Explore the pull between achievement & happiness in high performers so that you can understand why you’re never satisfied with where you are. Achievement & happiness are not mutually exclusive topics, read below to find out how you can have both!
The pursuit of success is so ingrained in high achievers as to border on unconscious behavior. You don’t stop to question why you’re pursuing the next big goal – you set one and go after it almost immediately after achieving the last one.
Your drive – a core part of your personality – comes from this insatiable desire to achieve more, be better, and do extraordinary things.
And that’s incredible. It’s allowed you to create this level of success and get to where you are today. But it begs the question: what is it costing you?
The ultimate desire all humans have, whether you identify as a high achiever or not, is to be happy. Unfortunately, for high achievers, happiness slowly gets deprioritized under the desire to be smashingly successful.
While we’ve been conditioned to believe success will bring us happiness, in reality it doesn’t. Research shows that making more money does not lead to a sustained increase in happiness, but something else does! Focusing on your mental & physical health as well as your family, marriage, and relationships, yields sustained happiness over time. And yet, most high achievers sacrifice their health and relationships in order to achieve their income goals.
As a business coach, I’ve seen many entrepreneurs feel torn between the pull of achievement & happiness:
- I’ve seen this in high level executives 50 years into their career, realizing they’d sacrificed everything to get there and wondering when they’ll finally feel happy?
- I’ve seen this in eager entrepreneurs hustling day and night at their start up, exhausted and burnt out, but believing it’s the necessary sacrifice…
- I’ve seen this in working mothers, wanting to excel in the career they chose but yearning to be home with their little ones!
In this article I want to explore the pull between achievement & happiness in high performers to help you understand why you’re never satisfied with where you are, and share practical strategies and mindset shifts to help you achieve your full potential… without sacrificing achievement & happiness and joy in the present moment.
As a Professional Coach who works with unusually ambitious entrepreneurs, I believe this is the most important conversation we can have. Without happiness, success feels empty, the accolades fall flat, and your life passes by while you’re too busy chasing achievements to notice it.
My mission is to support ambitious entrepreneurs with creating not just financial success, but fulfilling success™.
Let’s be honest… I experience this pull on a daily basis. It takes conscious intention for me to choose a slow morning with the kiddos over a few extra productive hours at my laptop; to get out for a hike with my pup instead of crossing another thing off my to do list; and to read a fiction book instead of a business book.
I’ve noticed how my financial goals grow endlessly, regardless of how far I’ve come.
When I first started my business, my only goal was to replace my corporate salary of $50,000.
All I wanted was the flexibility to spend more time with the kids and do work I enjoyed while providing for our family’s comfortable middle class lifestyle. Nothing extravagant.
But as I surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs in the industry, my perspective on what was possible opened up. Now I wanted to reach $100,000 in my business because all the cool kids were doing it.
What felt like an incredible accomplishment, when compared against others, now became “not enough” – I wanted to finally feel like a “real” entrepreneur. And I could only imagine what we could afford if I doubled my income…
9 months after quitting my corporate job I hit $100,000 revenue in my business. I celebrated for 2.2 seconds before setting the next goal at a quarter million dollars. By that point I had met plenty of coaches that made over a million dollars in revenue each year. My goal immediately became to catch up.
Somewhere in that process I started asking myself why.
Why is it that I kept setting bigger goals after achieving what I’d set out to achieve?
Why am I not satisfied with the very thing that sounded like heaven when I first started?
I love my business and my life exactly as they are — but am I being “lazy” if I choose to enjoy it instead of rushing to the next level?
So I set out on a quest to answer a few key questions
- Why do we constantly want to achieve more, more, more?
- What is ‘enough’ when it comes to success?
- How do we navigate the dichotomy of being happy and pursuing growth?
If you’ve been asking yourself the same things, welcome, you’re in the right space. Let’s dive in.
How we became high achievers
In order to better understand why high achievers are wired this way, we need to better understand Western society.
“American culture valorizes overwork” says Arthur C Brooks in his article on Why Success Won’t Make You Happy.
Think about it – America became what it is today after we crusaded across the Atlantic Ocean, then built an industrial economy that valued efficiency above all else, and finally by promising the American Dream to anyone who worked hard enough to deserve it.
In The Values Americans Live By, L. Robert Kohls emphasizes just how much Americans value taking action and working (to not work is an immoral waste of time), competition, time (and the productive use of it), and materialism (the rewards of hard work).
Since our values are formed at a very young age, directly influenced by societal and parental beliefs, we adopt these values unconsciously. If, like me, you brought home a 98% on a test and your parents inquired about the last 2%, you came to believe that your worth depends on what you achieve, and your desire to be loved pushes you to pursue that extra level of achievement regardless of the sacrifices.
Related Post: Finding Your Purpose With 10 Questions
The benefits of achievement & happiness
The drive to achieve isn’t necessarily bad. Setting a challenging goal and developing the skills to achieve it is key to personal growth and a sense of fulfillment. Plus, your drive is what’s gotten you to the level of success you’re currently experiencing. But, the costs of high achievement quickly begin to outweigh the benefits when the pendulum swings too far.
The tradeoffs of achievement
Burnout is an epidemic in entrepreneurship. Research shows that 44.7% of founders experience exhaustion, 67% of entrepreneurs admit they see no other option but to continue working despite their exhaustion, 30% of entrepreneurs admit they are often or constantly burned out, and 95% of entrepreneurs are unsure of how to achieve a healthy work-life balance (source)
Yet no one is talking about this because the ‘hustle and grind’ narrative has been pushed for so long, it’s seen as THE nature of entrepreneurship.
We don’t bat an eye at the notion of putting in 12 hour days, skipping important family events, and not thinking about anything but your business for hours/days/weeks at a time.
In fact, when I speak for various entrepreneurship groups and programs, I commonly hear workshop participants say that they assume burnout is required to succeed.
The biggest tradeoff of achievement is the burnout you’ll experience when you take it too far.
But have you ever paused to ask yourself if the assumption — that you have to work really hard, sacrifice everything that matters to you, and suffer short term pain for long term gain — is even correct?
What if you could create the same level of success while prioritizing your mental and physical health, spending quality time with your family, and having a life outside of work?
Related Post: How To Be Successful When Willpower Doesn’t Work
The importance of happiness
Richard Branson has said “Many assume my business success has brought me happiness. But the way I see it, I am successful because I am happy.”
In fact, one of the most robust research studies on happiness and success by Lyubomirsky et. al., has shown that your happiness is the strongest predictor of your success. The review of 275 research studies comprising over 275,000 participants revealed that happy people perform much better at work – they are more likely to graduate, they get more job interviews, they receive more positive evaluations from their bosses, they perform better, they are more productive, they are better managers, and they don’t burnout.
I, personally, know that when I get out to mountain bike and play volleyball, prioritize 8-10 hours of sleep, take time to journal and read with my morning coffee, go for a hike in the woods with my pup, and spend time with my kiddos – I perform so. much. more. effectively in my business.
When I sacrifice those things that bring me joy under the pretense that I’m “too busy” with my to-do list, everything takes longer and feels harder.
Why is it difficult for high achievers to prioritize their happiness?
High achievers continue to put their goals first and their wellbeing second because our brains are wired to keep us safe (and they see hustle as the path to that safety).
Many high achievers believe their self worth and value as a human depends on their performance and the things they accomplish.
And because our Palaeolithic brains were programmed to survive being eaten by tigers by sticking with the tribe, if you believe you have to be extraordinary in order to be loved, you’ll sacrifice everything to do just that.
In addition, if you’ve spent decades forming an identity around being a high achiever, letting go of that part of you will very much feel like you’re ripping yourself apart: painful, disorienting, and completely foreign.
How do you know you are burnt out?
If you’ve ever thought one or more of these thoughts before, you’ve swung your personal achievement & happiness pendulum too far in the wrong direction.
- I’ll relax after the to do list is done (which means never)
- I can’t delegate if I have the space to do it myself
- I can figure everything out (by myself without asking for help)
- I’ll [insert something that makes you extremely happy] after this goal is achieved/this project is completed
If there isn’t a day in your week/month that you completely unplug from everything in your business (and that includes not checking your email), if you haven’t taken a vacation within the last 2-3 years, or if you don’t get 8 hours of sleep, eat 3 meals, and exercise for 30 minutes multiple days in a row, you’re headed for burnout and will never reach the perfect balance between achievement & success.
How to Reclaim Your Happiness (and continue to be successful)
If you’ve read this far down the article, you’re probably thinking “that’s me…wtf do I do now?” If you’re recognizing that your approach to entrepreneurship has caused you to miss out on some of the most important things in your life, here’s exactly what you need to do next.
The definition of “success” is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. And yet none of us bother to define that “aim/purpose” for ourselves. We chase a vague definition of success defined by society only by financial measures: “the more money you make, the more successful you are” (especially as entrepreneurs!)
True success in business transcends the bottom line. It’s about doing work that fulfills you and makes an impact while living a life you absolutely love.
So, if you’ve been operating under a stale and outdated definition of success, it’s time to pause and ask yourself what it is you really want to achieve.
Read my article on redefining success for a step by step process of how to do just that, including a PDF workbook to support you through the process.
Reevaluate your Idols
Think about who you’re aspiring to be. Does the person whose success you’re trying to emulate live the exact kind of life you believe will make you happy? If not, it’s time to reevaluate who you’re comparing yourself against. Find entrepreneurs that have accomplished incredible things without sacrificing their values and desires.
Here are some examples for you:
- Richard Branson: The founder of the Virgin Group is known for his adventurous and unconventional approach to business. He has successfully built a global empire while maintaining a strong focus on work-life balance and employee well-being.
- Arianna Huffington: The co-founder of The Huffington Post and Thrive Global is an advocate for well-being. After experiencing burnout herself, she has become a proponent of redefining success to include health, happiness, and mindfulness.
- Sara Blakely: Founder of Spanx, Blakely is a self-made billionaire known for her innovative and empowering approach to women’s fashion. She has maintained her values and focused on creating a positive workplace culture.
Clarify Your Values
Your personal core values should be your North Star in guiding every decision and action you make. Your values are, by definition, the things you believe are most important to you in the way you live and work. If you’re living out of alignment with them, you’re never going to experience fulfillment (or sustainable success).
Take some time to define your Top 5 Core Values and start to make small shifts to integrate them into the way you operate your business. That might be re-instituting a lunch break, unplugging on the weekends to be with friends, or prioritizing exercise first thing each morning to reach both achievement & happiness.
For a complete guide on how to define your values and integrate them into your life and business, read How to Define Your Core Values and receive a free PDF workbook to support you through the process.
Set Meaningful Goals
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to set your sights exclusively on financial targets, but if you want to experience fulfillment and avoid burnout, your goals should not be only financial.
Once you’ve uncovered your values, set meaningful goals that stem directly from those values. Setting meaningful goals allows you to experience true fulfillment upon achieving them, thereby living an authentic life in the process.
For a complete guide on setting meaningful & authentic goals as an entrepreneur, read this article. (And yes, there’s a workbook to go with it too!)
Shift Your Mindset
The biggest thing holding high achievers back from doing less (and, ironically, accomplishing more) is their mindset. If you find yourself thinking it’s not possible that prioritizing yourself will yield even greater results in your business, or struggling to relax because you feel lazy and unproductive, it’s time to shift your mindset on what is and isn’t required to step into your full potential.
The best way to do this is to work with a 1:1 coach (because trying to unravel your own brain is like trying to tickle yourself — it doesn’t really work.) Book a discovery call here to explore how I can help you see your blind spots, shift your thinking, and rewire your brain to help move you forward and not hold you back!
Achievement & happiness are not mutually exclusive.
When you redefine success, surround yourself with like minded entrepreneurs that are achieving greatness in a more balanced way, clarify your values, set meaningful goals, and shift your mindset, you can easily hit the next level in your business AND feel so much more fulfilled in the process.
Related Post: Redefining success as an entrepreneur
My client A went from working 60+ hour weeks, constantly thinking about his business, physically unhealthy, and feeling like he’s plateaued in business, to working <40 hours, spending much more time at the cottage, exercising on a daily basis, doubling the size of his team, and landing million dollar contracts that have contributed to him having his best year ever in business.
My client R went from not having a day off in X days and working 60-80 hours a week, completely burnt out and no longer caring if it all fell apart, to running 3 thriving businesses while working <35 hours a week, not missing a single one of his kids’ sports games, and going on consistent date nights with his wife.
I share these examples to help you see what’s possible when you prioritize your fulfillment first and foremost — the level of success you can create expands exponentially.
How to achieve your full potential
In working with entrepreneurs for the last 8 years and after thousands of hours of coaching and consulting, I’ve seen first hand that there are really only 4 key factors that contribute to your achievement & happiness long term:
- High Performance Habits: understanding the day to day habits that give you energy, put you in the right headspace, and motivate you, and prioritizing them consistently without fail, allows you to create incredible results on repeat.
- Mastering Your Mindset: recognizing your own blindspots & seeing where limiting beliefs are preventing you from moving forward with confidence and ease, and then consistently ‘training your mind’ to move you forward not hold you back allows you to be more creative, innovative, and productive as a business owner
- Balance and Fulfillment: having a healthy balance between your business and your personal life, doing work that lights you up, and prioritizing the things that make you happy give you the energy you need to thrive
- Business (Vision/Goals, Strategic Plan, Leadership Skills): having a clear vision and goals, an effective strategy for achieving them, and the ability to lead your team to success is critical.
All of these pieces are critical to hitting the next level in your business.
If you’re a high performing entrepreneur who wants to reclaim their time and energy and build a thriving business while having both achievement & happiness, it’s time we worked together. Book a discovery call to explore how 1:1 coaching can help you succeed without sacrifice.