The Meaning of Achievement

By Laura L. Brown

As I was sitting here contemplating what to write about the topic of “achievement,” it occurred to me that I personally don’t resonate with the concept of focusing life on achieving end results outside of me. Of course, the definition of ‘achieve–to bring to a successful conclusion; accomplish; attain; to gain as by hard work or effort–states that by its nature achievement is an outcome, a finality.   We all must accomplish things in order to function in life, earn a living, and pay our bills, but is that all that achievement means?   What if achievement is not a completion or conclusion, but an ongoing metamorphosis of who we are inside?  

For instance, does a mother “achieve” raising her children to be conscious, contributing members of society?   Is that an end result or an ongoing endeavor?  Is something considered an “achievement” only if we win first prize?   Or only under certain circumstances?   Or only when someone is there to be witness?

Where do we learn what is considered an achievement?   How, as a society, are we valuing the contributions and participation of each member in our group–family, neighborhood, community, workplace, city, nation, world?

We recognize and sometimes reward people for “achieving” milestones that we have determined significant, like graduation from high school or college, receiving a promotion, winning a sports tournament.   However, there are no public acknowledgements of ongoing perseverance through troubled times or difficult circumstances, no matter how long they last.   No one is waiting to throw you a party for being a reliable, loyal, giving, and genuine human being.   Are those not also achievements?

I can look back at my life and list off the accomplishments that I have been recognized for attaining, though most of them in retrospect do not matter to me anywhere near as much as the unseen, intangible and internal achievements for which there were no celebrations, congratulations, bonuses, or public announcements.  I think of all the years I spent striving to “achieve” things that would bring me outside validation and show the world that I was accomplished–good grades, positions on teams and in clubs, prestigious jobs, promotions, titles, material possessions, vacations.   Ultimately, those “achievements” and the accolades (and attention) that accompanied them faded away and what was left were the experiences, the knowledge, the growth and understanding–another step toward my personal evolution as a resident of this planet at this particular moment in time.

I think of what I consider my achievements, what I believe to be the real accomplishments in my life so far, that cannot be measured by society or even by me in so much as they are not finite and continue to evolve and expand.   Is there a point at which one achieves ultimate compassion or concern for others’ well being?   Is there a gauge for how much love given or received is deserving of a celebration or recognition?   The pursuit of knowledge and the desire to share it with others as an ongoing lifelong endeavor will never reach an end point as is required by the definition of ‘achievement’.   Does that make it any less worthy of accolades?

Having worked in the business environment for over 30 years, I am quite familiar with the phrase ‘bottom line’ and the meaning it has world-over to corporations and investors.   We live in a male-dominated, hierarchal, global economy watching and rewarding what we have come to associate as “achievement”–external accomplishments relating to money, power, and position.   And I would like to challenge that definition and invite you to reconsider how you personally define the word “achieve” in your life.   Revisit what occasions and triumphs you choose to celebrate, acknowledge and value.   Be more appreciative of the intangible, but ever so important, achievements of your loved ones and everyone you meet.   It will make you feel more accomplished and fulfilled than you can imagine.

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