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Sustained Elevation (#403)
In our quest for fulfillment, perhaps it's time we reconsider what true success looks like
What if I told you that achieving that long-term goal you've always dreamed of achieving probably won’t bring the happiness you expect?
That letdown is a surprising reality many people, especially high achievers, experience. Often, upon reaching the summit of their aspirations, top performers barely pause to admire the view before plotting their next climb.
Take author Ryan Holiday as an example. When Holiday finally achieved his dream of becoming a New York Times bestselling author, a milestone that had eluded him for many years despite selling millions of books, he got the news via a call from his agent while he was mowing his lawn. After a brief surge of elation, Holiday simply continued mowing. The news didn’t change his life. It hardly changed anything at all.
I’ve often pondered whether I'd encourage my children to pursue Olympic careers if they had the talent. It seems like many Olympic dreams follow the exact formula of a hard climb and a short summit experience. For example, 74 percent of Summer Olympics competitors only reach the Olympics once. Then, win or lose, a lifelong focus ends after just a few days.
There are exceptions who remain in the limelight, such as Michael Phelps, Mary Lou Retton or Simone Biles. But most Olympians fade from the public eye and must completely reinvent themselves and set a new purpose for their lives.
The Olympian case is a perfect example of a more widespread phenomenon: many goals that involve steep ascents and high peaks also end with rapid descents. Research also indicates that those at the pinnacle of achievement often derive the least satisfaction from their accomplishments. They make it to the summit, but don’t take any time to enjoy the peak before picking the next summit to conquer. Even if the high of achievement is sweet, it never lasts as long as we want.
But what if this happens because we’re targeting the wrong type of elevation?
Instead of fleeting peaks, I believe many more people can find sustainable fulfillment by pursuing elevated plateaus—enduring successes that elevate us to new levels and allow us to enjoy rewards for an extended period of time. Rather than a mountain summit that is small or crowded, these pursuits bring us to a flat terrain at a higher altitude, where there is space to enjoy the expansive view over time. You can even build a house on this type of plateau and live there permanently.
Here are some potential pathways to these sustained elevations:
Nurturing Relationships: A relationship is a rare example of something that stays in your life for a long period of time and becomes more rewarding as you invest more time and effort. Numerous studies affirm that meaningful relationships enhance our health and well-being.
Attaining Financial Freedom: Author and personal finance expert Morgan Housel once said, “The highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every morning and say ‘I can do whatever I want to do.’” Rather than chasing extravagant purchases, which are fleeting and often leave you wanting more, aim to secure a consistent, sustainable level of financial security. True financial freedom isn't about the things you can buy—it's about breaking free from endless comparisons, ignoring the urge to pursue the next big thing, and gaining the flexibility to live life on your own terms.
Prioritizing Health: There's a saying that an unhealthy man has only one wish, while a healthy man has many. While many of us want to lose a few pounds, what’s more important is improving our physical fitness so that we are free of mobility restrictions or pain. If you’re over 40, this likely means both aerobic and strength training. The same is true for keeping up with our mental health.
Learning New Skills: Whether it's swimming, flying a plane, or playing the guitar, mastering a new skill that you enjoy doing provides lasting joy and utility.
Giving Back: Investing in others yields lasting rewards. Witnessing the growth and positive change in someone's life because of your efforts is like earning dividends on an investment.
In our quest for fulfillment, perhaps it's time we reconsider what true success looks like. Instead of always chasing the next peak, seek out those elevated plateaus that provide lasting satisfaction and joy.
What's one area in your life where you can focus on building up to a sustained plateau rather than chasing a fleeting peak?
Quote of The Week
"Everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer." - Jim Carrey
Have a great weekend!
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