I’m grappling with what it means to have standards. What are they really? Is there a guide book on them? Are we just beaten with our parents’ and friends’ expectations until they become our fact? Or is there something physiological that maps them for us from the get-go? Perhaps some combination of both… birthed by nurture and then adopted by our DNA somewhere along the way?
Winston Churchill said, “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”
Word, Mr. Churchill.
Why is it so easy to default to giving ourselves permission to be the determiner of what’s required? Is it a way of ensuring that we are perfectly satisfied with any outcome? Or is it that we are bent on patting ourselves on the back for what we can do that we neglect to consider that the goal may be something entirely different than what can contribute to naturally?
In isolation, we shape our goals and objectives to suit our capacities and inclinations. That’s easy. I want a brownie, but I can’t bake, so I’ll rely on Duncan Hines. Easy peasy, and yummy. I’ll lick the bowl like a four-year-old while they bake, and I’ll enjoy every-premixed bite when they’re done. No raw-egg or scratch-baker judgment to ruin my bliss. But what if other people are added into the mix (heh-heh)? The game intrinsically changes. Who are the brownies for? Will they know they’re from a box? How many do we need to have? When will they need to be ready? Does anyone have food allergies? Nuts or no nuts? Even what’s required of bowl-licking changes. Finger? Rubber spatula? Spoon?
The qualifier we seem to use when making decisions are our own personal standards, the voices in our head that tell us the right way to proceed and that frame the definition of our best. We’ve worked hard over a lifetime to follow those rules, so they should be good enough forever, right?
Except in very unusual circumstances, we do not live in isolation. We live in a constant swirl of standards and expectations because, after all, we work with people; we live with people; we think with people; we plan with people, and we play with people. That swirling chaos is life, and, presumably, it is the means for achieving a greater-good end. Why do we believe, then, that choosing our personal best as the measure of success is any more appropriate than picking one puzzle piece and declaring it the most important?
You’re right, Mr. Churchill, it’s not enough just to do our best, certainly not if what needs to get done is beyond our natural capacities. Why don’t we remember this fact, much less default to behavior that supports it? Is it simply too uncomfortable to ask ourselves what’s required, given the inherent risk of challenging the status quo of our best? Too bad. There is significantly more to be lost if we don’t devote time and energy to a bigger picture. I’m not just talking about the loss that comes when an outcome hasn’t met real or perceived objectives; I’m talking about missing the powerful and transformative interconnectedness that happens when people put their personal expectations aside and consider a common truth, unencumbered by individual, “naturalized” standards.
I am struggling acutely with this issue at the office. A colleague’s subpar- by my estimation – work keeps getting in the way of my intended success. It is annoying in and of itself, but that no one appears to be doing anything to right the wrote is deflating. I am a big girl, though, so I always consider my options. 1) Revisit the common goals with the offender. 2) Ask a boss or two to help raise and maintain the bar. Or 3) Just do the work that needs to get done. As much as I hate to admit it since I fancy myself productively righteous, I go with option 3 a disproportionate amount of the time. After all, I am focused on bigger picture (martyrdom notwithstanding).
Perhaps, though, there is a fourth option. Is it feasible to try and care less? It’s possible, of course, but even considering doing so feels unnatural to me (martyrdom aside again). I suppose that’s the point, though. If we recognize that our personal definition of what’s best is at least partially based on third and fourth-party input (or fully if you don’t subscribe to there being a physiological root), then why don’t we see the different standards around us as powerful opportunities to reframe our thinking and redefine our expectations?
At work, my instinct is to speculate in frustration about why I care so much when it’s clear my coworker doesn’t. How is that possibly fair? Doesn’t everyone see how useless this person is? No? Fine. I’m not going to care either, and I’m certainly going to stop taking on the extra work. Take that!
Then again… wah. Even through my annoyance, I can see that throwing a temper tantrum is not helpful at all. In fact, it really is beneath my – ahem – standards. So, I let myself think a little deeper. Why do I care? Why am I so wedded to a particular approach and outcome? Are my expectations logical, much less realistic? Are my standards not “high” as I like to think they are, but, rather, are they even relevant? Heck, does my perspective have value at all in this circumstance?
I’m not trying to be dramatic, but really, what if the answers are – for any host of reasons – no, no, and not so much. Not that my perspective is without value, but what if I were off the shared-objective mark in the first place? How annoying must I have been pushing to have my expectations be the standard.
A scary thought in many ways but – at the same time – liberating as hell.
It’s a game-changer when I allow heightened objective thinking to infiltrate my system of ingrained standards. Seriously, were I able to lead consistently with questions and not answers – queries and not solutions – the possibilities for getting things done in a whole new way seem boundless. What is our collective goal? What is required of each of us to achieve it? What does success look and feel like to all of the players? How do we go about ensuring the desired outcome for everyone involved? How much weight should my needs carry? Am I caring too much?
To be genuinely productive takes time, and it definitely takes patience. But if achieving what’s required truly is our intent, then exploring these questions on the front-end is certainly more efficient than trying to interconnect the pieces after the fact. Consider what would happen were we to make a point of asking more questions with increased regularity, while at the same time objectively considering all angles. The likelihood of consensus would be significantly improved and our individual contributions to a collective effort would make much more sense and be more balanced. Best of all, we would be actively choosing not to settle for our individual bests. Really, there is no more sure-fire way not to achieve what’s required than by isolating and elevating our individual “good-enoughs.”
Escaping the tangled web of expectations that exists in the workplace is not a viable excuse for neglecting the rest of our human connections either, no matter what our exhausted selves might tell us. Staying in the mental space where contemplating the questions that focus us on common goals of relationships is, in so many ways, even more critical. Are we thinking the same thing? What is the real issue we are grappling with? What does resolution look like? How are you impacted? How am I impacted? How do we go about achieving the desired outcome? How much weight should my needs carry? And yours? Am I caring too much? Are you? What is each of us truly fighting for? Do we want the same thing for and from our relationship?
Whether with a colleague, a friend, a spouse, or a child, remembering that by defining and imposing standards based on our truth and our expectations simply isn’t enough. Being genuinely curios and staying open to a range of definitions of what is best is the only way to ensure we are able to accomplish what’s required.
“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill
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