When was the last time you felt true joy and fulfillment in your life?

For many achievers, this is something that they rarely experience. Each achievement and accomplishment is followed by another pursuit, always keeping happiness just out of your reach.

The worst part?

This relentless pursuit of success makes finding lasting happiness and fulfillment impossible.

But it’s possible to break free from this toxic cycle. In fact, there are 5 simple ways to help you break free from this cycle that I reveal in this episode.

If you’re constantly feeling like something’s missing in your life no matter how much you achieve, listen to this episode now. Your future self will thank you.

Listen now. 

 Show highlights include:

  • How chasing achievements leaves you unhappy and unfulfilled (even if it boosts your self-esteem in the short term) (1:04)
  • The “Deranged Tree” secret for ignoring societal standards that keep true happiness always out of reach (6:57)
  • The cold, hard truth about why your successes feel hollow and isolating (12:16)
  • Asking yourself this simple question can help you discover your ultimate purpose in life (15:46)
  • The “Karma Yoga” method that forces you to become fully present in the moment (16:49)
  • How to deeply understand what brings you true joy and fulfillment with this simple weekly exercise (18:00)
  • Why reading books for pleasure is one of the quickest ways to shift out of an anxious state of being and into a calm one (20:54)
  • The “dancing with the music” mindset shift that leads to healthier relationships, better mental health, and more joy in your day-to-day life (23:26)

Does your neediness, fear, or insecurity sabotage your success with women? Do you feel you may be unlovable? For more than 17 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find confidence, fulfillment, and loving relationships. And I can help you, too. I’m therapist and life coach David Tian, Ph.D. I invite you to take this quick quiz to access my free Masterclasses on dating and relationships at  https://dtphd.com/quiz now.

For more about David Tian, go here: https://www.davidtianphd.com/about/

Emotional Mastery is David Tian’s step-by-step system to transform, regulate, and control your emotions… so that you can master yourself, your interactions with others, and your relationships… and live a life worth living. Learn more here:


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Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in relationships, attraction, success, and fulfillment. Now, here’s your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.


Welcome to the Masculine Psychology podcast. I’m David Tian, your host, and in this episode, we’re diving into something that’s really big, something that can completely shift the way that you approach your whole life. We’re talking about the fastest and only lasting way to tap into true fulfillment, joy and love, especially if you’re an achiever.

If you’re like many high achievers, you might find yourself caught in what I call the achiever’s trap. It’s this relentless cycle where joy, happiness and love aren’t pursued as the beautiful experiences they are, but as mere tools in the quest to achieve more. This mindset convinces you that once you’ve reached a certain level of success, then and only then will you finally be worthy of true fulfillment. [01:03.8]

But here’s the twist: unconditional love, that deep, fulfilling love that we all were born to crave, cannot, by definition, be earned. It’s not a prize handed out after you tick all the boxes on your personal achievement list. So, what happens for these achievers? They push harder, achieve more, and yet the goalposts of fulfillment keep moving. It’s elusive, always just out of reach. This is exactly why understanding and breaking free from this toxic cycle is crucial. If you don’t, you’ll spend your whole life chasing a version of happiness that’s always at least one achievement away, missing out on the genuine joys that are right in front of you.

Stay with me here because today we’re going to explore how you can step off this treadmill. We’re going to learn how to value joy and love for what they truly are, ends in themselves, not means to an end. This shift and understanding is completely transformative. It’s liberating and it might just be the most important realization you can have on your path to lasting happiness. [02:13.0]

Alright, let’s jump right into it. In this episode, we’re going to cover five critical points that will transform how you think about fulfillment and joy. Our first point is on the illusion of external validation. Let’s unpack this. Many of us, especially those of us who pride ourselves on being achievers, live under the illusion that joy, happiness and love come from what we accomplish, that our worth is something we can boost through achievements or the applause that we receive from others.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Lasting joy, happiness and love are not contingent on external validation, or achievements. It’s really helpful here to bring in some insights from Internal Family Systems therapy or IFS therapy. If you’ve been following this podcast, you must have heard about IFS therapy because I mention it in almost every episode. IFS therapy is one of the most powerful evidence-based psychotherapeutic approaches. [03:09.6]

IFS introduces us to the various parts of our psyche, one of which for achievers is the achiever manager part. This part of us tries to protect us by pushing us toward success. It’s convinced that the only way to secure safety and self-worth is through achieving. Of course, this approach has its downside. It can lead to a relentless chase for external validation, which never truly satisfies our deeper needs for fulfillment.

This is especially true for masculine men who have achiever parts, and often they grew up in the context of the greater society’s kind of toxic masculinity, where the societal norms reinforce this false view that men must earn their worth through achievements and denying their softer feelings. This mindset fuels the achiever mentality, where your worth is measured by your latest success and how well you hide your vulnerabilities. [04:06.8]

But think about this for a moment. If your sense of worth is always tied to what you achieve next, what happens when you rest, or what happens when you stop achieving? What happens if you fail or make a mistake? The foundation of your self-esteem begins to crumble. That’s because it was built on something external, something fleeting, like building your house on sand. Sooner or later, it’s going to give way.Now, if we go back to childhood, as most deep-seated psychological patterns do, we see where this need for external validation began for the achiever parts. Many of us were praised only when we did something that our parents thought were noteworthy. Maybe you brought home a good report card and received a lot of praise from your parents then. Unconsciously and subconsciously, you started to believe that to be loved and seen, you needed to perform, you needed to achieve, you needed to please them. [5:05.1]

What’s really tragic about this is the cycle that it ends up conditioning and creating. You achieve. You receive validation. You feel worthy, but temporarily. It fades, it always will and you’re left feeling empty, rushing toward the next achievement, hoping it will fill the void. But it won’t. Not really. Breaking free from this cycle means understanding and truly believing that your worth isn’t a trophy that needs to be one, that it isn’t contingent on your latest project or your social status.

Your worth, your ability to experience joy, happiness, and love is inherent in you. You are worthy right now as you are, achievements are no achievements. You were worthy of love from the moment you were born. This realization is crucial. It’s the cornerstone of building a life where you feel genuinely fulfilled and happy, not because of what you’ve done, but because of who you are, or even more accurately, that you are, that you exist. [06:15.1]

I used to be a university professor of Asian philosophy and I’ve been ignoring all of that out of a kind of limiting belief that the English Western audience wouldn’t appreciate it, but I’m going to give you the opportunity to live up to a higher expectation and share some insights from ancient Chinese philosophy, some profound wisdom in this case from the text, the Zhuangzi, one of the great minds and documents of early Daoism. The Zhuangzi has some incredible insights that can help us understand the ephemeral nature of external markers of success and the importance of finding intrinsic joy in life. [06:56.1]

Zhuang Zhou famously questioned the very concept of success and failure, suggesting that these are just constructs that we allow to control us. He tells a story about a tree which is considered useless by carpenters because of its twisted branches. Yet this tree lives a long, undisturbed life, precisely because it doesn’t fit these conventional expectations. Here, this ancient text, the Zhuangzi, illustrates a profound point. What society deems valuable or successful might actually not contribute to your personal happiness or fulfillment.

This ties back beautifully to our discussion on external validation. Just like the tree, if we measure our worth by society’s often arbitrary standards, like job titles, income levels, or even social media likes, we’re at the mercy of something very fleeting. These are all external markers that change disappear or fail to satisfy our deeper yearnings. [07:58.6]

Let’s think about intrinsic joy, the kind of joy that comes from within and isn’t shaken by external circumstances. The Zhuangzi argues that freedom and happiness come from letting go of these societal measures and instead embracing our natural state. He advocates for a return to simplicity, to an alignment with the natural world, which doesn’t strive for accolades, but simply exists as it is, beautiful and without pretense.

How can we apply this to our lives as modern achievers? It starts by recognizing that the hustle for external validation is like chasing the wind. It’s elusive and even when you catch it, it’s never enough. It doesn’t satisfy the deeper parts of us that crave meaningful connections, self-acceptance, and peace. Instead, what if we sought out joy in the simple moments? What if our worth was self-defined, rooted in our qualities and contributions to the world that aren’t quantified by traditional measures of success? Imagine the relief when you realize you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Your existence, your intrinsic self is already complete, already worthy. [09:11.5]

Incorporating this philosophy into our daily lives isn’t just beneficial. It’s transformative. It shifts our focus from achieving to being, from competing to experiencing. It allows us to find joy in the here and now, in the small, everyday acts that make up our lives. Taking in the wisdom of the Zhuangzi, don’t strive for external validation, but instead for internal peace and joy. Let’s remember that, like the twisted tree, our unique, unpolished selves are where our true beauty lies.

Now, let’s pivot to our second pivotal point, embracing intrinsic fulfillment. This is all about finding joy, happiness and love from within independently of our external accomplishments. Tony Robbins under whom I did my first life coaching training way back speaks a lot about the peril of achieving without fulfillment. [10:07.1]

He illustrates this with a compelling analogy, one that really sticks in my mind, climbing a ladder fervently only to reach the top and realize it’s leaning against the wrong wall. Imagine that for a second, scaling step after step, pouring your heart into every move, only to discover that all your efforts have brought you further from where you truly wanted to be. It’s the wrong wall. This is what happens when we chase goals that don’t resonate with our deeper selves.

This scenario is a lot more common than you might think. Many of us are so caught up in societal definitions of success that we don’t stop to ask ourselves what we genuinely want. We don’t pause to consider if our pursuits are making us happy or if they’re just boxes that we think we need to check to get somebody’s approval, or to live up to some arbitrary standard that our parents imposed on us 30 years ago. [11:01.1]

Genuine contentment doesn’t come from achievements or accolades. Instead, it arises from aligning with our personal values, fostering meaningful connections, and nurturing our inner contentment. Think about it this way: when you align your actions with your values, there’s a harmony that resonates within you. It’s like tuning an instrument to the right pitch. The sound is clearer, more resonant. When your life’s actions echo your deepest values, you experience a profound sense of fulfillment that external achievements simply can’t match.

Also, fostering meaningful connections is another cornerstone of intrinsic fulfillment. Human beings are inherently social creatures. Our relationships can bring us immense joy, and a sense of belonging. When we nurture these connections, we create an environment where joy and love flourish naturally, emanating from our interactions and shared experiences. [11:58.5]

Let’s not overlook nurturing inner contentment. This involves a kind of internal cultivation where you learn to appreciate and love yourself, your real self, not the self that you portray to the world. It’s about finding peace within your own skin in mind. You can chase every goal imaginable, but if you aren’t at peace with yourself, if you don’t nurture that core contentment, then outer success will simply feel hollow. Remember that the ladder you choose to climb should be propped against the right wall, the wall that reflects your true values, needs and sources of joy. This alignment is the essence of living a fulfilled life.

Now let’s get to our third point out of five and this is about cultivating emotional wellbeing. Often there’s a misconception out there that mental health and emotional fitness are just tools to help us achieve more, like they’re just stepping stones to external success. But here’s the truth: prioritizing your mental health and emotional wellbeing has immense value in and of itself, and is even more valuable to our overall happiness in life than the external achievements. [13:07.3]

So, your mental and emotional health and fitness aren’t just means to bump up your productivity or hit your next big career milestone, because if you think about it, what is it that you are hoping to get from being more productive or getting that next career milestone? If you keep asking this question of “What does that get you?” to every external achievement or accolade, including career milestones, money, etc., the final answer will always be an emotion or a set of emotions, like “I’ll finally feel enough worthy, significant, certain, I finally feel security. I finally feel worthy of love and connection, or at the most basic level, I’ll feel good, like how it feels good to contribute to others.”

There are lots of ways to build your emotional and mental wellbeing and fitness. I’ve covered dozens in my podcast already, including IFS therapy, restructuring thoughts with cognitive behavioral therapy, or practicing mindfulness, and these are not just about preventing or managing crises. They’re about building a foundation of emotional wellbeing. [14:15.7]

That enhances every aspect of your life and makes your life enjoyable and meaningful. It’s these very emotions themselves that are the whole point of achieving. But here’s the secret: you don’t have to achieve in order to feel these emotions. That was the great lie that was conditioned into us as achievers when we were children. Emotional fulfillment and wellbeing should never be viewed as a luxury or just a tool for achieving more. It’s the whole point of achievement. It’s a fundamental part of living a balanced, fulfilling life. [14:48.7]

No matter their physical strength, for many men, emotions are too much for them to handle. It’s why they can’t give women the deeper levels of emotional intimacy and connection that they crave. It’s why they fail to be the man that modern women desire most: a man with inner strength, a man who has mastered his emotions.

Find out how to master your emotions through David Tian’s “Emotional Mastery” program. The Emotional Mastery program is a step-by-step system that integrates the best of empirically-verified psychotherapy methods and reveals how to master your internal state and develop the inner strength that makes you naturally attractive, happy, and fulfilled.

Learn more about this transformational program by going to DavidTianPhD.com/EmotionalMastery.

That’s D-A-V-I-D-T-I-A-N-P-H-D [dot] com [slash] emotional mastery.

Now let’s move on to the fourth out of five points. It’s time to challenge the traditional markers of success and ask ourselves what truly brings us joy, fulfillment and real sense of purpose. This isn’t about what society tells us we should value, but what genuinely resonates with our deepest selves. [16:02.0]

Let’s start by asking, what does success really mean to you? Is it a specific salary, title, or maybe a fancy car? Or is it perhaps the freedom to enjoy your life’s passions, the strength of your relationships or the peace that you find in quiet moments? It’s crucial to redefine success on your own terms to align it with what truly makes your life rich and meaningful.

Now, both modern psychology and ancient wisdom traditions have a lot to say on this. From the psychological side, studies show that people who prioritize inner growth and meaningful relationships report higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness. It’s not the external achievements that fill their cup. It’s the quality of their experiences and the depth of their connections.

Now turning to ancient wisdom, let’s look at the great text, the Bhagavad Gita. This is an epic script from India that’s been guiding seekers for centuries. It teaches about karma yoga, the path of selfless action. Here, success isn’t measured by the outcome of your actions, but by the intent and effort that you put into them. It’s about doing your best in the present moment without attachment to how things will turn out. [17:15.3]

This perspective invites a profound connection with the present and a kind of fulfillment that’s not contingent on external rewards. Reflect on this. How often do you pause and appreciate the present moment? When was the last time you felt truly present with a loved one or deeply engaged in a favorite activity, without thinking about what it might lead to or earn you?

This shift in perspective isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about fundamentally changing how we live. It’s about moving from a success-oriented to a values-oriented life. Imagine defining your success, not by what you accumulate, but by how well you live according to your values and how deeply you connect with others. [18:00.1]

For a practical takeaway, try this exercise. It’s also a good gauge for maturity. For one week, at the end of each day, write down moments when you felt genuinely fulfilled, times when you were completely absorbed in what you were doing, connected with others or at peace. Notice what these moments have in common. Are they linked more to external achievements or something deeper?

This regular practice can illuminate what truly brings you joy and fulfillment. It’s these insights that can guide you to redefine your success in more personally-satisfying and fulfilling ways. As we embrace this broader, richer definition of success and fulfillment, we find that our lives become more about experiencing and less about acquiring. This reframe can lead to a deeper satisfaction, one that isn’t shaken by the ups and downs of external circumstances. [18:54.4]

Now let’s move to the fifth and final point, which is embracing the journey. This is about recognizing that fulfillment isn’t a destination that you arrive at, but a continual process of self-discovery and personal growth, and it’s intrinsically enjoyable and valuable. It’s sort of the whole point. It’s about learning to appreciate each step on the path, not just where it might lead you to in the end.

Too often, we find ourselves caught up in this pursuit of external validation, chasing after achievements in order to feel valued or worthy. But let’s shift that focus. Let’s start embracing the journey itself, finding contentment and joy in the present moment.

I want to share a story about a client of mine, let’s call him Alex, so hopefully, this will bring the point home. Alex came to me feeling burnt out and dissatisfied despite having a successful career on the outside. He also had what appeared to be a loving family and all the trappings of what many people would consider a successful life. He couldn’t understand, though, why he felt so unfulfilled and he was constantly on edge with anxiety, feeling like no achievement was ever enough. [20:03.7]

Through our work together and in the therapeutic process, Alex realized that he had been so focused on hitting targets and meeting expectations that he’d forgotten to learn how to enjoy the process. He was living in the future, always looking ahead to the next goal, and as a result, he was missing out on the present. This might seem like an obvious point when you’re applying it or seeing it in someone else, but when you’re seeing it in yourself, it’s very shocking. It’s a whole paradigm shift, and this was a big turning point for him to realize this.

We worked on techniques to help him anchor himself in the now, including mindfulness exercises that I have in my Emotional Mastery program, gratitude practices, setting aside time each day to reflect on what he enjoyed rather than what he needed to achieve. One of the most powerful changes that Alex made was learning to value his experiences over his accomplishments. He started spending more time with his family without checking his phone constantly, reading books purely for pleasure, and taking walks just to appreciate nature. [21:10.6]

Over time, Alex began to feel a huge shift. He reported feeling lighter, more at peace. Surprisingly, he found himself actually more productive and creative at work, but don’t do it for that purpose. But, eventually, if your work and values are aligned, that will be the natural byproduct. He was no longer chasing happiness as if it were a prize at the end of some race. Instead, he was living it moment by moment.

This transformation, of course, didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process of unlearning the habit of equating self-worth with productivity and external success, and what Alex discovered was that fulfillment comes from how you live each day, not the accolades or achievements that some future faraway might bring. [21:58.0]

Remember that the path to true fulfillment isn’t going to be or feel like a straight line. It’s going to be full of twists and turns, and ups and downs, and that’s part of the excitement of it. Embracing this journey means accepting that growth often comes from unexpected places and that true joy is found in the living, not just the reaching. Let go of the pressure to constantly prove yourself to others.

Release the need for external validation, and instead, focus on cultivating a deep sense of contentment and joy in the present moment. This doesn’t mean that you stop setting goals or striving to better yourself. It means your happiness isn’t dependent on reaching those goals. It’s about enjoying the ride, not just waiting till you get to the destination.

So, let me ask you, are you giving yourself the space to enjoy your life right now at this very moment, not just when you think you finally made it? You can start small, just focus on finding joy in the little things, and slowly, you might just find that these moments of contentment together build a fulfilling life and that you can experience that for yourself right here and now. It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey, because that’s what life is. Embrace it with all its complexities and cherish the growth that can come with each step. [23:18.8]

I think Alan Watts put it best when he said, and I’ll quote him at length directly here because he’s said it so well—again, I’m quoting Alan Watts directly.

“It’s my contention and my personal opinion that existence, the physical universe, is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. That is to say, it doesn’t have some destination that it ought to arrive at. But it is best understood by analogy with music, because music as an art form is essentially playful. We say, ‘You play the piano.’ You don’t work the piano.” [23:52.2]

“Why? Music differs, say, from travel. When you travel you are trying to get somewhere. And of course, we—because being a very compulsive and purposive culture—are busy getting everywhere faster and faster and faster, until we eliminate the distance between places. I mean, with the modern jet travel you can arrive almost instantaneously. What happens as a result of that is that the two ends of your journey become the same place, so you eliminate the distance and you eliminate the journey, because the fun of the journey is to travel, not to obliterate travel.

“In music, though, one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest and there would be composers who wrote only finales. People would go to concerts just to hear one crashing chord, because that’s the end! Say, when dancing, you don’t aim at a particular spot in the room; that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of the dancing is the dance.” [24:49.0]

“But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our everyday conduct. We’ve got a system of schooling which gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded. And what we do is we put the child into the corridor of this grade system with a kind of, ‘C’mon kitty, kitty, kitty!’ And now you go to kindergarten, you know? And that’s a great thing because when you finish that you get into first grade. And then—c’mon!—first grade leads to second grade, and so on, and then you get out of grade school and you go to high school, and it’s revving up—the thing is coming!—then you’re going to go to college.

“And, by Jove, then you get into graduate school, and when you’re through with graduate school, you go out to join the World. And then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance, and they’ve got that quota to make, and you’re going to make that. And all the time this thing is coming. It’s coming! It’s coming! That great thing, the success you’re working for.

“Then, when you wake up one day—about 40 years old—you say, ‘My God, I’ve arrived! I’m there!’ and you don’t feel very different from what you’ve always felt. And there’s a slight let-down because you feel there’s a hoax, and there was a hoax. A dreadful hoax. They made you miss everything by expectation.” [25:59.5]

“Look at the people who live to retire and put those savings away. And then, when they’re 65, they don’t have any energy left, they’re more or less impotent, and they go and rot in an old people’s—‘Senior Citizens’—community, because we’ve simply cheated ourselves the whole way down the line. We’ve thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end—success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven—after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. Life was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing, or to dance, while the music was being played. But you had to do that thing. You didn’t let it happen.”

Okay, that’s my horrible reading of Alan Watts, that radio show. You should hear it in his original English accent and there’s a great animated version of this on YouTube I think by the channel After Skool, and they did one of those brilliant animated hand-drawn versions of it, and hopefully that hit home for you as it did for me. [27:01.2]

Now we’re going to recap the five major points we explored today.

First, we tackle the illusion of external validation. We uncovered how true joy, happiness and love are not tied to our achievements or the accolades that we collect, but are instead intrinsic qualities that we nurture within ourselves.

Then we moved into embracing intrinsic fulfillment and here we discussed the importance of redefining success on our own terms, finding what genuinely brings us joy and fulfillment beyond society’s expectations or external validations.

Now, our third point was about cultivating emotional wellbeing. We mentioned some practical strategies, like IFS and cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness, emphasizing that caring for our mental and emotional health and fitness is vital for its own sake, not just for enhancing productivity or achievement.

Then we went further by discussing reframing success and fulfillment. We looked at shifting our perspective towards measuring success, not by traditional arbitrary markers, but by alignment with personal values, the depth of relationships, and being present in the moment. [28:12.0]

Finally, we wrapped up with embracing the journey, though Alan Watts would say something like dancing with the music, dancing with the music of life, and here we focus on the importance of appreciating the process of self-discovery and personal growth, stressing that fulfillment isn’t a destination, but a continual journey of evolution, that the point of the thing of life was to dance and to enjoy the music the whole time instead of getting somewhere at the end.

Each of these points brings us back to the same fundamental truth: true fulfillment comes from within. It’s not something that can be given or taken away by external forces. It’s something that we cultivate in ourselves, through our attitudes, our values and our daily practices. [28:58.8]

Thank you so much for listening. If you like this, hit a like, or subscribe or follow and whatever platform you’re listening to this on. Give it a good rating on whatever platform you listen to this on, and if this has helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else that you think could benefit from it.

If you would like to work with me one on one on a future podcast episode, please send an email with your background and the issues that you’d like to work on. Send an email to support@davidtianphd.com.

Again, thanks so much for listening. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian, signing out. [29:30.4]