I’ve had a good week. I’ve finally taken the mental steps to commit myself to actually exercising or dancing everyday of the week, and have found the time to do some other mental housekeeping that’s been weighing on my mind for the lesser part of a month. As with all of these things, the problems themselves weren’t the issue – it was that they were weighing on my mind; taking up space, and unaddressed. Once you mentally address them, the problems do two things: they turn out to be pretty minimal, and they disappear. Your thoughts clear up.
* Bonus section for my Dad included at the bottom of the post!
I was addressing these things, reflecting on the above fact, and sitting at work on Wednesday trying to figure out why I was having what felt like a particularly unproductive day. The question planted the seed in my head, and I started wondering what measurement I was using to determine my productivity. Was I looking around at everyone else in the office and assuming that they are 100% productive?
I was. And I realized that the metrics I was using to determine how productive I am were out of whack.
If you think back to the ways that you measure your own growth and/or progress, the most common metric that you probably use is the people around you. Our friends, members of our family, and our peers at work are all people that we use to try and gauge how we’re doing.
Probably the second (if not most) common metric we judge our own progress and position in life by is advertisements and celebrities – no doubt this is a ridiculous metric to adopt, but it’s the easiest thing for us to draw a comparison to. We also use fictional characters, or the people that we read about in the news. “Geez, Matthew Perry was on Friends when he was only 24 – what am I doing with my life?”
The metric that is the best to judge ourselves against is the one that we use the least – ourselves. Many of us will read that and think “Well that’s not true – I’m easily my own harshest critic”. This is fair, but it’s not the same thing as what I’m describing. Being a critic of yourself means that you demand a high degree of performance from yourself. You expect yourself to excel at the things you do, and when you make a mistake, you don’t let it slide. But how do you determine your level of progress toward your ultimate goal? Generally, by comparison to some other group.
The secret third group from which we draw our own metrics and comparisons are the fictionalized version of ourselves. This is the version of ourselves that doesn’t make mistakes, and does everything we want to do perfectly. When compared to this version of ourself, we never live up. It’s the harshest metric of all. It’s the person that we imagine ourselves to be when we lose sight of our own limitations. Comparison to this fiction generally results in us saying things like “I’ll never get where I want”, or “I haven’t made any progress at all”. Comparisons to this metric are the most subconscious, and we are least present when we make these kinds of judgments. It’s rare that one of us intellectualizes this kind of thing to the extent laid out above – we usually just start to feel that way and get upset about it.
Thinking about the metric and standard to which you are comparing yourself can go a long way toward helping you feel better about your own progress. This is all part of gaining an awareness of our own limitations. We’re not the same person as our friends, and certainly not the people we see in advertisements (“Look, these people own a house and a Lexus, and they’re otherwise identical to you!”). We have made different decisions about what we’ve chosen to commit ourselves to, our bodies are capable of different things, we have different upbringings, and different starting points (take it for whatever you like, but we have not all started our lives from the same socio-economic position).
I would love to spend every day working at my job, and every night taking dance classes or squash lessons. But I can’t – I’ve made a commitment to study and become a lawyer, a commitment to my wife to be a good husband, and a commitment to my future to budget my money and spend only what I can afford to. When I talk to my friends in Vancouver, it can certainly be difficult at times to hear about the seventh dance class they’ve taken that week, but I have to remind myself: they’re not the same person that I am.
Understanding what you’re comparing yourself to can really help teach you to find happiness within your means. If you are forever comparing yourself to people that have a different set of limitations and commitments than yourself, you’re forever doomed to seek out things outside of your reach. There will always be grass that is greener on the other side – happiness comes in finding the realization that the grass we have is all that we truly need.
Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not advocating that you should turn your sights entirely inwards, to the detriment of any outside influence. It’s important to meet and discover new people, and to understand why they do things differently than us. It’s healthy at times to look to people outside of yourself and see if they’re doing something that you wish you were doing. If you don’t, you’ll never poke at the decisions you’ve made, nor question your choices. The greater risk is that of falling into complacency (if you don’t know what the word means, it’s where people go to die).
The important thing, as always, is striking the right balance. Look outside of yourself at the people around you and ask yourself if you’ve made choices you’re happy with, or if you’d like to realign yourself. This helps you determine if your current goals are things that you still want to pursue and achieve. If you find that this comparison leads you to want to adjust your goals and achieve something different, then make a point of mentally adopting that new goal. Once you’ve set your sights on this goal, however, the comparison you make to determine your progress should be with the you in the past. Look back to see how far you’ve come, and look forward to remind yourself of your goals.
Above all, just keep yourself moving. If you’re moving backwards, make sure that you’re doing it in pursuit of a goal that worthy of you. It’s okay, and often necessary, to move backwards, provided that you’re doing it in pursuit of something that matters to you. If you’re moving forward, make sure that you don’t start adopting false metrics and fooling yourself into feeling negative in spite of the progress you’ve made.
My goal when I’m working is to blog weekly, usually at the end of a week while commuting on the ferry. I have a large number of ideas to write about, as I keep a list to try and give myself subjects that interest me and to avoid writer’s block. But it’s hard to avoid this problem, so I’m always looking for new subjects. As I most enjoy writing about what I’m doing, I’ve been thinking about including some writing on our legal system, as I see it and continue to develop an understanding of how it works. If this is a subject that would interest you, reply to this post as a comment, or hit me up to let me know on twitter @adamquiney.
Writing is tough work, and it’s a commitment. It gets easier when you know that people appreciate what you’re doing, or even that someone is hearing your voice. So, thanks to everyone that takes the time to read to the bottom ^_^.
Bonus section for Dad
My parent picked me up from the ferry on Friday and we went for a fantastic dinner and conversation at a beautiful pub on Sidney’s waterfront (did you know that Vancouver Island is beautiful?). Dad mentioned that I “should put a summary at the bottom so that you don’t have to read through everything to get the point”. I find this suggestion hilarious, as half of the point of my writing is that I think there’s intrinsic value to be found in the journey, rather than simply arriving at the destination. But hey, I don’t judge, and I’m thrilled to know that I’m managing to trick him into being the one getting lectured, instead of me!
So, the summary today is this:
- Be aware of who you’re comparing yourself to, and make sure that you’re being realistic with yourself and your progress
- Be wary of closing yourself off from any outside comparison. There’s value in being exposed to external influences and opinions.