From Set Structures to Self-Driven Choices

Growing up most of your environment is dictated by others and there is often a discrete and easy measuring stick to determine success. Did you get an A? An F? Who was fastest at the track meet? Are you on Dean’s List or not?

The employment world, especially at larger entities, is similar. Were you promoted according to the typical progression? What was your percentile rank this year and where did your manager score you on 1-5 Employee Achievement Scorecard? There’s a flow to the year that’s set and certain steps that occur on a schedule that is more-or-less standardized and consistent.

From birth through most of my twenties the above sort of metrics environment governed most of my world, outside of purely personal decisions. I did mostly well and it’s funny how a set scale of achievement can set your mind at ease. Got an A, maxed out the scale, mission accomplished, move on.

After leaving and becoming self-employed I’ve had to make a mind-shift that can be difficult. Being self-employed or running your own business doesn’t offer easy metrics to gauge and motivation and goals have to be self-set and self-driven. It’s also more apparent that the tidiness of a grading scale doesn’t really apply to most things. You might experience great growth and success but was it the top-level growth? Did you achieve in all areas or just some? How do you feel about those areas that you know you did not excel at, even if overall you’ve had success?

Sometimes I find the lack of specificity hard to deal with. There is no road map when you run the business, make the decisions, and there’s an infinite universe of options to take with finite resources and time. Even a smashing success – a 100% return in a year, for example – can feel in many ways like a failure. Another option was 150% and you didn’t take it. The overall outcome was good but just due to luck – it’s not repeatable and not due to your actions. Even if it was from your actions look at all the misses ensconced in that “win” – failing to optimize vendor agreements, substandard lending selection, below optimal revenue level. That 100% should easily have been 120% and you also lost future opportunities because of this performance miss.

These feelings are likely tied into the similarly messy and hard to grade role of being a parent. There is no strict guidebook for parenting and even if there was, it would be outdated quite quickly as the world changes and we must respond.

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John P Anderson

Living in San Diego. I enjoy learning about environmental issues and connecting with good people that want to make the world a better place. Cheers!

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