|"...but for 5th edition, let's try to reclaim the grace and|
dignity of the elves." - Image from D&D 5th ed. PHB
For the elves, this manifests as a collective urge. It's all about the elves, not about the elf. It was for the glory and legacy of the elven people as a whole that they created the Regime, the last really world-wide government. Unfortunately, the four elven kindreds, each aligned to a different element, each wanted a very different direction for the Regime. The high elves (earth) are the great city builders of Aiaos, while the wood elves (air) are all about preserving the natural character of the world. The sea elves (water) travel and tell stories, while the drow (fire) see their legacy in familial continuity. Thus the Regime was already somewhat on the skids when the Legion and the Horde turned up, and I've talked about the orcs already.
Dwarfs build things, but their legacy is shaped in obligations. Dwarfs never forget a promise, and obligations are passed down from parent to child, shaping future generations. Gnomes create homes that encompass their family's legacy, while halflings go to new places; their legacy, inasmuch as it has a concrete form, is measured in cartography. Kobolds... Kobolds dig.
And humans have ideas. Humans change things by having new ideas, and they do this because, of all the races, humans don't know where they come from. No-one knows who made humans, or why, so humans constantly reinvent themselves and the world around them. This is also why humans are best at creating religions which rework the plastic nature of the Young Gods into forms that are useful to them.