What if Achievement Doesn’t Matter?

I read Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard a few months back, and I was left with one burning question:

What if achievement doesn’t matter? 

Many of our decisions, fears, and aspirations have this underlying theme of achievement.

But this theme of “achievement” can steal our joy and calm.

If the only goal is to earn accolades, climb the ladder, and follow the linear path up, how can we enjoy simple things?

We will always be grasping and need more if our only focus is the next achievement.

And despite our best efforts, we will push ourselves and our kids to the brink.

If our children are labeled smart and curious, the achievement path encourages gifted and AP classes and tons of extracurricular activities. Won’t all of this drain their curiosity? 

If they are labeled athletic they are expected to drop all other passions and pursuits to focus on one sport.

Do children really need singular focus at a young age?

What are we pushing towards?

Many would say, “College, of course! That is the goal.”

That was the mantra my generation heard. All of it was worth it if you went to college and left with a degree. Your life would be set.

But our generation got more than we bargained for. Along with our degrees came mountains of student loan debt.

Did the push for achievement serve us well? Was it worth it? Hard to say.

Then, after college, you are expected to take the next linear steps of a career job, marriage, kids, house, promotions, etc, etc.

If you step off the linear path (like we have in many respects) it concerns people.

Why wouldn’t we want to climb the ladder and check all the boxes along the way?

Answer: The “ladder” I started with at 18 doesn’t fit me anymore. In the 15 years since my college decision, I experienced a lot and changed a lot. I needed a new path and a flexible ladder.

When I quit law school and became a barista at 24, I thought I was failing. It was actually just a step off the linear path.

Turns out, after you take the first step off, the rest of the steps get easier.

I applaud Rich Karlgaard for encouraging us to rethink achievement and its timeline.

Our culture today loves prodigies and early bloomers, but historically we valued wisdom and those with life experience.

I think we need a return to wisdom and experience.

We should shift our focus from achievement to development. Maybe we should focus on developing the whole individual instead of specializing.

We should model a dynamic path for our kids so they know that change is okay.

If they know change is okay, perhaps they won’t feel pressure to always “get it right” the first time.

Achievements are not bad or wrong. But maybe we shouldn’t put all our eggs in that basket.

Effort, hard work, kindness, empathy….these things will always matter.

Once I stepped off my over-achiever path, a whole world opened up.

A calmer world. A simpler world.

So what is my answer to my question??

What if achievement doesn’t matter? If it doesn’t matter, then we can live instead of perform.