Can You Know You Have Found Fulfillment?

FulfillmentThe Big Question
Artwork by: Saara Thakker, age 14

I always thought of fulfillment as a pretty shallow word — just a synonym for “requirements satisfied.”

It’s like when a package from Amazon is delivered to you: you’ll get an email that says “Your purchase has been fulfilled.” Or when you have fulfilled the requirements for an application.

However, when I thought more about this, I realized that fulfillment doesn’t just mean the matching of requirements or expectations. I realized that I’m not always fulfilled when I’m just happy. Fulfillment means something much deeper than simple happiness — it is being satisfied when we accomplish something that truly matters to us. That makes this whole problem a lot more complex, because our species is incredibly ambitious.

Eventually, especially when things go the way we want them to, our expectations grow. As you fulfill one set of expectations, a whole new, more ambitious set of expectations is created. Why? Accomplishing one task increases your faith in yourself, and makes you think bigger — and want more.

It's like a mirage in the desert; the possibility of water is very promising, but as you keep walking ahead, the mirage seems to keep moving with you. You're sure you'll come to it soon, but it never actually happens! Is fulfillment like a mirage? Something unreal, but that all of us are chasing?

This means that being fulfilled once will make it more difficult to be fulfilled the next time. This seems very paradoxical, doesn’t it?

We experience this exact encounter with the concept of fulfillment in every sporting league. Let's say Team A has won the trophy for the last two tournaments. Team B, however, hasn't even managed to get to the playoffs in the last decade. Team B fans would be fulfilled even if they managed to get to the playoffs, but the only way to fulfill Team A fans would be for them to win, yet again. Team A’s fans have seen Team A fulfilling their expectations for the last two years, and hold them to the same standards — their failing to win the trophy would be disappointing, even if they managed to make it to the playoffs. Team B fans, however, have no standard to hold Team B to — the only way to go is up!

I'd say fulfilment has a shelf life of maybe one week. When we attain a goal we thought would satisfy us, we already have a new goal and new expectations in mind.

I enjoy programming, and when I'm able to fix a major bug, or create a cool new feature in my apps, I'm quite satisfied for a while. But, after a week or so, I begin treating that as just a stepping stone to the big goal, and set bigger expectations for the project yet again. There are really no limits to what you can do, especially with programming — the scope of your project can continue increasing all the time!

For example, Elon Musk’s first venture, Zip2, sold for $307 million; his second, (PayPal), sold for $1.5 billion. Two of his current companies, Tesla and SpaceX, are valued at $29.7 and $33.3 billion, respectively (at time of writing). Musk’s vision kept progressing as he built new ventures, and he kept getting more ambitious every single time — from building websites for small businesses, to creating a new payments infrastructure, to pioneering electric cars and even launching rockets. His not being fulfilled with every accomplishment has driven him to create all this value

I think the feeling of fulfillment isn't one which appears just once. It is continually occurring, and fulfillment is a continuous process, just like setting expectations. Both fulfillment and expectations are not stagnant ideals we set for ourselves; they're dynamic and ever evolving. And this is what makes it so tricky to know if you've been fulfilled.

I believe there is no way to recognize if you're ultimately fulfilled. There are usually very few limits to what we can accomplish; it is always possible to get more, which means you might never be ultimately fulfilled.

I think a useful way to be happy, even when you aren’t fulfilled, is to celebrate the small wins. Whenever I'm setting expectations or goals for myself, I think about what I have managed to accomplish since the last time I set these goals. The sense of fulfillment I get then is one that is satisfying but also keeps me motivated to get to the next level.

It's important for me to keep setting milestones at which to pause and reflect. This lets me recognize what went well, what didn't, how satisfied I am with my progress, and what I should do differently. I'm able to continuously refine what I do, and the process of reflecting generally increases how happy I am, because I'm able to measure what I did differently compared to last time and see apparent growth.

It's really important to be happy, to keep up motivation. However, it's essential to not look at fulfillment as a one time thing — every great thing is here because its creators didn't settle for the first time they felt fulfilled. They were ambitious!

Samarth Jajoo is an 11th grader at Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India. He makes things on the internet when he's free—or watches excessive amounts of TV. Learn more at

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