Small Changes Big Impact Newsletter Title

#65 The Achievement Trap

Is it just me or has this whole past week felt like some crazy never-ending full moon vibe? Everything just felt like it was going wrong, off-kilter or doused in A LOT of emotional energy! It started with a sad loss in the family – my partner’s grandma passed away – and continued with foreign objects in eyes, nurturing a sliced-off finger (not mine!), flat tyres while driving (mine), children acting like bewitched werewolves (mine!) and just riding emotional waves (also mine!). Luckily I’ve been learning to ride my emotional waves thanks to Human Design as well as the emotional waves of my two 8-year-olds and my partner! Mastering emotional waves is a full time job in and of itself! 😜

So before anything else goes wrong, let me get this newsletter done and scheduled because who knows what will happen next! Alien invasion?

Sorry, I’ll just get on with it.

There is a type of person we all know about. Some of us might even BE this type of person. (This is the part where I raise my hand ✋ and admit that I’m one of these people. Well, I used to be!)

I’m talking about high achievers. You know the people I’m talking about. The ambitious ones, the ones always ‘going for it’, disciplined, always striving relentlessly towards a goal. It almost seems like they’re completing one achievement after the other. Mediocre isn’t an option. They need to ‘succeed’ at everything they do. (This sounds brilliant at first glance…but I’ll get to the downside in a minute.)

On the other hand, there are people who strive for fulfilment.

But what’s the difference between achievement and fulfilment? Aren’t they kinda the same thing?

It’s time to get into the nuance!

The Difference Between Achievement and Fulfilment

Achievement is reached when you have external validation – you reach an external goal and can tick it off the list. Maybe it’s gaining a qualification, running a marathon, getting the promotion, getting a certain score on an exam. It’s an outside ‘thing’ that you are doing or finishing. It is reached by a source of external validation.

Fulfilment is different. Fulfilment is based on intrinsic validation. It’s more of a feeling of satisfaction, wholeness and doing something for yourself. That sense that you feel your life is meaningful regardless of outside factors. It’s not attached to external factors.

The key differences are that achievement is an external validation based on external facts (you get that job, you get that score, you get that paycheck) while fulfilment is an internal validation based on internal facts that leaves life feeling purposeful and meaningful. (You feel happy, you feel purposeful, you feel meaningful.)

Why Achievement Might Not Get You What You Want

People that are continually trying to achieve their way through life might get a lot of praise, recognition and some even get everything they want but ultimately their happiness depends on external factors. This can be dangerous.

If your ‘fulfilment’ depends on you getting that job, or you marrying that person, or you losing that weight, then what happens if you don’t get it? Or when the excitement of you achieving the thing wears off? Everything comes crumbling down.

Anytime that the idea of you feeling good with yourself depends on factors outside of yourself, you’re putting yourself in a risky position. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take risks because it’s good, in fact vital to get out of your comfort zone, but you don’t want life’s meaning to hang on these external things.

While there are many reasons people become high achievers, people that struggle with people pleasing behaviour (my former self!) and people that struggle with self-esteem or self-confidence issues often search for fulfilment through achievement. They will do things that make them feel like they have achieved something worthwhile and will expect the feeling of fulfilment to follow.

However, they often end up feeling empty or disappointed with the feeling that comes after they have achieved ‘the thing’ because it’s not the same feeling as fulfilment…and it’s temporary.

What happens next? They find another thing, another goal, another challenge to achieve in order to feel good and temporarily fulfilled. And the cycle continues. This is what I call the achievement trap.

This is why high achievers aren’t necessarily fulfilled (even though they have so many reasons to feel good or accomplished). It all comes down to the fact that it’s all coming from external factors and not from within and when your happiness or your fulfilment depends on external factors, you have no control over it.

How To Avoid the Achievement Trap

In order to avoid the achievement trap (which many high achievers find themselves in), you want to find meaning intrinsically.

If you want to take a course, why do you want to take it? Is it so you can have the certificate on the wall and can tell people you have another qualification? (I was guilty of that!) Is it because you think you need to have this qualification before you are good enough for your job, business or position? Or do you want to take this course because it’s something that you are truly interested in and whether or not you excel at it (or even get the certificate), you’ll still feel happy just for the sake of having done it and having enjoyed studying it?

See the difference there? You don’t need to get a certain mark in the course to feel fulfilled. It’s the feeling you get because of the meaning and purpose it has to you. You don’t even need to tell people you did it. It’s for YOU.

Of course, in life, there are times where we do need to achieve certain things because of expectations in life. For example, to be a doctor you need to pass medical school or to be a lawyer, you need to go to law school and pass the final exam. But doing these things because you genuinely need to do them does not mean you are stuck in the achievement trap.

Ultimately, fulfilment is that feeling that most of us want in life – to feel that our life is valuable, meaningful and purposeful for us. And yet we often mix it up with the feeling of achievement but we now know they are two different things.

When it’s a fulfilment you’re searching for, ask yourself WHY you’re doing something. What will you get out of it? What is the true and honest reason behind wanting to do it? Is it external validation or is it intrinsic validation? Remember to be honest with yourself. Are you looking to achieve or looking to feel fulfilled? There’s nothing wrong with achieving – it’s great! – as long as you don’t rely on it time and time again to feel happy or good enough.

The key thing to remember and to really soak in about fulfilment is that it has nothing to do with external validation. You can and will reach fulfilment needing nothing but yourself and your own validation. That’s important to never forget because this is why fulfilment is available to everyone regardless of where you find yourself in life.

*This is what often triggers high achievers because they see people that have achieved much less than them and yet they seem happier and more fulfilled and they scratch their head asking themselves how this is possible. And now you know. It’s because the other person has found fulfilment while they were busy continually chasing achievement.

Long-term happiness and fulfilment is something you achieve internally. By all means, go achieve what you want to achieve in life…but try to avoid falling into the achievement trap and aim for fulfilment. I promise you, it’s much more rewarding in the long run.

In Summary:

The small change → be aware of the achievement trap and what many high achievers fall into

The big impact → you can avoid spending a lot of your life chasing things for the wrong reason and searching for feeling of achievement when what you really want is fulfilment

​Martina x

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