In our consumerist, status-oriented culture, we all too often measure our worth based on the things we have and the vacations we take. It seems that we evaluate our selves and others based on what level of status we’ve achieved and the level of status that the others around us have achieved. (See Who Am I? for more on being motivated by status.)
Sometimes we take a step back and reflect on where we’re going. We ponder the legacy that we’re leaving behind. We make hard decisions about whether to accept a new position or continue our financially stable, but not excessively rewarding, job because of the impact we can make. We refine our understanding of the path that we’re going to take – or try to take.
However, except in times of depression and sorrow, we rarely evaluate how fast that we’re reaching our goals. Only when we wish to be down on our progress do we consider whether we’re sauntering through life, walking briskly, or sprinting for all we’re worth.
It’s important to know where you are – perhaps not from a status-oriented perspective – and where you’re going. However, your velocity will indicate how far you will get towards your goals and in life. Velocity isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon. It’s a marathon that you have to know you’re running.
Where are You?
While measuring our worth against our bank accounts, the car we drive, the house we live in, and the watch on our wrist may not enrich our lives, knowing where we are is critical. If you don’t know where you are, you won’t know how to get to where you want to get.
If you can’t measure your position based on your “things,” how do you measure your position? Today, most of us measure our physical location based on a GPS receiver. Embedded into our phones and cars, these receivers help us know our position based on signals from up to 12 orbiting satellites. It’s not that any single satellite can tell you where you are – or that the satellites are always in the same position themselves. By comparing the signals from the different satellites, the receiver begins to understand your position.
On startup and with only a few satellite signals being received, the GPS receiver begins to develop a picture of where you are – but it has a very large margin of error. When receiving signals from many satellites, the picture of where you are has a very high degree of precision – within just a few feet. However, with only four satellites locked, your position – particularly altitude – can be off by hundreds of feet.
Too often in our lives, it’s hard to see where we are by ourselves. We look out on the terrain, and if we’re not in a city of environment with a clear landmark, we’re unlikely to be able to figure out where we are at all – much less within a precision of feet. The fact of the matter is that we need other – trusted – people to help us know where we are.
It’s important to note that, when we’re trying to figure out where we are, we’re not comparing ourselves to others, but we’re receiving signals from them that help us understand where we are. Also, it’s important we understand that the people we use to help us understand our position must be reliable. The GPS system works because the GPS satellites have very precise clocks onboard. We can trust the time signal they send out was accurate when it was sent. Based on knowing where the satellite was supposed to be when it sent out the time signal and the device’s own sense of what time it is, you can measure the distance from a satellite when you do this. With enough satellites, you get an intersection area. (The clock in the receiver isn’t nearly as accurate as the ones in the satellites – but by using multiple satellite time signals, the device can continuously calibrate its own sense of time.)
In this model, the GPS satellites are reliable and trustworthy. They will continue to be what they are for as long as they’re operational. People can’t be as reliable as an atomic clock, but some people are more able to provide consistently accurate and useful feedback – and others less so.
Of course, the question “Where are you?” isn’t referring to your place on the planet. The question is about where you are relative to where you want to be. This can be measured in terms of your personal development, your relationships, or how you want to give back to the world. How Will You Measure Your Life shifts the conversation from where you are to where you are going by asking the critical question about where you want to end up.
Where Are You Going?
In our instant-access, explore from the internet world, we’re given the opportunity to evaluate where we want to go in ways that we couldn’t imagine even two decades ago. Picking where we’re going no longer requires writing to the travel and tourism bureaus at the various states. We don’t have to call to request mailed information about where we want to go. Instead, the world of physical exploration is open to us.
Similarly, where we want to go with our lives is open to us as well. Many of us can pursue any vocation or avocation that we choose. We’re able to access seemingly limitless resources to better and shape ourselves.
While we’ve removed the barriers to our personal growth and evolution like we’ve removed the barriers to travel planning, we’re often faced with the dilemma of knowing where we want to be in the end. In The Paradox of Choice, Swartz makes the point that more options can create stress – and inactivity.
How Fast Are You Moving?
Fight, flight, or freeze has been used to describe our reactions in the face of fear. Our amygdala dumps a chemical wash on us that most notably contains adrenaline. That cascades into a set of physiological changes that transfer biological priorities to defense. Sometimes that causes us to lash out or run. Sometimes, we’re frozen with our fear.
While we’ve all heard of the proverbial deer in headlights who freezes, we fail to recognize how our circumstances may freeze our growth and development towards our goals. In our quest to become the best, we may become unwilling to admit our weakness and desire to get help in our growth. There’s no shame in professional athletes or those at the very top of their professions having coaches, but we somehow get stuck in the middle in our desire to not admit that we can’t do it alone. (See The Art of Learning and Peak for more about coaching and peak performance.)
Even if we’re not paralyzed by fear or immobilized by choice, we aren’t necessarily moving at our fastest, sustainable pace towards our ultimate goal. While there must be some allowances for the reality that we live in a world where we don’t have control of our path towards our destination – we only have influence over it – we can seek a sustainable pace for growth. (See Extreme Productivity for more on our cow path.)
The best way to know we’re making progress is to ask what we’re doing each week to develop ourselves into the people that we want to become. It’s too easy to let week after week squeak by without progress. Consider that glaciers move imperceptibly slow to the naked eye, but they are powerful forces that shape the landscape.
In the end, the best way to know where we end up is to know where we are today, where we want to go, and the velocity with which we’re moving towards or beyond our goals.