The Battle Between Achievement and Fulfillment

Do you do the things you want to do? Or do you compromise and do what you think you have to do?

Take a few moments and recall how you feel when the work day is over. Do you walk back to your car with a sense of achievement and fulfillment? If you didn’t get paid, would you continue to go to work? Do you jump out of bed in the morning ready to tackle the day? Do you make time after work to pursue things that engage and challenge you?

The epic battle between achievement and fulfillment. Is it possible to achieve your goals while being fulfilled?

Does one lead the other?

I realize I just asked you a shit load of questions.

Tony Robbins was recently on The Tim Ferriss Show and discussed Robin Williams, the man who made the world laugh. He can be called a master of achievement.

He wanted the top performing tv show and he achieved it.
He wanted a family and he achieved it.
He wanted to make more money than he could spend and he did it.
He wanted to make movies and he did it.
He wanted to make the whole world laugh and he did it.
He wanted to win an Academy Award for NOT being funny and he fucking did it.
He wanted the whole world to love him and he did it.

Then he hung himself.

A man who had it all and could have had more took his own life. It is said that he suffered from depression, among other things.

What about Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, and countless other celebrities who reached the pinnacle of their careers. They had it all. Sex, money, cars, clothes, everything. But it wasn’t enough. They sought solace through drugs and ended up killing themselves.

I know addiction can be looked at as a terrible disease and I’m not taking anything away from it. And I don’t know what it’s like to be in a position like those celebrities but I can’t help but think they were missing something from their lives.

Tony Robbins is constantly barraged by high-achievers who claim to dislike their current state in life.

It’s fulfillment.

These people aspired for achievement but never bothered to find fulfillment.

Your Brain is Outdated Software

Since man emerged Earth, we’ve been in survival mode—from the ice age, stone age—all the way to this point, our brain has yet to evolve from a survival mindset. There was a time when our biggest conflict was finding our next meal. When catching the flu was life-threatening. Or being invaded by neighboring tribes.

Survival has been embedded into our DNA and it might take another 1 million years for our brains to evolve to a different mindset. It’s as if our brain constantly looks for things that are wrong to maintain our survival.

How do you react to a bad performance review? Or missing a deadline at work? If you’re like others I’ve interviewed, you end up in survival mode. You might envision yourself getting fired—not being able to get another job—resulting in missing your mortgage/rent payments and getting kicked out of your home. And finally, end up in the streets with your life in shambles. When things go awry in life, do you imagine the worst-case scenario taking place?

Your Success Instinct

A bird knows to fly south when winter approaches. A squirrel knows to gather nuts in the fall. Researchers have defined this behavior as instinct. All animals have a “success instinct” according to Dr. Maxwell Maltz. He gets into this concept in Psycho-Cybernetics. An animal’s success instincts are a set of predetermined goals: self-preservation and procreation.

Man has the same needs: food, water, shelter, belonging (family, life partner). Our success instincts should be the same as the rest of the animal kingdom. But man’s brain is more complex. And we have an imagination much more diverse than the rest of the animal kingdom. As a result, our goals are more elaborate.

Man has food and shelter requirements fulfilled so we seek achievement of a goal.

Achievement vs Fulfillment

The illusion is that fulfillment comes from achievement. When we get something, then we’ll be fulfilled. It could be a job, money, cars, women, etc. In the end, it’s a temporary jolt of excitement that eventually wears off, resulting in the cycle starting over. I’ve crushed monthly sales quotas only to be fearful when I have to figure out how to do it again. The high eventually ends.

It is when ambition doesn’t work in our favor.

John Malkovich said in a GQ interview, “I think of ambition as the need to prove something to others, and the need to be recognized. A need for rewards outside of the work.”

At the same time, achievement can lead to fulfillment. But this is only when you’ve self-validated. It will take some introspection to figure out what is going to fulfill you. A good way to do this is to experience or recall moments of fulfillment. It’ll be hard to go off of perception because perception is not reality. Perception can lead to disappointment. Test, analyze, and move in that direction.

What is Achievement?

Definition: a thing done successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill.

You set out for a goal, work at it relentlessly, then realize the success when your efforts pay off in accomplishing the goal. Achievement can typically be quantified and a tangible item.

For fuck sake, there are even Achievement Awards!

There’s a lot of pressure that’s put on us for achievement. We see celebrities, business leaders, and royalty living lavish lifestyles. They have everything they could ask for. We see this and take part in an enterprise to achieve the same lifestyle or things famous people have.

What do we do as a result? Work long hours. Climb the corporate ladder. Go to law school. Sleep less. Stress ourselves out because we want more. Or we fell for the illusion that achievement leads to fulfillment and happiness. We aspired for the wrong reasons.

The worst part is we achieve something and it ends up being of our daily living. It’s fresh and exciting at first but the novelty wears off. And you have to find something else to achieve to fill the new void.

The things you own end up owning you. —Tyler Durden

What is Fulfillment?

At The Epoch Man, it is a strong belief that fulfillment involves living a life on your terms.

Definition: satisfaction or happiness as a result of fully developing one’s abilities or character.

But I want to add that fulfillment involves being present to the process of doing the work you love. Not just work, but any activity that enriches your creative self. And this involves doing what you want to do rather than what you have to do.

Fulfillment is a state of being. It is not an end-goal.

It isn’t tangible. It is a feeling. It is an experience.

Find out what fulfills you

1. What were your childhood dreams?

2. What are your hobbies?

3. What excites you?

4. What would you do if money wasn’t an issue?

5. Do you have boundaries that allow you to live life on your terms?

Last but not least. . .

What do you need to let go of?


I’m not telling you to quit your job tomorrow. You have to be strategic. It takes time, patience, and planning. Get in tune with your why. Get to know yourself. Be brutally honest with yourself and others.

It’s important to go after your goals. It allows you to develop as a person, but just make sure you’re doing them for the right reasons. It’s going to take some serious soul-searching to find those reasons.

Good luck.

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