Ever gotten something you’ve really wanted? Something you’ve dreamed about, schemed about and worked your socks off for? And then finally when it’s all yours, you feel…nothing. Instead of elation, there’s only numbness, flatness and confusion. That’s post achievement comedown, better known as PAC. And it can be confusing, sad and even scary.
If this has ever happened to you, then you’re not alone. You’ve climbed the mountain, got to the top and then thought. “Oh, is this it then?” But psychologist, Tal Ben-Shahar, says there’s a name and a reason for this feeling. And it’s called the arrival fallacy. He explains,
“Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness,”
1. Instead of only celebrating the big achievement, reward all the small steps too
Most people think it’s only the end goal that’s worth celebrating. But actually every step along the way deserves some recognition and reward. Your presentation to the board went well? Then celebrate. Found a placement you’re really excited about? Then reward yourself. Got a job interview with a company you’d love to be CEO of? Then take yourself out to dinner. Every step on the path to success deserves some self praise and recognition. Choosing to soak up all the small successes has two major benefits. Firstly, it helps to keep you motivated as you work towards the end goal. And secondly, it minimises the risk of post achievement comedown by taking the empahsis off one big day or achievement, and instead spreads it over a series of smaller, joyful moments.
2. Make sure your goals align with your values
Some achievements in life can’t fail to impress others. A prestigious job with a premier company, an overseas holiday home, or having the cash to splash on a new sports car may all raise admiring glances. But, and it’s a big but, these achievements are only worthwhile if they’re meaningful to you, and align with your core values. If your values are making a positive difference, improving the environment and promoting justice then a job with an oil company is unlikely to make you happy – however much it pays.
This exercise will help you work out exactly what your core values are. It takes a bit of time to work through, but it will pay dividends. Once you know your core values, they act as your north star and can guide you along the path that’s right for you.
3. Find the right friend to talk to about how you’re feeling
Usually, any friend who’s a good listener and has a sympathetic manner will be helpful. But in the case of post achievement comedown, it’s best to be careful about who you confide in. Nicola from Edinburgh learnt this the hard way.
“I’d just been given a promotion to partner at my law firm, which was a position I’d been working towards for at least five years. However, my success coincided with me simultaneously falling out of love with the world of law and wondering if I even wanted to stay in the UK.
“I told my best friend how dismal and disenchanted I was feeling, but unfortunately she just wasn’t sympathetic. Looking back I can see it must have been hard for her to hear how I didn’t care for a pay rise or stable employment and wasn’t even sure I was going to stick around. She was newly single and struggling for money after a messy divorce. But I was just desperate to talk to someone. We did make it up eventually, but it took us about 3 months to overcome our disappointment with each other.”
And Lastly, if you feel there may be something more to your post achievement comedown than disappointment, please don’t hesitate to seek help. Sometimes disappointmemt, emptiness and apathy can be a precursor to depression.
TV Presenter Caroline Flack, who killed herself in 2020, stated that the morning after winning Strictly, with it’s large pay cheque and career boosting potential, she woke feeling as though, “She had been wrapped in cellophane, and this feeling persisted for over a year.”
Any changes in mood that last for more than a couple of weeks, should always be taken seriously. Your GP is usually the best place and also take a look at my guide to finding a great counsellor.