Ask any of your friends and they’ll say that you’re successful and accomplished. And that should feel pretty fulfilling, right? It should be but why does the acknowledgement of our success often regularly feel so fleeting?

I know from my own experience and that of other women, that there are times where we often feel unsuccessful and unfulfilled despite racking up achievement after achievement. We also have a tendency to downgrade our achievements and accomplishments as average or insignificant. So much so, that we often struggle to name them when asked.

Feeling successful and fulfilled can be quite tough. Yet that’s exactly what so many of us strive for. The reason why we’re not getting the full-blown effect of feeling fulfilled is because many of us, especially women, are playing the game of achievement and expecting to win the game of fulfilment. It’s like driving around Paris with a map of London. What are your chances of actually getting where you want to be?

Let me explain what I mean. How many times have you heard yourself say “I’ll be happy when…”. When you get the next promotion, when you close the next client, when you start your next business, when you lose 10kg. If your dialogue is “When I…” you’re playing the game of achievement. You want to achieve something, you’re working towards a goal. Often times, lo and behold, we reach those goals and we’ll feel the fleeting rush of accomplishment. But only for a moment, ever so briefly. This transitory sense of accomplishment is quickly replaced by the next, “I’ll be happy when…” contingency that you’re convinced will guarantee you the feeling of true success, happiness and fulfilment, in all its blissful longevity. Or so you think. It’s a never-ending cycle (and quite a cruel and delusional one at that).

The game of feeling successful and fulfilled is completely different from the game of achievement. Both are important and aren’t entirely mutually exclusive. Simply different. This realisation saved me from continuing to feel desperately unhappy, thinking I was one more goal away from feeling fulfilled. If only I could achieve that one more goal…and another and another…

So, let’s tackle these two games separately first.

1. Game of fulfilment

I don’t know a single person alive that would tell me that they don’t strive to be happy. We all want to live up to our highest potential and feel like we’ve served ourselves and those around us.

There are as many definitions of success as there are people in the world. And although we might share common themes about success, we each have our own understanding of the word. Success is linked to what we value most. For me, success is whatever makes you light up and feel great.

“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics; to appreciate beauty; to give of one’s self, to leave the world a bit better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.”

This quote by Emerson is one of my all-time favourite quotes. Seeing other people succeed, happy and fulfilled makes me feel fulfilled. All I’ve ever wanted was to be a force for happiness and goodness to those around me.

I like to see fulfilment as a pearl necklace. Hear me out here, I’ll explain. The pearls represent the individual events that make me feel happy and fulfilled, such as walking the dog, having lunch with my mom or my friends, all the things we classify as pleasant and enjoyable. The string is representative of times and things that happen between these events, the daily, boring stuff. If I zoom in and only look at each pearl individually, I’ll end up feeling happy for a brief moment, while that enjoyable event occurs. Then when I look at the string part of the necklace in isolation and only see the humdrum stuff, the typically unfulfilling parts of daily life, I feel a nagging lack of gratification.

However, if I take a step back and zoom out, I can see that the string holds all those beautiful pearls together, creating a stunning pearl necklace. The necklace represents the sum of all the parts, including the uninteresting and tiresome stuff. You’ll see that the pearl necklace couldn’t exist without the dreary string. All the individual pearls and the individual pieces of string in the beautiful pearl necklace represents true fulfilment.

Working on winning the game of fulfilment entails bringing this awareness to our everyday lives, especially when particular times and situations are not typically fulfilling. That isn’t to say that I don’t play or enjoy the game of achievement at the same time.

2. Game of achievement

From a young age, we’re programmed to achieve and we’re rewarded for reaching our goals. When we’re rewarded we feel good about ourselves and hence feel fulfilled. This is how our brains have been conditioned to link achievement to fulfilment.

You can probably admit from personal experience that this type of fulfilment, the one that is caused by achievement doesn’t last long.

I love the game of achievement. I set goals, big ones and really go for them. Over time, I’ve learnt to not to use goals as contingencies for winning the game of fulfilment when playing the game of achievement. Separating these two “games” has had one of the most profound effects on my personal and professional development.

3. Combining the two

Stress is caused by being here but wanting to be there – Buddha.

For so long, we have been conditioned to confuse the feeling of achieving something with the sense of feeling genuinely fulfilled. It’s exactly this type of thinking that has failed us time and time again. It’s time for a paradigm shift.

It’s time to play the game of fulfilment and the game of achievement simultaneously but separately. You were born a success. You were born a winner. Don’t ever forget that! When you realise this and you see that all the events in your life, the shiny and attractive “pearl” moments and the dull and dreary “string” moments all make up the beautiful pearl necklace that is the fulfilment in life, work and business, you’re on the right track!

So remember that:

  • Achievement ? Fulfilment
  • Fulfilment = Fulfilment & Achievement = Achievement

I want to leave you with Dale Carnegie, who sums it up quite nicely with his quote:

“Success is getting what you want and happiness is wanting what you get”.

I would simply add that getting what you want and wanting what you get are different games. Both important and both will continue to play vital roles in our lives. Separating them could just be the best thing you can do towards finally feeling genuinely successful and fulfilled. And you absolutely deserve to feel successful, fulfilled and accomplished!

Try this challenge on for size and see how it affects how you feel about achievement and fulfilment: Do something daily for you to achieve something AND for you to feel fulfilled. Do this for one week. What are some of your realisations?