Misplaced Standards and Milestones of False Expectations

"You've got it good. Really. It could be worse, you know..."

How many times have you heard a conversation head that way? You sit and bemoan your fate or your current situation, and someone invariably points out that it could be worse, that someone always has it worse than you.

Sometimes you grow so accustomed to it happening that you do it to yourself after a while.

And then, if you're REALLY on top of things, you believe it. Life isn't so bad. It could, indeed, be worse. Just think of the bum on the street corner. He's got it bad -- no home, raising a family, begging for pennies from passersby.

And, indeed, that paints a pretty bleak picture by comparison to what you have.

So you go on with your life, content that it could always be worse, never giving it a second thought. And life goes pretty well.

One day you wake up and it hits you like a ton of bricks. You feel like a dope, like someone who's been handed a large cosmic joke and didn't know it, because you've been wrong this whole time. And it takes you another year or more to figure out WHY you were wrong.

Let me save you this year. You'll thank me for it later. You were wrong because you were measuring yourself by the wrong standard.

We are taught through life to measure ourselves against other people instead of measuring up to the tasks at hand. We are taught to compete, to be better than anyone else at what we do to the point of exclusion instead of to the point of co-operation. This very attribute is probably the sole contributor to the universal dissatisfaction which is so prevalent in our culture today. "Second place is the first loser." "Nice guys finish last." "Runner-up is not good enough." These are all ideals which are taught from day one -- or at least from first grade on up. Be better than your classmate. If you can't beat him mentally, best him physically, or strategically (which is more drawn out than simple mental prowess). And finally, if you can't do it in any of those ways, show him that your daddy has more money than his does.

Now, what could we accomplish if, instead of measuring up to other people, trying to one-up them, trying to beat them down, we just attacked the task at hand with as much vigor as we attack the other guy?

We could accomplish feats in a fraction of the time we do now. We could have had a 20GHz microprocessor on every single desktop. We could have chewing gum that doesn't lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight. We could have sent a man to the Moon in 1961 instead of waiting for until 1969. We could have a cure for cancer, or AIDS.

By now we could have journeyed to the stars.

More to the point, if we must measure up to something, to a standard, let it be to the standards we measured to in our own past, on a very personal level.

Every time I hear that it could be worse, I want to throttle the messenger. Of course it could be worse, but that's not why I am so upset. I'm upset because I am being asked to lower the bar and compare to someone else. I don't want my life better by comparison to what another may have. I want my life to be better by comparison to where it is now, or I want it to be better than it was when I was doing so well.

I don't feel sorry for someone who isn't doing as well as me, just as I do not feel sorry for myself when I do not measure up to someone else's standard, because I am not judging myself by that standard. If they choose to look down their nose at me, that's their business. I'm not going to lose sleep over it, because it doesn't make me any less of a person, nor does it diminish my overall worth in the Grand Cosmic Scheme.

I'm doing okay. I can be better. I can always be better, so I work toward that.

Another common mistake which we are taught to accept as we mature and grow is "When I have [X] I will be fine", which is, of course, a paraphrase of the biggest lie in the world:

"When I have what I truly want, I will be happy."

What is this all about, anyway? Who are you kidding? When you're happy standing still, what are you working toward? What's left to conquer?

The truth is that the only happy person is a dead one. When we die, it's over. There's nothing left to accomplish in this life when we die.

Conversely, one dies when there is nothing left to accomplish. The body might continue on, and one may continue on to interact with others, but if there is nothing left to accomplish, where is the spark in life?

When I have [X], I will be fine. When I have a (better) car, I will be fine. When I have a (better-paying) job, I will be fine. When I meet another person to have and hold dear in my life, I will be fine.

This is a madness which we are all conditioned to accept, based on a completely materialistic drive. There's always something else out there to achieve, after which we will be "fine".

The trick to this is you've got to be fine NOW. Don't let it depend on some other event in your life. I don't care if you've got something terminal or you're merely suffering from a rectal craneotomy. Be fine. Get yourself together. Pull it in. Work with what you have. Be fine now.

The milestones are not goals. They are not ends in and of themselves. They are merely markers in your journey along the path of life, and you don't know what the next marker is going to be. You can not afford to put off being fine.

It is perfectly acceptable to say "I will be better when I can achieve [X]", because you are not defining an absolute state of being. And there may be a sequence of milestones which must be met in a particular order. But to hold off being fine, to stop living your life because those milestones have not yet been met is unacceptable.

We look at people who have achieved huge goals and we treat them as super-heroes when they are alive, and we treat them as gods when they finally slip past our world into a different one. We immortalise them in so many ways, and we glorify them far beyond their accomplishments.

What we fail to recognise is that they didn't reach those goals in one single bound. The truly successful ones didn't win the lottery. They did not suddenly nor unprecedentedly nor, in all likelihood, singlehandedly, make any great discoveries. It all happened in small steps. Had they not taken the small steps to get where they were going, they would not have gotten there at all, much less in the single bound over a tall building.

In fact, the ones who did start out with small fortunes and bought their way through their lives, for the most part, missed out on a lot of the lessons which life was meant to teach.

There are likely exceptions, as there always are, but they are few and far between.

The failures, the mistakes, are just as important as the milestones. One of the first ones an ambitious soul is likely to make is that the goals are huge, and that they are surmountable in a single bounce off the asphalt which precedes them. Said soul is wrong, twice; firstly, because there is no way one can leisurely hop over something so monumental as the goals they set for themselves; secondly, because it is not so much the goals which are huge as it is the results of all the smaller milestones which they have passed.

By and large, the only way to really appreciate all this is to experience it first hand. Even after reading this, you will probably not realise that you will need to experience it first hand. You'll think that the ol' Wolf has just handed you the cheat sheet.

A couple of things to remember:

  1. Even in an open-book test, you need to know where to look to find the information asked on the test.
  2. Even with the answers to every odd problem given in the back of the book, the teacher still expects you to show your work.

I'm happy now. Before you try to correct that statement, remember that my warning was about being happy standing still. I'm moving, always. I will be passing the milestones on my journey through life, noting them but not carrying them.

I'm fine. I will be better once I can find myself a job and support myself, preferably without shifting my residence much at the current moment. I could probably go on for about five different levels in five different directions as to what would make my life better.

But that's all frosting on the cake, and right now, I'm a little less interested in the frosting.

"Nobody ever learned anything by succeeding at it the first time out." -- Dawn Ellis

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