Winning won’t solve everything

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Brian Kight

Billy Donovan, head coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, won two national championships as head coach of the Florida Gators men’s basketball team. But he explains that after winning the second championship, he was depressed.

“I lost sight of what it was all about. Because winning those two championships didn’t change my life one bit, other than someone writing ‘National Championship Coach’ next to my name. Outside of that, nothing was different.” 

Billy Donovan’s experience highlights a common misunderstanding about the relationship between pursuing excellence and finding fulfillment.

It’s one of life’s most important but hard to learn lessons:

Achieving excellence doesn’t automatically lead to deep personal fulfillment. If you listen to the experiences of many elite performers, they’ll tell you the requirements of excellence often make fulfillment more difficult.

On the other hand, a life of fulfillment doesn’t naturally lead to excellence either. What fulfills us is not necessarily excellent by objective or subjective measures.

The big life lesson is that external excellence and internal fulfillment are separate pursuits. We get into trouble by constantly trying to make each one solve for the other.

No amount of external excellence will give us the deep internal fulfillment we crave. Excellence is its own reward. It’s not excellence’s job to provide us with fulfillment. It’s excellence’s job to deliver excellence.

Our deepest internal fulfillment does not correlate with external excellence. Fulfillment is just for us, regardless of what it produces or whether anyone else validates it. It’s not fulfillment’s job to create excellence. It’s fulfillment’s job to provide fulfillment.

External excellence and internal fulfillment are each on their own path. Pursue each one for its purposes. The two paths will occasionally merge for a while before eventually diverging again. Enjoy those moments.

Those brief windows in life are rare, fleeting, and difficult to reproduce.

The time is now. Do the work.

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