84: The Difference between Achievement & Success

by Coach Jill Farmer and Coach Gabriella Dennery MD | Physician Coaching, Podcast, Work Life Balance

“The achievement wasn’t what they really wanted, it was something inside. A sense of, as you said, fulfillment, meaning, contentment, service.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

In this episode, Coaches Gabriella and Jill walk us through the important difference between achievement and success and why that difference matters in our lives. The DocWorking Coaches explain why sometimes achieving our goal doesn’t feel as fulfilling as we expected. This episode invites us to leave preconceived notions about success behind and look inside to discover what success really means to us. 

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Please Enjoy the full transcript below-

Jill: The achievement wasn’t what they really wanted. It was something inside, a sense of, as you said, fulfillment, meaning, contentment, service. 

[DocWorking theme]

Jill: Hello. We are so glad you are here at DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Jill Farmer, one of the lead coaches at DocWorking. I am joined by my good friend and also one of the other lead coaches at DocWorking, Gabriella Dennery, MD. Today, we’re going to be talking about the difference between success and achievement. “What you say? What’s the difference? I thought those two are kind of the same.” I get it, we conflate those two things a lot. Gabriella, remind us why it can be really interesting, powerful and meaningful to think about achievement and success a little differently.

Gabriella: I’m glad you asked this question, Jill, because I too conflated the two for many, many years. I thought that my success was defined by, one, how much money I made. Number two, how many accolades I could accumulate? Number three, if my mom and dad were proud of me, [chuckles] and I could basically, let’s say, boast and show off a little bit, which it feeds the ego, and it’s absolutely wonderful, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The question really was, what is my sense of fulfillment and satisfaction? Distinguishing or making the difference between success and achievement is important because sometimes they match and sometimes they don’t. 

I went to the internet to kind of look at different people’s definition of what it means to be successful. “Success in general attainment of any state where you are content,” as one author put it, his name is Patrick Williams. Richard Branson says, “Well, success is how happy you are.” Oprah talks about fulfillment, Barack Obama, difference you make in people’s lives. Stephen Covey, “I’m going to read this one. “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.” I don’t think anybody wants down their epitaph, “I made lots of money.” I’m not sure if that’s the definition of success. It could be for some, but for most, I don’t think so. Arianna Huffington, “Success is well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.” Finally, Maya Angelou, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” 

The main difference between success and achievement, so let’s say in a sentence, academic achievement, promotion, publication in a journal, seeing 20 patients a day and somebody pats you on the back. There’s these external things. It’s Olympic season, somebody gets on that podium and wins a medal. Somebody lands that vault, there’s that external achievement that people can say, “Hey, you did it.” There’s an external drive. If you’ve reached a certain milestone, that’s achievement. Success, on the other hand, is your contentment and fulfillment, how does it feel inside? That is probably the most important thing right there. So, it means that what one person considers successful, can be very different than what another person considers successful, and it becomes an individual decision, and an individual aspiration. So, for me, success is literally getting up in the morning, and having a healthy breakfast, that’s a measure of success. Success is those little things that you do to get you to your achievement. 

Achievement, for me is the icing on the cake. It’s the recognition for what you’ve done. Success is that cake, putting those ingredients together and making it stand, making the achievement stand up. They work hand in hand. But with physician clients, what I’ve found, and with other healthcare professionals, there’s a certain level of achievement, certain milestones that are reached, but oftentimes, if you ask them how they feel about it, unfortunately, it doesn’t match the milestone. “Ah, it’s okay.” Or, “I’m really just tired right now.” There is other feedback that doesn’t quite match the level of achievement. As a coach, we start looking at, “Well, what would be successful to you? How do you define success? Let’s work on that for a bit.” Because it would be great if the two matched. And if they don’t, that too is information. 

If I’ve achieved all this wonderfulness, but I don’t feel successful, I’m not happy, then what? Then I get to make a different choice, I get to look at it again and say, “Well, maybe I need to switch gears a little bit.” There’s nothing wrong with either one. It’s just information, information, information for your next move, your next steps, your next decisions, and at the same time, if you are ecstatic, and you get that gold medal, because you did something that you loved, that combination is super powerful. So, I think that’s how I would distinguish the two. Jill, is there anything you wanted to add to that?

Jill: Oh, my gosh, so beautifully said. Yes, you have helped me understand this whole concept a little better and parse it out for me in ways that I’ve found powerful because, again, I was mixing those two together, but I knew based on client experiences that the achievement which is defined as the completion often of goals or tasks. The checking it off the list often doesn’t deliver what people think it is, once I make X number of dollars, I will feel. Once I earned this level of academic promotion, once I get this title in my division, and they get there and go, “Oops.” [chuckles] 

The achievement didn’t deliver the feeling state that I was hoping it could. So, to me then inviting people in when they realized the achievement wasn’t what they really wanted, it was something inside a sense of, as you said, fulfillment, meaning, contentment, service, as you so brilliantly put those together from the people’s perspectives. I now often define success with my clients is that sense of fulfillment you get from doing what matters to you. It has to be values based, and it has to not just matter to your boss, or your parents or your spouse or the world, but to you in a sustainable way, because the other side of is you can be checking all the things off the list and achieving all those and doing it in a way that everybody else says is great, but if you can’t do it sustainably because you’re exhausted and frying yourself to a crisp, then that is not going to give you that sense of fulfillment as well. And so, it’s balancing those things together. 

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Jill: What do you think?

Gabriella: I agree, 100%. I think it is tied to vision and to values in particular, what matters to you most, that’s probably the most important point. There was a point where a wonderful doctor, administrator, leader who came to me and said, “I would offer to mentor you.” But by that time, I was so exhausted, I was sitting in his office. And he was like, “Well, how about that, I can mentor you?” Because I was involved in various kind of patient access projects that I think I’d mentioned before. I was sitting there and I had no enthusiasm for it. I said, “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” So clearly, he picked up on that very, very quickly. And it shocked me because that would be an achievement, that would be a feather in my cap, and I could put it on my resume, and I would be mentored by somebody who was absolutely phenomenal at what he did. But there was no drive and motivation or inspiration for me. In a way, it was good information to know that if I’d gone down that road, trying to muster up something that just wasn’t there, it probably would not have worked out terribly well for me, but based on values, based on inspiration, based on what gets a person up in the morning, that’s how we define success. 

And that definition is a way to, as you said, to provide a check and balance. If I’m not there, then what needs to shift? And if I am there, then great kudos, I put that icing on the cake, and I eat the icing on the cake, too. So, yes, Jill, I agree 100%.

Jill: So, let’s wrap it up. Here, we just want you to play within your mind, are the scales tipped a little bit too much in favor of achievement, where I’m just kind of chasing after that carrot, achievement matters. Completion of goals is satisfying; we know is part of our psychological health. That’s one part of the pie that can be meaningful. So, it’s not that we’re saying, “We no longer care about achieving.” Just understand if you’re waiting it a little too much, and if there’s a more nuanced way for you to think about what success really looks like for you. Is it contentment? Is it service? Is it fulfillment? Is it dynamic? Is it changing in different seasons of life? And are you willing to revisit it again? Those are the kind of questions that we invite you to spend just a little time thinking about today and see if that doesn’t give you a little bit of new motivation and a little bit of new direction. 

We are so glad you joined us. Remember, tell all your friends and colleagues about us, so they can get ideas to be inspired and motivated as well. If you haven’t done it yet, pop on over and give us a five-star rating at whichever service you’re listening to us on that really matters and helps us to be able to get the message out to more people. On behalf of Gabriella Dennery, MD and myself, Jill Farmer, thanks for joining us for DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.


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Amanda: Hello, and thank you for listening. This is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of the DocWorking podcast. If you enjoyed our podcast, please like and subscribe. We would also love it, if you check out our website which is And you can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram. On Instagram, we are @docworking1, and that is with the number one. When you check us out on social, please let us know what you would like to hear on the podcast. Your feedback really means a lot to us. And if you’re a physician with a story you’d like to tell, please reach out to me at [email protected] to apply to be on the podcast. Thank you again and we look forward to talking with you on the next episode of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.

Jill Farmer is an experienced physician coach who has been helping doctors live their best lives, increase their success, and move through burnout for well over a decade.

She has delivered keynotes, programs, and training everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the American College of Cardiology.

She has personally coached hundreds of physicians, surgeons, and other busy professionals to help them be at their best—without burning themselves out. Her coaching has supported professionals at places like Mass General Brigham in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and too many others to list.

Jill wrote the book on time management for busy people. Literally. It’s called “There’s Not Enough Time…and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” which debuted as a bestseller on Amazon. Her work has been featured everywhere from Inc. to Fitness Magazine to The Washington Post.

Nationally recognized as a “brilliant time optimizer and life maximizer,” Jill will cut straight to the heart of your stress to liberate you from its shackles. She has two young adult daughters. She lives with her husband and their poorly behaved dachshund in St. Louis, MO.

Life Coach Gabriella Dennery, MD OMD is passionate about helping busy physicians rediscover the joy of their calling. She draws on her training as a physician, a musician, and an ordained non-denominational minister in addition to health & wellness and life coaching to offer professionals from all walks of life the benefit of her broad experience and deep insights.

You can find Gabriella as one of the co-creators of STAT: Quick Wins To Get Your Life Back.

The daughter of a psychiatrist mother and a neurosurgeon father, both from Haiti, Gabriella and her five siblings were expected to choose from five noble callings: Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, or Agronomy (caring for the delicate soil of Haiti).

Gabriella, an innately gifted healer and teacher, chose Medicine and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine, “The Mecca.” Following her residency in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Gabriella moved to New York City to serve as an attending physician and clinical instructor in Harlem and later as medical director and attending physician at SUNY Downstate Bedford-Stuyvesant satellite clinic in Brooklyn.

Her greatest joy as a primary care physician was supporting her patients, shepherding them to Aha moments, and nurturing positive shifts in perspective that measurably improved their health and wellbeing–a strength that makes Gabriella so effective as a coach.

After more than ten years of practicing internal medicine, Gabriella chose to explore the integration of medicine, music, and ministry to promote better health of her fellow physicians by becoming a physician coach. She successfully coaches physicians to prevent and/or navigate through physician burnout, reach career and personal goals, clarify and take actionable steps to achieve their own personal vision, and is well known for helping doctors at all stages of their careers, from students to residents/fellows to practicing physicians. She maintains her work-life balance by playing percussion and violin, composing music, and enjoying a very fun and fulfilling marriage.

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