Ah, the allure of success and accomplishment! We’ve been conditioned to believe that reaching certain milestones or achieving great heights will bring everlasting fulfillment and satisfaction. But let me tell you something I continually struggle to remember. Despite all the accolades, despite all the achievements, I can still find myself feeling incomplete and even downright unsatisfied.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade or belittle the hard work and dedication that goes into accomplishing remarkable feats. But let’s peel back the layers and uncover the harsh reality that lurks beneath the surface of success.
Coaches have coaches
Part of this post idea came when I saw someone I consider to be at the pinnacle of their career posting on LinkedIn about being in the market for a mentor.
Here is someone who has been the CISO of a major corporation, and a successful founder and CEO. They seem like someone others go to for help, and have a career that others would hold up and say, “I’d like to be them.”
This person recently posted asking for help finding a career mentor.
My first reaction: “Well, if he needs a mentor, I’m absolutely fucked.”
But then I thought about it, and I remembered a few things.
Olympic athletes have coaches.
Therapists have therapists.
I’d trust my coach less if they didn’t also have a coach.
So let’s dive into what’s noodling around here.
Understanding the Myth
Let’s start by defining this myth that seduces us with the promise of eternal contentment. The myth of arrival is a deceptive belief that once we achieve a certain level of success or check off all the boxes on society’s predetermined list of accomplishments, we will magically attain everlasting happiness and fulfillment.
Once we beat this level, we’ll finally have unlocked all the trophies on the achievements screen.
It’s as if we’ve reached the promised land, where all our desires are fulfilled, and we can bask in the glow of our accomplishments. But let me burst that bubble for you. Arrival is nothing more than a mirage, an imaginary oasis in the desert of life.
The Paradox of Achievement
Here’s where things get interesting. You see, achieving those goals and hitting those milestones should be cause for celebration.
The paradox of achievement reveals itself when our accomplishments, instead of bringing joy and satisfaction, intensify our feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction. The more we achieve, the more elusive fulfillment becomes.
How does this paradox come to be?
It’s a wicked combination of psychological factors that conspire against us.
First, there’s the phenomenon of hedonic adaptation, the tendency of our pleasure and satisfaction to wane over time. So, what once brought us immense joy gradually becomes the new normal, leaving us searching for the next big thrill.
Second, pursuing external validation is treacherous in fueling the myth of arrival. We strive to prove our worth, seeking approval and applause from others, only to realize that it’s an insatiable hunger.
We chase after success, believing it will be our saving grace, only to find ourselves trapped in a never-ending cycle of achievement and disillusionment. It’s a cruel trick life plays, leaving us questioning the essence of existence.
But there is light at the end of this tunnel. Let’s delve deeper into the intricacies of this myth, unraveling its deceptive nature and uncovering strategies to beat it.
We’ve seen this before. The never-ending pursuit of new goals and higher standards. One of the key factors contributing to the feeling of never being satisfied is the constant shifting of goalposts. When we think we’ve reached a pinnacle of success, our restless minds conjure up new aspirations and mountains to climb. It’s as if contentment becomes an ever-receding horizon.
But let me ask you: What if we paused for a moment instead of chasing after an elusive destination to reassess our goals?
What if we took the time to reflect on what truly matters to us and redefine success on our terms?
Social Comparisons and Expectations
“Comparison is the thief of joy” - I heard this a lot in a group where we were all trying to get in better shape. The game of social comparisons isn’t new to social media, but boy howdy does it pour gas on the fire.
We’re all players, whether we like it or not, in this game of judgment and comparison. We’re bombarded with societal expectations from childhood, measuring ourselves against others’ achievements, wealth, or status. This game is rigged from the start.
When we compare ourselves to others, we fall into a never-ending trap of feeling inadequate. Instead, I try to remind myself that feeling good about myself lies not in outdoing others but in embracing my unique journey and celebrating my individual milestones.
Ok, great, but how can we focus on the journey?
Embracing the process
I’ve said in a previous post - The journey is the goal.
The pawprints at the top of this post was something I stumbled upon on a walk this week. It reminded me that the journey is permanent.
If I had a magic wand that could give me my dream career, would I wave it?
If I did, I might lose it as quickly as I got it - because I’m still the version of myself I am today - with my current knowledge, life lessons, desires, challenges, and habits.
The only thing that gets you what you want is showing up every day and being an active participant in your life.
It’s time to shift focus from the end goal to the present moment and value derived from the process.
When I find myself immersed and obsessed with the journey, relishing each step, I become less frustrated at my lack of being at the “destination.”
Let go of the relentless pursuit of “done”, and instead, savor the steps. Find peace in progress and growth.