you want to explore or consider?

Homer faced adversity and went to work in the mine after his father was injured, putting his dream on hold for a while. But, he came back to it. Everyone faces these moments in their jobs and careers when the job or skill fit may not be good, your motivation lags, or the work environment challenges you. Take the time to reflect using the questions provided to determine what motivates you in your current job or what might be needed in a new job search.  
Achieve youR career goals

What's your level of fuel - motivation in your job? 

Head over to our coaching page to find an RSA Partner who can help.
Write your awesome label here.