As a Grown Man, This Quote Scares Me More than Any Other

It happens. Going about your life, you come across memorable sayings. In movies.. books… pasted on top of inspirational images on your friends Facebook feed. And every once in a while, one of them sticks.

If forced to pick one, I suspect my greatest fear is regret. You know the image: an old man sitting in a chair, thinking back over all the the chances he never took. And that's why this quote hit me. It goes like this:     

“Achievement without fulfillment is no achievement at all.”

The source is unknown, as far as I can tell. The words don't specifically mention regret, nor does it talk about the chances we don’t take. But the challenge is real: if you “achieve a goal,” and can't connect with the feeling of deep satisfaction, was it an achievement? 

So, I wrote it down, and taped it up over my desk. And I keep thinking about it. I'm still relatively young, but I'm realizing that many people don't have enough time on this planet to truly figure out happiness. We have to-do lists, the day-to-day rituals, and the huge, seasonal goals: buy a house, get your dream job, run a marathon, build a dining room table. But simply striving for the amazing doesn’t give us balance. Only going big rarely leads to that sense of satisfaction I'm looking for. That common image of someone getting everything they wanted and still feeling the same as before is true; it's not about the perfect resume or the obvious success. You're still you.

I'm reminded of another favorite quote:

 “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden

Coach John clearly understands balance. Thirst for fulfillment, but know that satisfaction comes from the little day to day experiences of feeling present that that helps you build something amazing. 

So, back to the “Achievement without fulfillment is no achievement at all” deal. It's still stuck in me.

I suppose it comes down to:  regret used to be a fear that I would have for a much older version of myself, a 68-year-old man sat at my retirement party, without feeling like my life was ever truly fulfilling. But I know that if I truly fear regret, that it's a now-me problem, not one for future-me. Reflecting each day has made me realize that even though it's the broad, long term hopes and dreams that I'll be reflecting on, my memories will be of the day to day. The satisfaction achieved from a small job well done, not just a huge one. I won't remember perfectly succeeding at a new job five years in, I'll remember learning how to do it from the ground up. 

Because there's the rub: if I only work so as to avoid regret about the big things, I'll miss out on nearly everything else. And that's something even more regretful. 

Because fulfillment doesn't happen later, it happens now. The only way to set up my retirement-party self for success is to seek moments of satisfaction every day until then. And a life built from a series of fulfilling days is certainly one worth not regretting.