Achieving But Not Feeling Fulfilled?
When we achieve something, whether it’s reaching a goal, receiving an award, or surpassing a milestone - we usually expect to feel a certain way. Maybe excited, honored, or overjoyed; something positive. Because, we have just achieved something, right? Shouldn’t we be excited?!
However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, you may finally reach a goal that you’ve been working towards for a long time, and it doesn’t feel as good as you expected. Or maybe it’s not even a specific goal. Maybe when you look at your life and your accomplishments, all you see is success. But for some reason, you aren’t as happy as you thought you would be.
This can be exhausting and confusing, especially for those of us who have a list of accomplishments, awards, and other accolades - or those of us who feel like we are consistently doing what we need to be doing.
We might ask, why are these acknowledgments not making me happy? Why doesn’t reaching my goals make me feel proud? Why do I not feel satisfied, even though I’m doing everything right?
Many of us experience these feelings - and achieving but not feeling fulfilled can be extremely discouraging on our journeys to bettering ourselves and our lives.
So, why might this happen? One of the main reasons for this is simply not feeling fulfilled in what we are doing. This explanation may seem obvious enough - but feeling fulfilled in life is not necessarily an easy feat to achieve.
Luckily though, it’s not impossible. There are steps that we can take to help us get a better understanding of what helps us feel truly fulfilled. Below are some other things to consider as we embark on our search for fulfillment.
Success vs. Fulfillment
Many of us have been raised with certain ideas of what a “successful” life looks like. And that if we can be successful, we’ll feel fulfilled.
This “successful” life often includes certain types of achievements, such as getting a college degree, receiving awards, getting married, having children, or being the best at what you do.
Those of us who follow this model are often praised by those around us. And those of us who don’t - are shamed.
No matter what path we take - any of us can find ourselves feeling that something is missing. And yet we continue to strive towards what we consider to be a “successful” life - in hopes of feeling satisfied. This is because most of us confuse success with fulfillment.
If you’re someone who does this, try to identify the different areas of your life that you consider yourself to be “successful” or “unsuccessful” in - and think about what leads you to believe that.
Then, identify areas of your life that bring you a lot of joy and satisfaction. Do the areas that bring you the most satisfaction match the ones that you are supposedly the most “successful” in? If not, this is an opportunity to start applying elements of the things you find most satisfying into other areas of your life.
For example, maybe you have a high paying job that you dread going to every day, but you have an exercise practice, such as yoga or biking, that brings you a lot of joy. What are some aspects of that practice that you can bring into your work life? What do you find so satisfying about that practice?
If it’s that you get to move your body, find ways to bring movement into your work life. If it’s that you have a great community within that practice, look at the community of people that you work with - and see if there are ways to build relationships with your co-workers. If there are no ways to make these sorts of adjustments, you might consider finding a job that is more supportive of your needs.
Many of us who find ourselves consistently feeling unfulfilled in life, may be in this position due to a desire to fulfill certain expectations of us set by others (or even ourselves). This is similar to fulfilling certain ideas of “success,” but are more directly influenced by the people in our lives or the conditions we grew up in.
A classic example of this is having parents who pressure us into certain activities or careers. Or even pressuring ourselves into certain activities or careers because we believe they grant us a certain level of praise or recognition.
Rather than continuing to maintain goals in order to fulfill certain expectations, think about where those expectations come from. Are they conscious and aligned expectations that you set for yourself? Or are they expectations that have been programmed into you?
You might be surprised how many things we do, purely out of habit or due to conditioning, rather than out of purposeful choice! Notice any repetitive thoughts that you have around meeting certain expectations, especially in an area of your life where you are feeling unfulfilled.
For example, maybe you want to be a writer, but you hate the process of writing. Start thinking about why it is that you hate the writing process. What goes through your mind when you sit down and try to start writing? Is it because you hate the structure? Is it because you don’t want your writing to have to look or sound a certain way? Is it because you have always been praised for being a good writer, so you feel like you have to maintain a certain level of quality in order to be recognized? Does the voice of your third grade writing teacher play in your head, every time you do something “wrong?” Once you identify the expectations that were placed on you in this area, you can begin to take back the practice of writing so that you can enjoy it, and use it to reach your goals in a fulfilling way.
Discounting Your Achievements
When we are feeling unfulfilled in our successes, one of the main things we might do, even without noticing - is discount our achievements. This is something to be mindful of, because it is important to not ignore our efforts and milestones.
Even if you are not super excited about reaching a goal - that shouldn’t take away from the importance of it and all of the work that you put in! Reaching goals is evidence of our ability to follow through and persist, especially when we are not feeling satisfied in what we are doing. It means that when we adjust our means and methods of reaching goals to be more fulfilling - we will be even more likely to succeed!
In focusing on fulfillment, we shift our focus from reaching a particular goal or achievement, to the journey of reaching it. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”
Simply meeting goals and being successful is not the most fulfilling part of our lives. For example, if you are working towards receiving a PhD at a prestigious university, but you are miserable everyday doing your research - getting the PhD likely won’t feel nearly as good as you imagine it will! But getting a PhD is still an amazing achievement that should not be discounted.
So, if we can find success through doing the things we love, and we find ways to enjoy the steps leading up to achievements - we will find ourselves feeling truly fulfilled. So don’t discount your achievements; recognize what they symbolize, and continue to adjust your journey in a way that makes your achievements feel more satisfying.
Just because you are feeling unfulfilled in a certain area doesn’t mean you have to make a drastic change - such as quitting your job or moving to a different country (although sometimes, this may be the solution!). If you are not fully satisfied with where your life is right now, identifying the areas of your life where you desire improvement can put you on the path to getting where you want to be.
Discomfort builds resilience. And working through feelings of lacking fulfillment can ultimately lead you to discovering the lifestyle and activities that bring you the most empowerment, joy, and fulfillment.
There is no need to regret the choices you’ve made, or the steps you’ve taken so far. Instead, use these experiences, as lessons, to help you make adjustments, discover your calling, and fulfill your potential.