Do you ever work really hard at something, only to reach your end goal and then feel… well, a little underwhelmed? You wonder what happened to that sense of accomplishment you had been working toward and you may even feel guilty for not being able to appreciate all your hard work and the praise you’re receiving from others.
In this post I’m going to explore this common problem faced by most of us that pursue massive goals, and I’m going to suggest some tips for getting past it.
I have a friend who is an actor and playwright and a couple years ago she began putting on her own shows. Her shows always do really well, and sometimes even sell out. But I have noticed two things that seem to occur immediately after the show has ended:
- She doesn’t seem to be entirely satisfied with her show or see it as an achievement at all.
- She seems to discount or distrust the majority of the praise she has received.
It is only weeks or months later when I notice her truly starting to feel proud of her work.
This is a common pattern: the initial thrill of working toward something you are passionate about, the underwhelm once that thing is finally complete, and the slowly returning satisfaction and sense of gratification.
The final phase lies somewhere between the initial excitement and the complete distrust. It is a more rational appreciation of how the project went, where you nailed it and how you could do things better next time.
Why Does This Happen?
Deriving Too Much Validation from Other Peoples’ Opinions Can Hurt Us
This post-accomplishment underwhelm is a protection mechanism. It’s very tempting to bask in the praise you get from other people or to allow your head to swell, but it’s also dangerous and your body knows it.
Allowing our emotions and our sense of self to be swayed so easily by other peoples’ reactions is dangerous. If our self-esteem is at the whim of other people’s opinions, then our emotions are going to wax-and-wane constantly, depending on what others say. Plus, we are never going to feel fulfilled as we will always be looking outside for that continuous validation.
It therefore makes sense for us to be thankful for the praise, but not let it affect us too much. We don’t want to become reliant on it.
Similarly, we need to learn to separate our sense-of-self from the criticism. Sometimes criticism is constructive and helpful, other times it is not. But never should it be perceived as a reflection of we are as a person.
This is a hard idea to get into your head, especially if your project is something very personal to you and you have poured your soul into it. It’s something I struggle with regularly. But you must remind yourself that you are not your work.
On Some Level We Believe Ourselves to be Undeserving
This reason for the post-achievement depression is less helpful. We have been taught from a young age that good things don’t usually happen without something bad happening, that “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”.
We tend to be skeptical of good things that come into our lives and have a hard time enjoying them. Instead, we are constantly preparing ourselves for the ultimate disappointment that is surely right around the corner.
This comes from a subconscious belief that deep down we aren’t worthy of being happy. So when good things happen, we instinctively wonder what the catch is.
We’re also not used to feeling proud of ourselves, so ironically pride feels uncomfortable. And of course, the default is always to jump back to comfort.
Some Ways to Get Past Post-Achievement Depression
Here are 3 things you can do to help lessen the blow and feel better faster.
1. Give YOURSELF Praise
Instead of relying on compliments from others, take some time to pat yourself on the back. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just think back on your journey, how you struggled, how far you’ve come, and really congratulate yourself.
Personal goals are just that- personal. It’s great if others can appreciate them, but their purpose is really about self-fulfillment, so learn to recognize your achievements and have a little celebration with yourself.
Learning to give yourself praise will also help lessen the feeling that you are undeserving of happiness. Become okay with feeling proud and content. You have worked hard and you deserve to feel good about yourself.
2. Get Started Right Away on Your Next Project
The sooner you get your mind off the old project and onto a new goal, the sooner this feeling of disappointment will go away. Even if you don’t know what your next project will be, start the next day trying to figure it out. Be disciplined and set aside some time to work, even if you don’t know where that work will lead.
If you need to take a short break and recoup, do it. But know that the longer you wait to start the next project, the harder it will be. Resistance will rear its ugly head and make you want to stay in that comfort zone forever.
3. Learn to Enjoy the Process
One of the comments on my post Battling the Fear Monster reminded me of something very important: it’s the journey that counts, not arriving at the destination.
You should, of course, try to enjoy that ultimate outcome, but make sure to appreciate the day-to-day joy you get while striving for your goals. There is a particular sense of meaning you get just knowing you’re working each day toward something big.
This, I believe, is the main reason to have goals. They make life more fun.
How do you deal with post-achievement depression? Have you noticed this pattern in yourself?