I had to admit recently that I am an Achiever. You put a task in front of me, and if I am being graded on it in any way then you can bet I will do it well enough to receive a high grade. Oh, the shame of low grades. Obviously, this works well in, say, high school. In life after high school, it becomes a little problematic. Compare this to my wife. She is not an achiever. Which is to say, she struggles with things she isn’t actually interested in. This makes life in, say, high school – where you are given lots of tasks you aren’t actually interested in – a little problematic. After high school, however, it can be quite a strength. The anti-achiever, if they don’t develop the idea that they are somehow deficient because they aren’t equally good at history, chemistry, and volleyball, is less likely to funnel energy into something that brings them no pleasure.
Which is exactly the problem with Achievers like me. I spent years thinking, “I could do that.” I would see some opportunity, something someone else was doing that looked interesting or profitable, and I would think, “I could do that.” And I could. Given enough time, I could teach myself how to get good enough at almost anything. But so what? No matter how well I teach myself to do something, if the doing alone brings me no pleasure it is only a matter of time before I will stop doing it and have to find something else to do.
Perhaps this is why I spend so much time in this space writing about pursuing only what we love. To return to high school, I learned then that I could always get somewhere between a B and an A on any assignment in any class. However, if the assignment was something I was personally interested in, if it was something I would have done without being assigned – like, for instance, writing a story – the grade was irrelevant. I would get an A not because I was brilliant, but because I would bring a level of interest and imagination to the assignment that was otherwise impossible.
This should have been my clue. In school, the assignments are short enough that if you are driven as I was not to fail, then it is possible to harness your attention long enough to do that thing reasonably well. But life’s assignment is never-ending, and achievements in this sense are meaningless. They are fixed points on the road. You need only stand still and behold their emptiness for a moment to understand that in so doing you have achieved nothing but to delay the true pleasure that is following your path.