The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The Inevitable Cycle of Achievement

Why is achievement so alluring?

I recently cycled with my brother from London to Istanbul in 17 days, travelling further than the Tour De France in six fewer days – quite the achievement, all things considered.

I did it to raise money for charity, and to chase clichés: I ‘sought an adventure’ that would ‘push me to my limit’ and ‘show me what I’m made of’. The ride delivered those clichés, and I found what I was made of at my limit. The problem was, I didn’t like what I found.

I was beyond stubborn, willing to sacrifice my emotional wellbeing and strain my relationship with my brother almost to breaking point to pursue something I was increasingly unsure was worth chasing. I became joyless, barely celebrating the finish.

If this was me in extremis, I didn’t like it.

It wasn’t a complete surprise, of course: when I became a Christian, I accepted I’m flawed. I’d just thought I wasn’t that flawed!

It left me wondering, why do we do this to ourselves? Did I really achieve anything in this cycle ride? A line on my CV or an unhumble brag? How shallow.

Endurance events are proliferating, but achievement-seeking isn’t all lycra-clad. It looks different for different people. It’s on Instagram, viral in the workplace, and the beating heart behind chasing milestones. Although not all desires to achieve are bad, they can be easily twisted into a search for identity and meaning.

We are embedded in an achievement-driven culture that often tells us we need to earn our value, and prove that we are worthy of love.

The song ‘How Deep the Father’s Love For Us’ suggests that, as Christians, there’s a different way to live.

Jesus died so we’d know we’re already loved beyond all measure. His love is patient, kind, and doesn’t reward CV-bragging achievements. The lyrics present me – and all of us – with a challenge: ‘I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom.’

Being so deeply loved by the Creator of the universe that he’d pay the ultimate cost for all our stubborn flaws is something actually worth boasting in!

That’s what my ‘heroic’ achievement showed me. I hope I remember it now I’m home.


Ben Palmer
Between cups of tea, Ben chases footballs, follows Jesus, obsesses over Ted (his dog), and does the Marketing and Communications for XLP.


  1. Raw reality. I love it. So helpful too.

    By Moira Poley  -  14 Sep 2018
  2. Thank you so much Ben. I can’t go into details but this speaks to me at a very timely moment within my family.

    By Mark  -  14 Sep 2018
  3. Wow! Absolutely love this honest look at yourself (& me!). Thanks Ben. I’m a business performance coach &, ironically, spend much of my time with clients & my own coach, working on making space to ‘be’ and think, amidst the merriment of being a high achiever.

    By Daphne Clifton  -  14 Sep 2018
  4. Thanks Ben
    I needed reminding today to keep my eyes focused on the one who loves me.

    By Belinda  -  14 Sep 2018
  5. Thank you Ben for being so open. A timely reminder. Ruth

    By Ruth Murray-Webster  -  14 Sep 2018
  6. Similarly moved Ben, by your unusual honesty and acknowledgement of your personal flaws – I am acutely aware of mine. A powerful reflection and reminder to me to live from a different perspective and in a different way, every day. Thanks.

    By Jolyon Trickey  -  14 Sep 2018
  7. Thank you Ben, for your honesty and clarity. ‘What a mighty God is He’ is indeed apersite to your insightful writing.

    By Reginald Blake  -  14 Sep 2018
  8. Gutsy writing with no pretences and a clear message. Love it!

    By Frank Gray  -  14 Sep 2018
  9. Thanks Ben. As a very keen cyclist, I can identify with this a lot. (well done getting to Istanbul though!)

    By William Lowries  -  14 Sep 2018
  10. I set myself a much easier challenge for the year. 3/4 achieved in July I realised that what was exhilarating and good would need to become a selfish drive to reach the goal. With 6 weeks laid up anyway, I’ve put the challenge down.
    The goal would have ruled me. Not OK.

    By Christine  -  14 Sep 2018
  11. I just love the way this causes me to think and reflect on various “stuff” we are trying to achieve, in many different fields. I love its transparent honesty and what Jesus spotted in Nathaniel: a lack of guile. Bless you, Ben, for a thought-piece which has manifestly achieved its purpose!

    By Jeremy Clare  -  14 Sep 2018
  12. There are a number diagrams contrasting the Cycle of Achievement with the Cycle of Grace. For example

    By Derek Waters  -  14 Sep 2018
  13. Thanks Ben. This really spoke to me today.

    By Julia Bell  -  14 Sep 2018
  14. Searingly honest and thought provoking to boot – now THAT is an achievement!

    By Richard  -  14 Sep 2018
  15. Very well said. I was hooked into academic achievement from an early age. Since I have become a Christian I struggle with feeling God’s love. For me it just isn’t visceral in the sense worldly things are. But I know that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have faith in God and follow him.

    By Angela Somerton  -  14 Sep 2018
  16. Thanks Ben.
    “Rooted in God’s grace” by Hannah Fytche (BRF)
    may well be a blessing too.

    By Michael Dew  -  14 Sep 2018
  17. Thanks, Ben.

    By Cynthia Tews  -  14 Sep 2018
  18. Sadly I have attended a number of funerals this year. When hearing the achievements of the departed eulogised, I have compared mine with theirs, I have felt I compared unfavourably.
    But the answer to prayer I received was that we are called to live our own lives, not someone else’s.

    By Calvert Markham  -  15 Sep 2018
  19. Praise God we’re in a cycle of grace!

    By Paul  -  15 Sep 2018
  20. Thanks so much for all the uplifting comments everyone! Really blessed by them:) I was very much preaching to myself in writing this, the final line definitely wasn’t just a throw away! Glad my honesty could be of help to you as well.
    PS Paul I appreciate the pun!

    By Ben Palmer  -  17 Sep 2018
  21. Thought provoking. Good read. Good ride. Would still want to congratulate you on the ride, by the way! At the same time your honest appraisal re the ultimate impact of over-stretching, hits home re real living and loving. Thank you.

    By Jill  -  24 Sep 2018

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