A few weeks ago it occurred to me that a sense of accomplishment is pretty important but it's not always obvious where it comes from. I've really only asked people about it in the context of a job interview. You get some interesting answers doing that, often times because the candidate hasn't really thought about it before.


I don't think there's any single answer for everyone in every situation, but it's clear that there are a few common sources. And they seem to match the different roles people find themselves in at work.

  1. Solo work (the individual contributor). Some of the best engineers I know are those who really, really know their stuff and can be insanely productive if you simply get out of their way. Meetings are often a waste of their time. They pride themselves on getting their hands dirty and quickly producing quality, tangible results.
  2. Team work (team player). Others prefer collaboration to individual work. They're skilled in the art of compromise and can easily navigate the politics that often emerge in group settings. Their sense of accomplishment is directly tied to what the group as a whole produces.
  3. Leadership (team lead or manager). Often the unsung heros, good managers work behind the scenes to make things run smoothly and give their teams the freedom and authority they need to get the job done. They pride themselves on the quality of the team's work and encourage their employees to shine. They're happy to see their team recognized for going a great job.

In reality, I think many of us derive our sense of accomplishment from a mix of those. Consider the solo worker who is also a very successful married parent. She may be a solo worker on the job and a team player at home.

What about you?

Posted by jzawodn at July 09, 2006 07:00 AM

Reader Comments
# Timothy Li said:

for a student like me, doing something remarkable, something that would identify me out of the college crowed, something my friends would say "wow" to gives me a sense of accomplishement.

for example things like:
1. have a clear plan for the immediate future after graduation
2. bootstrap a business
3. own a somewhat valuable blog =)

on July 9, 2006 08:10 AM
# Guillaumeb said:

When being on your own the sense of Accomplishment finds it true puritan origins in the sense that, no matter what the result may be, you have given all you could to make it, then you can go to heaven ;) Once i felt this notion of accomplishement after working for an exam..I did not pass it but I could not have worked more anyway...just the thought of this was enough for me to remain positive.

When working for someone, I get this sense of accomplishment when the person tells me I have achieved the goal I had to work for...It's a feeling mush less self-centered and, though it may depend on the boss, I would not be as proud of myself as if i'd been alone doing the work

on July 9, 2006 09:27 AM
# Joe Heck said:

I've thought about the sense of accomplish long and hard, and I think you're asking the wrong question. It's not "which style of teamwork" gives you a sense of accomplishment. They are more frequently just a means to the end of getting that sense of accomplishment.

I've felt a great deal of accomplishment when I was both part of a team and manager of a team that was getting things done and making real, visual contributions to our goals. I've also felt a complete lack of accomplishment in both of those positions when we were stalled or meandering. Currently I have gone back to being an individual contributor and have a great sense of accomplishment.

For me, it's about clear progress and getting things done - not how I fit into a team.

on July 9, 2006 11:01 AM
# Wally said:

1) Good code. Reusable, properly commented, structured code. I or some other poor chump must maintain the beast, so if it's in good shape, then I'm happy.

2) Cutting out the bullshit. Politics is unavoidable but should be minimized.

3) Enjoying my work and laughing proudly with my comrades. That's the best feeling of 'em all.

on July 9, 2006 11:21 AM
# Richard Cunningham said:

My sense of accomplishment comes from completing objectives.
It feels better when it takes less effort, time or money than expected. It doesn't feel so good when it takes more.
Those expectations could be someone else's or just my own.
I believe it's important to manage them in *either* case.

on July 9, 2006 06:28 PM
# Charles said:

My greatest sense of accomplishment comes from idleness and inactivity. Any poor schlub can survive by joining the rat race and working a 9-to-5 job. But it takes a true artist to survive in a life of idleness and Full Unemployment. Every day that I survive without generating any income, while staving off bankruptcy, is a true accomplishment.

on July 9, 2006 09:40 PM
# Seb said:

For me, it's all about making a difference and changing the world.

on July 10, 2006 06:14 AM
# mfer said:

Accomplishment for me comes from actually completing something. This can be a major task, small task, or micro task.

I have, also, noticed that this goes from engineering, to web development, to cleaning my house, to gardening, to just about everything.

on July 10, 2006 06:33 AM
# Hasan Diwan said:

I agree with Mr. Cunningham -- completing assigned objectives gives me my sense of accomplishment.

on July 10, 2006 03:07 PM
# Billy The Kid said:

As a native english speaker lost in a sea of teammates who prefer and insist on speaking other languages while working through technical problems, I lean heavily in the "solo" worker category. I am most productive when the office is quiet, my mind is clear and my fingers are limber. I can work in a team when required, and the satisfaction at the end of a job well done is more profound in these situations, but slaying the dragon on my own is still the preferred mode of accomplishment.

on July 10, 2006 04:49 PM
# Reid said:

For me, it's not about just completing a task or project, it's about seeing people use, interact, and enjoy the result.

on July 11, 2006 08:47 AM
# Jason said:

I've dreamed for years of becoming a fighter and finally decided to stop dreaming about it and to start training. The training and conditioning required for a fighter is some of the most intense of any sport, so I get my greatest pride every time I get up in the morning and make it into the gym. It may sound simple, but try conditioning like a fighter 6 days a week, some days your body just doesn't want to move.

on July 11, 2006 01:32 PM
# Bill said:

For most people, there are different levels of sense of accomplishment.
Big accomplishments you always remember; small accomplishments - while not as memorable long term, feel great in the moment.

Big accomplishments will almost always be built up from a series of small accomplishments (big=finishing marathon, small=training runs).

What are the 3 biggest accomplishments in your life?

on July 11, 2006 04:39 PM
# Row Cow said:

When working for someone, I get this sense of accomplishment when the person tells me I have achieved the goal I had to work for...It's a feeling mush less self-centered and, though it may depend on the boss, I would not be as proud of myself as if i'd been alone doing the work

on July 20, 2006 04:34 PM
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