Golden Rule #14: Don’t Measure Today With Yesterday’s Yardstick.
For me, this has been the summer of the great purge. I’ve been sorting, and cleaning, and letting go of things that I once needed and enjoyed but are now ready for someone else to need and enjoy. It’s been a massive undertaking. I haven’t done it in far too long. It’s exhausting and exhilarating all at once. Like lots of other things in life, it’s one of those impossibly hard, seemingly endless tasks that brings satisfaction when it’s complete.
I found, among hundreds of other things, a growth chart that used to hang on the wall when my brother and I were little. It was nicely drawn with those early paint pens — you know, the 1960s era ones — and it looks like I traced over my mother’s neat penmanship with chunky childhood attempts at imitating her script.
That funny little chart might have documented my early physical growth, but it would never work to use it to measure the person I’ve become all these decades later. When it comes right down to it, it’s interesting to track things like first teeth and first steps and first words, but those aren’t the ones that matter most in the long run.
Turns out the ones that matter most are the next steps, the next words, the next milestones. They’re the ones that keep you moving forward.
When Copper was a puppy, we were delighted as he learned to come, sit, stay, lay down, shake hands, and dozens of other behaviors. He took, and passed, an exam that earned him status as a Canine Good Citizen, a necessary milestone on his journey to become a therapy dog. Is he always what we would describe as a “good citizen?” Well…no. There are times when he is anything but. Do we throw up our hands in despair and give up? No. Not at all. Usually, we find a way to give Copper something he is good at, something that challenges his mind, and something that we can praise him for doing. It’s great fun to watch him master new concepts, and he loves it too. We know that he is capable of understanding and obeying much more complex commands than the very first ones he learned in his puppy classes. It wouldn’t be very satisfying for either of us to keep measuring his progress by those early milestones.
Likewise, in our own lives, we need to make sure the yardsticks or rules we’re using to measure our growth are up-to-date. The skills, behaviors, relationships, and achievements we’re measuring thrive when they’re challenged, not when they’re stagnant.