Achieve your goals, happily

Syrus Akbary
3 min readJan 21, 2021

If you are an ambitious person, you will realize that reaching your goals not always implies reaching happiness but sometimes quite the opposite… but why is that?

As an ambitious person myself I used to be driven by a strategy that I believe is also common in people with the same trait:

Imagine where you would like to end and draw a mental map of how to get there

However, over time I realized that this strategy is not the optimal if we intend to maintain a happy life while attempting to reach our goals.

Here’s my story:

I was 25 and happily working in a small startup in Spain. I set the goal to work in Silicon Valley so I quitted my job and took a flight under a tourist visa. Once in the valley, I realized that the startup I came to work for was not in a place to sponsor a working visa, so started to interview in other companies and one was kind enough to sponsor my visa (Chegg).
After a few years at Chegg I moved to Affirm with the intention of becoming a tech lead. My inability to reach that goal within a “reasonable” timeframe at Affirm introduced a lot of frustration and pushed me to accept an offer as CTO of A year and a half after joining I realized that I wanted to reach new horizons and become my own boss. So I quitted and started my first company: Wasmer. I thought that by then I’ll reach happiness.

It will not be surprising to the reader to learn that all the paths that I forced myself upon didn’t helped me reach happiness, but rather the opposite:

The first year at Wasmer was one of the hardest in my life (turns out starting a company is not all unicorns 🦄 and rainbows 🌈).

After a major crisis — and some stoicism books later — experience has taught me that although the goal-oriented strategy is the optimal for reaching objectives in time, is not as optimal if you intend to cultivate your own happiness.

If working towards our goals doesn’t increase our happiness… what does?

Read closely, the change is subtle but important:

Imagine where you would like to end and draw a mental map of which personality traits or skills you need in order to get there

Once you have identified those skills and traits, work towards acquiring them, and try to be in an environment where they are rewarded.

Cultivating yourself is the most optimal way to reach your goals

Why working on our skill set is a better strategy than directly working towards our goals?

Here’s the main difference: when we set external goals as objectives we generate expectations over things that we are not able to fully control: I want to reach X position or role at my company, I want to do Y at Z, I need X for Z…

This set of expectations usually leads to frustrations that disturb our happiness.

We might eventually reach our goal, but it will be at the expense of a journey full of unsettled expectations

On the other hand, when the objectives are completely within our own reach and control — without depending on any external decision — things suddenly become much easier.

As acquiring new skills and traits can be fulfilled merely by ourselves, the path is very much frictionless compared to the goals-driven strategy. Why?

  • First, because we work towards our inner completion. Along the way we become a better version of ourselves.
  • Second, because the skills acquired will automatically lead the way towards your end goal (assuming a rewarding environment).

Since your skills will be rewarded by the environment, it will be your environment the one that will want you to succeed and not just yourself. Hence a much frictionless approach towards the same outcome.

Trust and nurture your nature.
Your own success relies there.