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The Difference Between Fulfillment and Achievement

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~C.S. Lewis

I have always been ambitious. I have always felt an incredible need to become someone, to do something, to achieve. I have always been a dreamer on my way up.

I’m a fashion designer. I belong to an industry that I knew was highly competitive from a young age. Ambition and hard work counted, but increasingly, I was getting the message that status, money, and connections were far more important factors for success.

In fact, fashion as an industry is parallel to the entertainment industry. Just look to all the celebrities whose next career move, often in desperation, is to create a fashion line. I was no celebrity—not even close. I was a plain, quiet girl who was more studious than glamorous.

In fashion, there are sayings like “You’re only as good as your last season” or “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out.” We live in a go-go-go, high-achieving, fast paced world laced with ambition, goals, and people who want to do it all and have it all. So it had been ingrained in me to always work hard.

Throughout college, I worked (almost full-time), went to school (actually full-time), and came home to work on design projects, sew into the night, or write for my little fashion blog. I took no time off, worked endless hours, and dedicated myself wholly to my craft, my industry, and my goals.

All to get somewhere, become something, to achieve my lifelong dream.

That all came to a halt when I graduated and I started pounding the pavement. I was sure that my hard work and talent would pay off—but it didn’t. For almost an entire year, I didn’t even get an interview.

It was a shameful part of my life, one that I would not readily admit to anyone. I was working full-time in a different industry making very little money, but could not get in on the one I had worked so hard toward my entire life.

So I stopped after a year to ask myself, what was I doing wrong?

Then I realized that I was holding myself back because what I was aiming for wasn’t aligned with my true desires.

So I stopped holding onto that half-hearted dream and started a freelance business. I started making more money than I was making at my day job.

I quit that job.

One.

When my business was really starting to grow and I was starting to make a name for myself, all of a sudden I felt stuck. Like there was something more out there for me.

I stopped again.

I thought I was stuck because I was finally starting to lead the life I had always dreamed of, but my life was still holding onto material remnants of the past.

So I spent an entire year letting go of “stuff.” While cleaning out my closet, I realized how much stuff was in there that didn’t feel like me, that I never wore, and that just wasn’t right.

I made a list and went on the hunt for stylish, timeless yet fresh and eco-friendly fashion essentials. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.

A business idea was born.

Two.

I got so excited about my idea, and being the high achiever that I am, I was determined to bring my idea to market as soon as I could. And I did—in 5 months, from concept to launch.

I had rushed to get my line ready for spring, and it received great response. I started getting interview requests and people were noticing.

But inside, I knew that in my hurry, I had missed out on a lot of what I truly wanted to create. (Things had gone wrong, but I had ignored them to just “get it out.”)

I had created a line that was colorless, but here I was, so in love with the way the world is painted with color.

I stopped.

I disconnected from the grind.

And I took the entire summer off to get centered, to push myself not to do more but to create better. To create something that truly felt like me, not what everyone thought I should be.

When I came back in the fall, I was infinitely more proud of the small collection I had created.

Three.

I knew that in my heart, I had always been an entrepreneur, but I had convinced myself that I needed to work my way up in the industry first before I could be considered legitimate.

I knew that though I loved to write, I was selling myself short by not wholeheartedly pursuing my lifelong dream of design.

And I knew that successful people often take years to build successful businesses.

I knew all of that, but at the time, I was too blind with my own ambition to listen to the truths.

After I had created that collection, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be, brought closer to my truth and my purpose than I had ever felt in my entire life.

And I did what I had putting off for so long in the pursuit of my dreams: I celebrated.

There is much to celebrate: that I’m doing what I love, that I made my childhood dream a reality, that I am being heard, that I am healthy, loved, and safe. And for a girl who, as a child, felt so unheard and hidden, I knew I had come a long way, finally making space for my truth and voice to unfold.

And even though I was nowhere near “success,” I was happy.

I learned that sometimes stopping is the key to going. Letting go is the key to becoming. Breathing is the key to living. (Literally and metaphorically.) And, celebrating where you are right now is the key to happiness.

These were three pivotal moments in my life, and there were many more. Each one was difficult and more painful than the picture I painted, met often with tears, frustration, and a feeling of hopelessness. But each led me closer to who I am today and the truths that truly fulfill me, beyond my once blind ambition.

A few days ago, it happened once again, and I am letting go of something to make space for a new dream: to change the way fashion works to align more with creating positive impact for people and the planet.

Fashion is a giant entity. It takes a lot more to get fashion to stop, to breathe, to realign, but a lot less for you and me.

We’ve been numbing ourselves in the constant pursuit of achievement—and in doing so, we miss out on the true joy that comes from actualizing our truest and deepest desires. 

That actualizing process is what we’re all really seeking: fulfillment. But it’s too often disguised as achievement.

It takes a lot to make the distinction between the two: You will need to stop. Celebrate. Breathe. Play. Let Go. Sit with the truth rather than numb it. And know that the world and your own ambition will try to seduce you away.

But, if you embrace that it is a part of the process called life—that things can and will change as your desires get clearer—it will give so much more back to you than achievement ever can.

So allow yourself to dream a new dream, but always let fulfillment, not ambition be your guide.

Photo by jacky_oh_yeah

Avatar of Annching Wang

About Annching Wang

Annching Wang helps women re-imagine the art of being well dressed, in style and consciousness. Designer of capsule collections for the curated wardrobe, she’s also a writer and author of the free manifesto, The Feel Good Wardrobe. Visit her design studio at www.averybywang.com.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://twitter.com/StylebyFire Style by Fire

    Thanks so much for writing this, Annching. As part of the fashion industry myself and a Tiny Buddha reader, I didn’t think I would find someone writing from a fashion background here – and from Vancouver too!

    What you’ve written is so inspiring, as I’ve struggled (and still do) with things such as working in low-paying non-fulling jobs, feeling the need to “work your way up” before feeling legit, and on a larger scale trying to justify loving fashion even though I see so many things about the industry that I didn’t agree with (the pace, the wastefulness, the lack of social concern).

    I love that you’re making your own rules, regardless of what norms this industry is accustomed to. Now that’s visionary leadership.

  • CT Angels

    Perfect article and timing!!! Although my career track is different than yours, I did/am doing the stop and go thing …. I am constantly questioning myself, am I doing the right thing for me right now??? My desire is to create financial security for my family and I know I am getting closer as I am happier with own self. Thanks for sharing!!!

  • elle

    This is all very well and good, but some people aren’t able to stop and take an entire summer off for financial reasons. It would be nice if you acknowledged your enormous privilege.

  • Annching

    Hi Elle!

    I should clarify, as I think you misunderstood: I didn’t take an entire summer off from working. I was still working the entire time, as I don’t have the privilege of not working – I meant that I took the entire summer off social media and the digital grind, which in my world, is pretty much like a vacation ;). I was still working, but in a more private space, which if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll know is hard to do.

    But I am extremely grateful for my privileges, where I have them. I think that most people do as well, and it’s always important to recognize this as well. But you are right – sometimes it is easy to forget what we already have because we are so used to wanting more.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Annching

    Thanks CT Angels! I’m glad this resonated with you. :) Everyone’s career track is different, but always important to take a step back and make the steps towards fulfillment, not just achievement, even if they’re tiny baby steps.

  • Annching

    Hi Miranda! Thanks for the comment. I totally relate exactly to what you’re describing. I think I made my own rules almost out of necessity because of like you said, the many things in the industry I didn’t agree with. I’m replying to your email right now!

  • Tracy Carpenter

    Thank you for this timely article. I am a 60 year old nurse about the complete a master’s in counseling, but the whole time in school it hasn’t felt like just the right “fit”. I have been try to acheive what I thought I should, and not understanding why I felt uneasy. I will re-read this many times. Thank you for your courage and your example!
    Tracy

  • lv2terp

    BEAUTIFUL message!!! Thank you for sharing your experience, and wisdom!! :)

  • http://twitter.com/LetsGoKato Kaitlin Solimine 老K

    Thanks, Annching, for this lovely and necessary reminder. I would love to view your site, but the link is not active and takes me to a “Sorry, this store is no longer available” page. Can you please relink? Thanks!

  • Angela Lam Turpin

    Wow! What a powerful message! Thank you for sharing this!

  • Heather

    Wow. This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I work in Hollywood as a movie director, but am privately miserable with the pace, greed and cold-hearted culture of my industry. On my last film I was targeted for extortion by not one but five separate people, and it’s led to my having to sue them. I kind of curled up in a ball this weekend wondering if I got into the right industry. The hatred, craziness and emphasis on money and ambition have got me really down. Congratulations on finding your way through, Annching. Fashion is one of the few industries as fast-paced and cutthroat as my own, and anyone who can carve their own ethical space in such a business has earned my humble respect. I admire how you stood up for your dreams and the younger you, and took the time to step out, sit down away from things and breathe before making new decisions.

    I hope I can do the same. Right now, I’m talking to friends about leaving movies behind for good. They ask, how could I, after all I’ve achieved, and with all of this brand new equipment, and my own studio?

    Sometimes the heart wants what it wants. After this extortion betrayal, and seeing greed wreck a little film that was my dream, I think my heart wants a timeout.

    But now I find myself asking, “Was that film really the one I wanted to direct?”

    “If not, what is?”