"We waste so much time making decisions based on someone else's idea of our happiness." - Sandra Bullock
We are told to prioritize fulfillment in life. In fact, when asked, we all say we want to live happy and meaningful lives. Strangely enough, we more often choose careers based on their stability and earning potential. So what gives? Are we all living shameful, unfocused lives of quiet desperation?
Nah. The reality is that we want both, and that is OK. Fulfillment and achievement are not mutually exclusive. They are intricately intertwined and teasing them apart can be very difficult. Both impulses align behind our sense of purpose, and the decisions that move our lives forward are motivated, rightly, by both of these forces.
As an illustration of the commingled nature of fulfillment and achievement, take the wisdom of Tony Robbins and Steve Jobs, which marry these intentions together. Jobs famously said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” And Robbins weighs in with, “The two master skills of life are the science of achievement and the art of fulfillment.”
Both regarded internal fulfillment as a key to aligning inspiration with perspiration. When you prioritize the fulfillment, the passion, it gets you into the correct mindset to be motivated and get results. Afterall, achieving difficult external goals requires a high level of sweat equity. Starting from a place of inspiring fulfillment can be hugely motivating when things get difficult. And larger scale external achievements always run up against obstacles.
Regardless of whether one must come before another, we clearly need to more actively address the role these motivations are playing in our lives. The trick comes in recognizing what is motivating our actions at any particular time, and discerning if what motivates in that moment makes sense in the larger picture of our lives.
For example, we should acknowledge that what’s internally fulfilling in life often grants low external achievement. It’s difficult to trust that doing fulfilling work in the world will lead to enough material stability to meet basic needs. Even Abraham Maslow felt we must first meet basic needs like food and shelter before working toward higher fulfillment.
It’s important to find the balance in life. It can’t always be about personal fulfillment when you want help pay for your kids college. Sometimes, you shift to the external and that’s okay, as long as you do so intentionally.
It’s that lack of intention, in fact, that gets us into trouble on the achievement front. If we’re not careful and get too caught up in the achievement game, it can become artificially validating.
Society can often inadvertently encourage us to make external achievement a pillar of esteem.
But we cannot lean only on achievement for internal well being. That is the job of fulfillment. If you get caught off guard, unintentionally defining your worth by external accomplishments like your career or your material possessions, then you risk losing self worth when you fail or decide to let go of those things.
Think of the identity crisis, the dark existential meaninglessness, that some people run up against when they retire or a stock market crash steals their livelihood. That is external achievement without regard for fulfillment, which Tony Robbins labels, “The ultimate failure.”
So, how do we best balance and leverage this interplay between fulfillment and achievement?
We must first realize that there is no need to shelve one for the other. What really matters is bringing intention and discernment to the role each plays in our lives and our decision making. Another key piece is allowing ourselves to redefine success. A successful life can, and should, include internal fulfillment and external achievement. This is how you reach your goals and still live your truth.