When we talk about success now, we're often talking about more than just measurable, career-related achievement. Holistically, success includes aspects of our aspirations and our mental and emotional spheres — in other words, fulfillment. The status of being "fulfilled" likely means something different to different people, but it's generally used to describe a balanced status of success in many areas of your life. To find fulfillment is to find the perfect balance between work, professional milestones and personal life that contributes to your happiness and aligns with your personal goals. When this means something different to everyone, though, measuring fulfillment — and figuring out how to achieve it — can be tricky.
What does feeling fulfilled mean?
Fulfillment does not have a formal or strict definition. It's a combination of elements that, for each person, gives them the feeling of being content and proud of how their life is going at the moment. For this reason, fulfillment will mean different things depending on each person's dreams, expectations, life path, morals and personal priorities. Two people in roughly the same situation can experience different levels of fulfillment. For example, if you put a lot of value on having a family and have a personal goal to have children at a certain age, you'll probably feel unfulfilled if you're childless. However, another person in the same situation that doesn't share these values may feel perfectly fulfilled on their own.
Though each person's definition is different, there are general components of fulfillment that seem to be common denominators for people, like having and moving toward life goals, maintaining interpersonal relationships and finding a purpose in life. However, defining fulfillment is ultimately up to you, and the road to becoming fulfilled changes throughout your life as you and your goals do. You have to identify the parameters, recognize within yourself what matters to you and prioritize it.
How do I find fulfillment?
Finding fulfillment for yourself can take a while. None of us reaches happiness and full contentment without at least a little bit of stumbling and some trial and error. The most important (and first) step to finding fulfillment is defining what exactly that means and looks like to you. Once you have a clear idea of where you want to be and what your life would look like once you got there, you can focus on the journey.
Things like deadlines, habits and external support can be key in transforming your life and making sure you are prioritizing the things that are most fulfilling to you. These tips are a good place to start when answering the question of what fulfillment means to you and taking the necessary first steps toward reaching it.
1. Look within.
Again, the most important component of becoming fulfilled is to have a clear understanding of what exactly that means for you. In order to best get there, get real with yourself about what matters to you. It might be useful to ask yourself important questions about where you are in life, where you have been trying to get and what steps you need to take to get there. Reflect on why you entered your field, or what you believe your purpose in the world to be. Do you enjoy what you do for a living? Does it challenge you? Do you feel like you have a balanced life in terms of work and pleasure? Do you have your goals in mind? What is most important to you: family, career, adventure or friendship?
Take a step back from your daily routine to examine what your habits are, and identify which parts of your day-to-day life excite you and fuel you and which are taking away from your happiness or simply not adding to it. Vacations or getaways, if you can afford them, are great tools to get you out of your daily environment and bring room for much-needed reflection.
2. Avoid comparing yourself to others.
Remember: fulfillment is different for everyone. That means that no two paths to a fulfilled life are the same, and comparing your life to someone else's rarely yields happiness. In an era where, thanks to social media, we see what people are up to (all the time and through the most rose-colored lenses) it's easy to get caught up in comparison. This inevitably results in feeling a lack of fulfillment and an abundance of regret or despair. You may feel like you're not living your best life and could be doing better. If you're preoccupied with the lives of others though, you lose sight of what your personal goals and dreams are and what your path is. Remember, most of the content makes it to social media is in some way enhanced or altered, and lives rarely live up to what social platforms make them out to be.
3. Have a clear set of goals and a plan for reaching them.
Breaking down your dreams and life aspirations into clear, attainable goals is a great way to ensure you stay on track with your career, and in every other aspect of your life. For example, if your goal is to get hired in a certain position by a certain time in your life, identify the steps you can take now to practice your craft or do work in your field that will bring you closer and closer to your dream job. Outside of your career, set goals according to things you know are important to you. If you know you feel happier and more content with your state of life if you're healthy and in good physical shape, make a workout plan with clear goals and stick to it. If you feel like traveling more would pave the way to a more meaningful life, set travel goals and deadlines (e.g. visit one National Park a month, visit a new continent in the next year, etc.) to make sure you are actually prioritizing this aspect of your life so you don't lose sight of the things that make you happy.
4. Remember, not all progress is tangible.
Sometimes, regardless of how disciplined you are and how many steps ahead you plan, things don't go according to plan. Life happens, and often, things that are out of your control play a big part in whether or not your goals can be completed when you wanted them to. Progress is not linear, and not all growth is visible on the outside. Internal progress counts, too, and it's crucial that your quest for fulfillment includes focusing on your mental wellbeing and personal growth.
You can continue to move forward and feel fulfilled through personal milestones and internal achievements. Develop healthy habits for your body and mind. Things like making progress toward that yoga pose you've been working on for months or meeting self-assigned deadlines for personal projects count as much as a job promotion or life milestone might. Sometimes, there are periods of time when you experience very little fulfillment through your career, but you make enormous progress in your mental health by working with a therapist or developing a meditation practice. Every movement forward is valuable, and the worth of these accomplishments is up to you to define.
5. Share your processes with others.
Feedback and advice can go a long way. Sometimes it's easier to see solutions to problems that are not deeply personal, so if you feel like you've hit a slump, and your practices of finding fulfillment have stopped working, workshopping solutions within your community might help. Sharing your struggles with someone will open you up to new perspectives, and you might discover new ways of approaching your goals and values.
Sharing with someone else also opens them up to being able to share with you, and aside from finding a solution to your problems, you might be able to help someone else solve theirs. The feeling of having a community and helping someone else is often an aspect of fulfillment and one that is always available when other things don't go as planned.
Feeling fulfilled is an everyday task. It may take some time to figure out exactly how best to approach your own goals, but once you do, the key is to make habits that prioritize them. Each person may have different ways to stick to habits — making lists, vision boards or posts on social media — and if you know which one works best for you, take advantage of that. Another important thing to remember is that it's easy to lose sight of the big things once you fall into a routine again, so make sure to always remember to constantly keep in mind and reexamine what you're working toward. What fulfills you may change over time, so to step back and reevaluate with regularity will be helpful in keeping you on track while ensuring you're not wasting time and energy on goals you no longer want to pursue.