Here’s Why You’re Bored Right After Your Biggest Accomplishment (and What to Do About it)
“My agent came over to my office with the latest copy of the New York Times and she told me, ‘You hit the list,” the author retold the story to me. “And I cried. Because in that moment I felt nothing.”
Why is it that in our moments of greatest victory we often feel a sensation of emptiness immediately afterwards?
The first time I made a million dollars? I was underwhelmed.
First time I launched a bestselling book? Disappointed my success wasn’t greater.
First time I achieved every single goal I set for that year? I just felt kind of “meh” about the whole experience.
Why is this?
Here is what I have concluded from these experiences and the countless others retold to me by bestselling authors, successful entrepreneurs, and world-class performers:
We don’t want success. We want growth. And those are two very different things.
Why you and I feel so empty
The other day, I was driving in my car after dropping my son off at school, and I felt bored. Listless. I’d just launched my book and it had hit a bestsellers list two different times. I hadn’t started a new project yet, and I just felt empty. Like I was missing out on something, like I should be doing that I’m not.
This is not an uncommon feeling for me. And I’ve learned that lots of people feel this way and don’t know what to do with it.
Personally, I tend to get this feeling of emptiness after completing a major project, like writing a book. Whether or not The Project succeeds, I feel the same: incomplete. The voice in my head says the next thing I tackle, the next accomplishment, will be the Thing that makes me feel complete. It will be they key to all the success and significance I’ve been longing for.
That never happens.
Instead, I just keep chipping away at my ideas, trying to create the vision in my mind and always falling short. It’s an agonizing process, this work of creating things. But it reveals something important about what the goal of our work really is.
Growth and success don’t happen simultaneously
Recently I have been feeling especially antsy. About what, I don’t know. But this is a sign that I need to start something new. Not for the sake of achievement, but for the sake of doing. I have to move on to the next project, because I am most alive when working on something, not finishing it or shipping.
That’s when I’m really growing. And though I say I want success, every time I achieve it, I’m bored. I feel a little empty. And here’s why:
Growth and success don’t happen at the same time.
One leads to the other. They need each other. But they never happen simultaneously. You grow in a skill, testing your chops in a certain craft and refining them, and then you go out in the world and see if you have what it takes. And hopefully, you succeed. If you don’t, then you learn, which means you’re still growing. You grow, then you succeed.
That’s the cycle.
Grow some more.
So when we find ourselves in the doldrums of life, we must understand where this feeling is coming from. Boredom comes from stasis. You have to move if you want to grow. And success is the enemy of growth.
Let me say that again.
Success is the enemy of growth.
When we have achieved something and are at the top of the mountain, we forget there’s no place to go but down. This is why success, fame, and fortune often lead to feelings of melancholy and depression. It’s not that those accomplishments were not significant. They were. It’s just like that they were never the point. The point was not the summit. It was the climb.
Act like an apprentice
So we have to move. We have to venture on. We have to start anew. If we don’t, we find ourselves in that very bad place where we stare vacantly at the luster of previous accomplishments or we long for some new but never-achieved fantasy.
In other words, we find ourselves “stuck.” And that’s just another word for “afraid.”
So back to this feeling of boredom. What does it mean? Personally, I don’t need more fame, money, or success. I wouldn’t know what to do with more of those things if I had them. So what this tells me is that I need to start something new.
Which means I am entering a new season of apprenticeship.
Apprenticeship is something of a lost art in our society today, but a much needed one. In a world of so-called experts and gurus, we need more apprentices. True students of a craft.
A long time ago, apprenticeship was a necessary part of life. It lasted 10 years. It was how young teenagers became men and how amateurs became professionals. It was a rite of passage.
But being an apprentice was also a mindset. It was a set of skills you practiced — a series of habits you took with you for the rest of your life. Every new feat you attempted, every new project you tackler, you brought with you an attitude of humility and respect, because you understood there was no other way to reach mastery.
We understand this when we are starting out in a new field. To succeed is difficult. But as we achieve more, as stasis sets in, we get comfortable. We lose the apprenticeship mindset.
When we set our minds on a task and achieve it, we get the impression that all things must be this easy. And we get a big head, assuming we can do anything we put our minds to without the proper practice. We act like masters instead of apprentices. And we fool ourselves.
This is a problem. As we attempt some new thing, we need to think and act not as someone who have it all figured out, but as someone who is figuring it out. We must be quiet, we must listen, we must learn. We cannot focus on success right now. What requires all our attention the process — more accurately, the failure, because that is where you learn.
Do this next (whether you’re successful or not)
If you are successful, that’s great. I’m happy for you. But beware. This is the hardest place to grow.
And if you are not successful, then take heart. Because you are growing. That is, if you are learning. If you are paying attention to the things you’re doing wrong so you can do them better.
This is a humbling process but a necessary one, one that keeps your ego in check. One that makes you a master — ironically by acting as an apprentice.
Richard Bach once said, “A professional is an amateur who never quit.” May you continue to grow, however much or little you’ve succeeded. Because true success is about not giving up on the things that you care most about.
According to Earl Nightingale, success is the “realization of a worthy goal.” I like that definition a lot better than “getting everything that you ever thought you wanted.” Because with that definition, you can always be succeeding.
To be truly successful is to keep growing. And that’s something we can all feel good about.
This is part of a 30-day challenge to myself to write and share something new every single day. You can learn more about it here.