Success Without Fulfillment Is the Ultimate Failure

I was intrigued the first time that I heard Tony Robbins say the quote, “success without fulfillment is the greatest failure.” I knew it was true, because although receiving my doctoral degree with honors was a great success, it brought no fulfillment.

 I woke up the next morning and thought to myself, “I worked all these years; countless hours of study; countless hours doing insane rounds at the state hospital, completing internships and residencies, writing comps, writing and defending a thesis and dissertation …. and it’s just another day in the neighborhood?” LOL! It’s funny now… but it wasn’t then!

Fulfillment did come, but not because I received a diploma and added three new letters after my name.

Another sad example of this concept is Robin Williams. He made us laugh, he brought us incredible joy through countless comedic roles. He won Academy Awards. Then he wanted to win an Academy Award for a serious role, and he accomplish that. You could say he was incredibly successful. Yet how sad that he tragically ended his own life. Obviously unfulfilled.

Last week my blog was about how both your success and fulfillment are predictable. (Click here if you missed it!) I often speak of fulfillment in my blogs, and at my speaking engagements, as well as to my clients. Why? Personal fulfillment is something that every breathing person longs for. Any progress toward seeking such fulfillment creates joy, peace, and inner satisfaction. Lack of progress is the mother of misery and suffering.

Although I was not able to a identify the author or of this statement, it provides one of my favorite perspectives on fulfillment: “It is when we are willing to leave the safety of the shallow water, and swim out to something deeper and greater than ourselves.  To plunge deep into ourselves and discover the pearl of great peace within. And then share it with others.”

I teach my Coaching students that their “extraordinary,” and their fulfillment, is not found inside their comfort zone. I think Vince Lombardi said it well, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle… Victorious!”

That morning after receiving my doctoral degree, I was so disappointed at my lack of feeling fulfilled. But it began a journey of seeking an understanding of what fulfillment meant. In my heart, I cried out for fulfillment.

For me, the answer came in three things: God; great love; and generous sharing.  In my day-to-day life, I found the answers came from living well, experiencing and extending grace, giving and receiving great love, and pouring myself into my cause, which was helping others.

Dr. Ben Carson expresses it well. “There is no fulfillment in “things” whatsoever! I think one of the reasons that depression reigns supreme amongst the rich and famous is some of them thought that maybe those things would bring them happiness. But what, in fact, does… is having a cause, having a passion. And that’s what really gives a life true meaning and fulfillment.” 

I began my journey to fulfillment by studying others who were fulfilled, and spending time with them. What I discovered in them, I applied to my own life.

What does research say about finding fulfillment?

1. Giving and receiving great love in a significant relationship. In a 75-year study known as the Grant Study, it was found that the number one predictor of fulfillment was great love and great relationships. Most of us expect that one of the predictors would be great financial success. Many studies have indicated that although income increases may provide a higher quality of life, it does little if anything for fulfillment. For example, studies show that a increase from $40,000 to $80,000 in annual income creates less than 5% improvement in fulfillment.  But studies also show that developing great love and great relationships increases fulfillment in excess of 70%. Research also indicates that people who give and receive great love are frequently among the most fulfilled.

2. Practicing gratitude regularly has been shown to increase fulfillment exponentially. If you follow my work at all, you know that I consider gratitude a key component of many wonderful things in our lives. To read more about that, click here.

3. Giving generously is a practice that is constant in those experiencing great fulfillment. Giving money to others? Yes, of course; and to your favorite charity; and to your favorite cause. But just as importantly, giving of yourself. 

4. Extending grace to yourself and others regularly and consistently is a great predictor of fulfillment. Research shows that those who harbor grudges or resentment have minimal fulfillment in their lives. But those who extend grace to themselves and others are highly fulfilled. Not only that, but they are shown to sleep better and have better health. Research also indicates that grace is rare in strained relationships. Grace is a beautiful gift to bestow. It fulfills!

5. Limiting your exposure to news and commentary programs has been shown to increase fulfillment. Of course that does not mean being unaware of current events. However, a brief overview of local, national, and world news is sufficient. A number of years ago, I suggested to a friend that he might try a week-long news and sports “fast.” He was often grumpy and short tempered. Although he did not think it would make any difference whatsoever, he admitted shortly thereafter that it made a huge difference. Research shows that an increase in exposure to news, whether on television, online, or from newspapers, correlates to an exponential decrease in fulfillment.

6. Pursuing and embracing a cause is at the heart of every fulfilled person. From young to old, from rich to poor, from highly educated to under educated, all studies show that fulfilled people are deeply committed to a cause. This truth applies to a Mom raising successful children as much as it does to Mother Theresa lifting up the whole of India. My cause, once I began my practice, was to “emulate the healing power of love, and empower others for amazing lives.” My fulfillment exceeded any that I had known before. Over time, I expanded my work to helping the homeless, underprivileged youth and children, and seniors. There is nothing like putting your head on the pillow at night, knowing that you have made even a small difference in another’s life.

7. Limiting time spent rehearsing the offences, hurts, and wrongs of others. We all get hurt. We have all been wronged. However, spending time rehearsing those, and building cases, only squelches our own fulfillment. It certainly does not build healthy relationships. It only hurts the person who is lending valuable time and energy obsessing over their hurt. Research also indicates that those who spend time and energy this way likely have limited self-awareness. Such individuals are often “bulls in china cabinets” in their relationships. Practice grace instead; let it go! You and your relationships will become more fulfilled.

8. Forgiving easily and often is a classic marker for those who are more fulfilled. When I ask my struggling clients to list the people whom they have not forgiven, I often hear the phrase, “but they don’t deserve to be forgiven.” Sometimes that is actually true. But forgiveness is more for you than for the other person. I love the Biblical story where Peter decided to ask Jesus a question about forgiveness. But he decided to let Jesus know how great he was by first suggesting an admirable answer.  “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” But of course Jesus came back with a much higher expectation: seventy times seven! Why? Because he knew that for Peter to be totally fulfilled, there needed to be an almost infinite extension on how many times we forgive one another. 

9. Focusing on possibilities, rather than challenges, is a key to fulfillment. I often speak of the power of focus. What we focus on is the direction our lives will go. When people come to me for relationship counseling, they often want me to be a referee for their disagreements. There is a place for that, but there is a greater place for looking at what is possible. When I lead them through that exercise, looking at the possible takes a much shorter period of time. Likewise, when they come in with financial distress, they want to focus on the challenges. But after focusing on what is possible, the challenges fade. Don’t allow yourself to sacrifice your fulfillment at the cost of focusing on challenges.

10. Laughing heartily and regularly has been shown to greatly increase fulfillment. Interesting research reported last year showed that children laugh about 150 times a day. Adults? Only three times a day. On most days, I see 6 to 12 clients. I make sure that we share at least one moment of laughter, no matter how dire their situation may be. Why is that important? There is an ancient proverb that says, “A merry heart is good medicine.” Turns out it’s true. Research indicates that five seconds of laughter at least three times daily can boost our immune systems as much as 70%. Not only that, but our system releases an 89% increase in a collection of “youthful” hormones! Who doesn’t want to be healthier, younger, and more fulfilled?

Fulfillment is possible for everyone. While you may not have known these specific things that help us to become more fulfilled, now you know! Misery and suffering are optional! Make a decision to add all that has been revealed here into your daily life!  It is the shortest path to a richer and more fulfilled life!!

I wish you strength and courage for your journey!