Choosing Achievement Or Accomplishment?

Achievement is inward or self-focused, while accomplishment is outward or other-focused. Accomplishment includes achievement but not all achievements are accomplishments. But it isn’t either/or. With Excelerated Accomplishment™, it’s both/and.
accomplishment or achievement

High Achievers

This is a tale of two high achievers – Ron and Ruth. Both set high goals for themselves and both put in the work to reach their goals. But the types of goals they have are different. Both of our friends have a number of achievements, but only one has accomplishments.

Let’s look at some of the things Ron has done. In college, Ron set a goal to become the valedictorian of his graduating class. He excelled as a student, maintaining a 4.0 GPA. He also served as a class president, because he thought that would look good on a resume.

After he graduated, Ron went to work in sales for a large company. He set a goal to become one of the top 5 salespeople. By working diligently, he reached that goal in just a few years, enjoying the prestige and bonuses that came with this achievement.

In his personal life, Ron has things he wants to achieve as well. He works out consistently, to maintain a good-looking body and his “six-pack” abs. He aims to take his family on a “dream” vacation each year and he likes to show his vacation pictures to friends and family. Ron is definitely a high-achiever.

Now consider Ruth. When Ruth attended college, she also set a goal to achieve high grades, although she was more focused on what she could learn rather than on a numeric score. She became editor of the school’s yearbook, and, under her leadership, the yearbook team won a college yearbook award two years in a row.

After graduation, Ruth also began work with a sales team. She helped lead her team to improve the company’s sales process, resulting in a 10% increase in sales company-wide. And although they didn’t receive commissions or individual bonuses for direct sales, the team was rewarded with raises and a chance to take on more responsibility and make even bigger contributions to the company’s performance.

Like Ron, Ruth is not focused wholly on work. She has health and family goals, too. She and her husband work out together for improved health and so they can have more time with each other. This year, instead of a “showcase” vacation, Ruth and her family went on a mission trip to help people in Puerto Rico who were still suffering hurricane damage and damage from the multiple earthquakes that hit the region.

Accomplishment Or Achievement?

Both of our friends have, without a doubt, made some remarkable achievements. But can we say they both are “accomplished” or have made accomplishments? Let’s look into the meaning of these two words, achievement and accomplishment.

Most of the time, we use achievement and accomplishment interchangeably and take them to mean basically the same thing. But there are subtle distinctions that make a big difference and we see them play out in the lives of Ron and Ruth.

Marc Prensky is “an internationally acclaimed thought leader, speaker, writer, and consultant in the field of education” and the founder of The Global Future Education Foundation and Institute focused on “accomplishment-based” education. [Prensky] Here is the distinction Prensky draws between the concepts of achievement vs. accomplishment.

Achievement, Prensky writes, is when a person does “something that benefits only (or principally) him or her”. [Prensky] Achievement requires work, hard work, and should be celebrated. But it is self – as opposed to “other” – centered.

Prensky suggests that accomplishment be used to describe “things people do that benefit others and the real world.” [Prensky] “I believe,” writes Prensky, “we should reserve the word accomplishment for things we do that help the world, or part of it. We achieve, in fact, so that we can accomplish.” [Prensky]

A Definition Of Success

Research shows that working towards meaningful goals enhances positivity and well-being. As Earl Nightingale said, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or the pursuit of a worthy ideal.” [Nightingale] The goals that lead to accomplishment meet those criteria.

Knowing why you want to reach a specific goal increases your chances of reaching it, plus it can affect how you feel during the pursuit. [Green] Going for accomplishment (to benefit yourself and the world) is that “worthy goal” or “worthy ideal” that leads to success and well-being.

Accomplishment And Mindset

Through years of research, Carol Dweck identified two “mindsets”, as she called them — fixed mindset and growth mindset.

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort. They’re wrong.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.” [Dweck]

Accomplishment requires that you adopt the growth mindset approach. Keep in mind these words from sociologist Benjamin Barber: “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures. I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners.” Think of “failure” as the road that leads to accomplishment. Be a learner.

Goals For Accomplishment

Vivienne Dutton, writing for the Positive Change Guru blog, identified three ways to develop goals for accomplishment. [Dutton]

  1. Set sub goals. A BIG – Bold, Important, Gratifying – goal takes time to reach, usually a long time. We call these “outcome” goals, and you are successful only when you complete the final outcome. Break your BIG goal into a series of steps and routines that you follow every day. These we call process goals. Now you are successful every day that you complete your process.
  2. Set SMART+Plus goals. Have SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound. [Dutton] Then add the +Plus: set approach goals (working for a positive outcome) rather than avoidant goals (working to avoid a negative outcome); have intrinsic goals (goals that reflect your internal desires and needs) rather than extrinsic goals (goals that reflect someone else’s or society’s desire for you); and select appropriate goal content (more about this in a minute). SMART+Plus goals generally lead to accomplishment as well as achievement.
  3. Include values. You are more likely to achieve goals linked to your values. [Dutton] When you align your life’s goals with your top priority values – your Valid Values – your life becomes more fulfilling. Living from your values, you are more likely to choose accomplishment as well as achievement (depending upon what your values are).

Goal Content

Goal content is another aspect of SMART+Plus goals and has a direct bearing on accomplishment vs. achievement.

“Power-themed” goals – a new car, bigger house, more money or a larger salary – are achievements to be sure, but they are not accomplishments by our definition. And some research shows these types of goals detract from overall happiness and well-being.

On the other hand, goals that entail forging stronger relationships with a spouse or children, taking care of yourself to enable you to take better care of a family member, and giving your unique gifts in Service to the world lead to a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

When you pursue power-themed goals, you are only “successful” when you reach the goal – either you have it or you don’t. But as long as you aspire to a goal of deeper relationships, better health, increased Service, and other of those types of goals, you are already successful. Because then you are in pursuit of “the progressive realization of a worthy goal or the pursuit of a worthy ideal.” You are accomplishing something.

Accomplishment And The Excelerated Life

Living an Excelerated Life entails giving our unique gifts in Service to the world. And while our goals allow for personal gain, they have a larger focus for doing good in our corner of the world.

We choose Excelerated Accomplishment™ — achieving meaningful objectives — over achievement because we want to do “things . . . that benefit others and the real world.” [Prensky] It isn’t a choice between achievement or accomplishment, because accomplishment includes achievement then goes beyond it. Achievements benefit us alone. Accomplishments benefit us and the larger world. “We achieve, in fact, so that we can accomplish.” [Prensky] That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!

Excelerated Accomplishment™ — achieving meaningful objectives — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


Dutton, Vivienne. “Perma – A Is For Accomplishment.” Positive Change Guru. Positive Change Guru, May 6, 2017. Web. October 31, 2020.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset. New York: Ballantine Books, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2006, 2016.

Green, Suzy. “Accomplishment.” The Positivity Institute. The Positivity Institute, October 14, 2015. Web. October 31, 2020.

Nightingale, Earl. “Lead The Field.” PDFDrive. Asaha Inc., . Web. Date July 17, 2020. PDF file.

Prensky, Marc. “Achievement vs. Accomplishment: An Important Distinction In Education.” 2015. PDF file.

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