We humans are obsessed with achievement, seemingly the measuring stick for a life well-lived.

Just as money represents the imaginary method of value exchange for products and services, so achievement is the social equivalent, acting as a proxy for individual worth.

Evolutionary precedents exist for such social calculus, whereby previous accomplishments are used to predict the future value of potential connections.

As an enabler for quick mental heuristics, it still works relatively well, allowing us to efficiently sort new contacts.

When we achieve, our network grows, a reward for increasing our cultural cache.

That’s why we’re so vocal about our accomplishments, using social media to disseminate our success far and wide.

Just Look at LinkedIn’s profile taglines;

Pencil drawing of Don Quixote

“Award-winning entrepreneur, successful investor, professional pilot, dolphin trainer”

— Social media tagline

Just as achievement is a social construct, it’s exploitable.

Faking it until you make it, creating an air of exclusivity and association with those in higher positions are all common image crafting phenomena.

However we go about it, achievement compounds, gaining value over time, helping us climb the cultural ladder.

High achievers are battle-tested, proven entities, boasting laundry lists of conquered goals, giving them greater spoils with less effort.

Whereas the graduate must pull amazing feats of work endurance to make their name, the seasoned achiever is actively petitioned.

It’s important to remember, however, that achievement, just like the collective belief in money, is social, insofar as society has to agree on its worth. This largely depends on individual outlooks and their cultural cliques.

While wealth generation is a de facto achievement indicator, it’s not universal.

Scientists who publish research in prestigious journals benefit from increased funding, although peer recognition might be their real aim. So too for the underpaid journalist who finally secures a book deal.

Perhaps the driving force for our insatiable desire for achievement, however, is the implicit assumption that goal-derived accomplishments and recognition will finally make us happy, compensating for discontent and lack we feel in other areas of life.

So the question is…

What are you trying to achieve, but more importantly, why?