Achievement as a Goal Is an Empty Experience—Here’s What Will Actually Bring You True Happiness

The following is adapted from Free for Life.

Most people have no idea who they really are. Many of us think we are whatever it is that we do, and what we do is chase achievement that sounds impressive but doesn’t fulfill us on a deep, spiritual level. As a result, we tie our sense of personal value to our careers and social status, which means as soon as we lose a job or hit a financial rough patch, our self-worth tanks, too.

To find true happiness, we need to stop chasing fancy titles and find long-term fulfillment through personal growth to become more compassionate, open, honest, and loyal.

In other words, we should focus on being rather than doing. What are the obstacles to living this way and how can we overcome them? That’s what we’ll unpack in this article.

Why We Get Stuck Chasing Achievement

People, and especially men, in my experience, deeply internalize what they do for a living. They wear their academic, professional, and social achievements like a badge of honor. They’ll say “Oh, I graduated from Harvard, summa cum laude.”

Then that man finds a woman, or her family, who holds him in high regard because of what he’s done, rather than who he is inside. When you put a person in that environment, and they’re focused on receiving a reward for what they do rather than being rewarded for who they are, eventually they’ll fall apart because they’re focused on doing, not being.

After focusing on external achievement for so long, they’ll lose sight of—or never discover in the first place—who they are morally and spiritually.

This cycle of self-worth tied to achievement is a particularly slippery slope when the people in your life also attach your value to your achievements. If everything you identify with ties into your job and accomplishments, it’s easy to get stuck chasing the approval and praise of others instead of growing emotionally and spiritually as a person.

Making the shift from doing to being is harder for some people than others. For example, if you’re someone who’s endured any level of childhood stress, your focus is likely on doing, rather than being. We all want to avoid punishment, rejection, humiliation, and violence. Whether we realize we’re doing it or not, we keep ourselves busy in order to avoid processing these negative experiences and emotions.

I discovered in my training as a Navy SEAL that it’s easy to hit a static target, and it’s extremely difficult to hit a moving target. When you’re being, you’re receptive and still, allowing life to present itself to you. When you’re continuously moving and initiating to avoid punishment, rejection, humiliation, and violence, you don’t have the time or attention to reflect inwardly and grow as a person.

Prioritize Long-Term True Happiness, Not Short-Term Gratification

It’s impossible to maintain a long-term, loving relationship with yourself and others if you’re continuously in doing mode. The luster of what you do wears away if you’re a selfish, inconsiderate jerk behind closed doors. Doing is only attractive for so long, and bringing attention to your doing is unattractive. Eventually, the gratification we get from praise and superficial recognition stops feeling as good as it did before.

Being is the only thing that lasts forever. The development you put into your character, personality and values will stay with you even if you get fired from your job, go through a divorce, or suffer an economic downturn.

When you place a greater value on what you do rather than who you are, you are heading directly towards misery because whatever it is you do for a living, you will eventually have to stop doing. And when you don’t do that anymore, who is left in the aftermath?

Fortunately, you can shift your priorities and mental mode from doing to being so your happiness and self-worth don’t depend solely on your achievements.

Shifting Your Mode from Doing to Being

When your focus is on doing, you shift out of the receptive mode, meaning you’re “in the moment” and open to what the world has to offer, and into the initiatory mode, which is an assertive mode where you lose any sense of introspection. In other words, you look outward for the next chance to “prove your worth” and fail to reflect inward on who you are as a person.

In order to focus on being, you have to be in the receptive mode, meaning you have to attain a certain level of vulnerability and openness in your body, in your energy, in your emotions, and in your mind. Vulnerability is an ascended quality because it shifts you emotionally and physically into the receptive mode.

Yet that’s the last thing most of us feel comfortable being: vulnerable. We tend to curate what we want to receive instead of openly receiving what life is presenting to us through vulnerability, openness, peacefulness, and inner freedom. You must make a conscious choice to be vulnerable and find fulfillment in becoming more sensitive, open, honest, and genuine.

If you’d rather be respected for who you’ve become through this journey we call life and find true happiness that will last long-term, it’s time to ditch achievement as your main goal and focus on making yourself a better human being, however you define it.

For more advice on self-improvement and finding true happiness, you can find Free for Life here.


Christopher Lee Maher is a former Navy SEAL who endured intense amounts of physical, mental, and emotional stress as a child and during and after his military career. He has taught himself how to free his energy, body, mind and emotions from pain by developing the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of being. Christopher studied Traditional Chinese Medical Practices at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and at Yo San University, then continued his studies at The Universal Healing Tao System. He is a student of Grand Master Mantak Chia at the Universal Tao Master School in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and is currently pursuing his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

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