Standards are an interesting thing. They don't dictate exact performance, but they do sketch out a ballpark. If you expect yourself to read a book a week, you may not actually do that, but you'll probably read a book most weeks. If a boss tells you to have something done one month from now, you'll probably get it done sometime around then. Not two weeks earlier, but not two weeks later, either. Standards work to guide performance by creating an idea of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. They shape our priorities, trying to maximize the amount of acceptable things we do and minimize the unacceptable ones.
It's interesting to think about where our standards come from. Why is forty hours a week the standard for a full week of work? Why isn't it less? Why isn't it more? Is that standard really right for everyone? Our societal standard for healthy eating is to eat anything that qualifies as non-dessert, preferably not entirely fried, and then a small amount of something that is dessert. Most people hover around that-- no one eats ice cream for every meal.
It's no secret how I feel about, well, pretty much all societal standards, and since you're reading my blog, chances are you don't subscribe to all of society's standards either.
When you DO subscribe to these standards, you don't ever need to police yourself. Society will keep you there automatically through peer pressure. If you don't work very much, people will call you a slacker. If you don't work at all, your mom will call you and tell you to get a job. If you work too hard, unless you're in a specific industry which has a high standard for work quantity, people will actually encourage you to work LESS. You'll even see this on my blog, where suggest that I ought to have more balance/fun/etc.
The thing is, when you have your own standards, you alone become responsible for enforcing them. You have to step up and become your own boss. When you become your own boss, you have a battle on two fronts. On one side you have to push against the pressure of society, and on the other side you have to push yourself to put in the effort to reach your own standards. It's not easy work, especially if you're not used to it.
The hardest case is when your standards require you to push beyond what society expects of you. Most people you know will be telling you that you've done enough, most people you don't know will tell you the same thing. Even part of your brain will be saying, "Come on... this is good enough. Okay, fine just do a little bit more. No need to push it too far, though." The only solution is to push back and hold on to your standards.
You have to monitor yourself. Most people don't really even do that. Then you have to be able to objectively evaluate yourself. Even fewer people do that. In particular, you have to be able to identify and admit weakness. Then you have to push. Most of all, you have to have faith that everyone else is wrong about you. That's a tough thing, right? Everyone else says that watching a couple hours of TV per day is just fine. You have to have the arrogance to think that most of the developed world is wrong.
You basically have to go through this process for everything, because once that fragile bond of trust is broken-- the one where you rely on the world to tell you what is okay-- you can't help but question pretty much everything. It works the same way interpersonal trust works-- if someone lies to you once, you suddenly can't take anything they tell you at face value.
Other people will offer you suggestions, advice, even ultimatums. So will society. It's worth listening to what you hear, because it's not all totally senseless. Everything is as it is for a reason, but it's up to you to figure out what that reason is and whether or not it's valid. At the end of the day, the whole world can be your adviser but you have to be your own boss. You set the goals. You evaluate progress. You dole out encouragement or discipline.
Photo is a painting that I really like.
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