When I started my career, I worked in the for-profit education industry. Like any responsible organization, we watched our numbers very closely. In fact, all of us would get a morning email update called “dailies” which would show our numbers (membership, cancellations, customer satisfaction) in comparison to every other location in the company.
Even on the days when we’d be on top of the list in one measure (rare, given the number of locations) there were tons of other measures we weren’t doing as well on. More often, we weren’t at the top in any measure. Somebody else was always doing better. Over time, intent review of the morning dailies took me away from the more important focus I should have had on the progress our location was making.
It’s easy to compare ourselves to others. I hear this all the time from coaching and training clients that we are working with. Inevitably when I ask them about their progress, the response will start with, “I just don’t feel like I’m as far along as (insert name here)” and we end up talking about the other person more than we do about them.
Many of us measure our success in reference to other people. That’s what our organizations and our society tells us to do. But, there’s a better way.
Earl Nightingale said, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” I love this definition of success because it’s not just about a destination and it doesn’t ask us to compare ourselves with others. Instead, it challenges us to have a worthy ideal and to make progress in getting there.
If Nightingale were still with us today, I’m sure he would coach all of us to stop comparing ourselves to others, and instead compare ourselves to our past selves. Here’s the two things he’d want us to have:
1) A Worthy Ideal: This is a vision of the future that is worthy of our time and effort, makes our lives and the lives of others better, and gives us a target to shoot for. This should be in writing.
2) Progressive Realization of It: You are making consistent progress towards the worthy ideal and able to measure your progress in comparison to where you were in the past. In essence, you compare yourself to yourself – not to others.
With this measure, anybody has the potential to be successful. We don’t have to become a CEO, or make a million dollars, or have children that win Olympic gold medals. All of those are worthy ideals…but it might not be YOUR worthy ideal.
I'm not suggesting we ignore what others are doing and the measures and guideposts of our organizations. Any responsible leader should be aware of these. We simply shouldn't use them to define our success as a person.
Do you have a worthy ideal? Is it written down? Are you comparing yourself to yourself? Share your responses in the comments below.