Posts Tagged self-assessment
At the end of every year, our family discusses our personal self-evaluations. It’s a simple, informal process, but remarkably revealing for the level of effort it requires. Last year, it opened my eyes to some hidden frustrations and the importance of gratitude in maintaining a healthy perspective.
I started the self-evaluation family tradition a few years ago, after finding success using it with my employees. The discussion typically occurs at the dinner table, and starts with the general open-ended question: how was your year. Follow-up questions include: what factored into that evaluation and was your year better or worse than last year. Finally, we rate our years from 1-10, with ten being optimum.
The open nature of the initial question encourages us to develop our own rating strategy based on our personal priorities. Last December, there were some very outwardly successful people sitting at the table, so I anticipated a light-hearted conversation in which we would recount some of those successes. Instead, the conversation got deep and serious quickly.
The high achievers were not happy with what they accomplished during the year. They expressed frustration at their inability to overcome obstacles. Failure and frustration dominated the evaluations, and gratitude was scarce.
When we truly strive for success, we expose ourselves to potential failure, anxiety and frustration. Most of the evaluations that night centered on ideals and the frustrations with coming up short. While it’s important to set high standards for ourselves and understandable to be frustrated with failure, all of that must be balanced by gratitude. To do that, we need to be purposively grateful.
It’s not easy to be purposively grateful. Unless we make the effort, we tend to take our blessings for granted, as we focus on what we want to achieve. I learned how challenging it is to be purposively grateful two years ago when I read Rhonda Byrne’s book entitled, “The Magic.” This book is a follow-up to her best-seller, “The Secret,” and it challenges readers to create written lists of the things for which they are grateful. I learned that it was easy to start that list, but surprisingly difficult to finish it.
As I listened to my family discuss their self-evaluations, I was struck by the brutal honesty I heard, and I was awakened at just how easy it is to develop tunnel vision when we reach for dreams. Tunnel vision occurs when we are so focused on our goals that our attainment of those goals defines us. If we fall short, we identify as failures, especially if we ignore our blessings.
After a few minutes of listening to the year-end evaluations of my family, I asked everyone to reset and talk about how they were blessed in the past year. I got some quizzical looks as everyone shifted their thinking in another, more positive direction, but before long, smiles and light-heartedness returned to the kitchen.
The focus of our thinking controls almost everything in our lives from our mood to our actions. If that focus is skewed toward negativity, so too will our moods and actions. The year-end evaluation gives us a chance to vocalize who we are, how we identify and what we prioritize. Find some time at the end of this year to share self-evaluations with your family and close friends, and make sure that gratitude factors into your evaluations.
All-state, all-conference, all-district, all-American . . . as sports seasons draw to a close, recognition lists start to appear. The recognition is great for those who receive it, but what about those whose names don’t appear on the lists?
That happened to my son last year. He had a great football season – better than his sophomore season when he received honorable mention, but his name rose no higher during his junior season. Naturally, we looked at the list of honorees, and just as naturally, we felt he belonged. It was frustrating and heart-breaking, but just like all of the other frustrating and heart-breaking experiences of the past couple of years, it taught us a lot.
Most of all, it taught us how to deal positively with disappointment, which is important, because disappointment is part of life. This is especially true if you challenge yourself with risks. The higher you reach, the more you expose yourself to a gut punch like disappointment.
First, you have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. Voters often have limited data when they make their selections, and they rely on what others have said about your performance. That can be your coach, an opposing coach or the media, and they all have biases, even though most try really hard to suppress those biases. Furthermore, inclusion on many of the lists is dependent on your team’s success. The better a team does, the more players are included in post-season honors, but even that has a limit. Voters are reluctant to include too many from a single team or even a single region, so if you are in the shadows of super-stars, it’s hard to shine. This is even more challenging for underclassmen, as seniority seems to figure in the calculations. Sometimes, those factors work in your favor, and sometimes, they work against you.
Second, it probably doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. My son feared that a lack of all-state recognition during his junior season would hurt his college recruiting in the following year. It didn’t. We can’t recall a single instance where it was even mentioned. Recruiters don’t rely on others to do their evaluations, and things turned out just fine for my son when the recruiters had a chance to do their own evaluation of him. Plus, not everyone pays attention to sports news. Everyone who appreciated your performance still appreciates your performance.
You are not alone. Hundreds of athletes felt slighted when they saw the lists, and many were justified in that feeling. Not every deserving athlete will be included. In fact, there are probably better athletes than you who were left off the list.
For the rest of us:
Throughout life, you are going to be evaluated and compared to others. Sometimes, you’re going to get that promotion, and other times, it’s going to go to the guy down the hall. Often, you can’t control that. The one thing you can control is your reaction.
Don’t let rejection get you down. Your peers and key decision-makers are watching your reaction. Be gracious, and then be silent in your resolve to prove that you belong. Now, when the iron is hot, is the time to make your mark.
Do an honest self-evaluation, once the pity and frustration subside. You might not be able to be objective immediately after disappointing news. When you can be objective, look for areas for personal growth. No matter where you are in life, there is always room for growth. Become a master at evaluating yourself. It’s never a good idea to leave evaluation to those who don’t know your potential.
Set goals for yourself. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable and celebrate your successes in reaching them. Goals affirm your progress, and unlike outside evaluations, you have complete control of them.
The mood in our house was markedly better this year when the football post-season awards were announced, but we know that last year’s disappointment won’t be the last. Next time, though, we’ll be better prepared to turn it into a positive. That we can control.
When I was ten, in my first day home from surgery to lengthen both of my Achilles tendons, I learned that I wasn’t going to be able to be a victim. I was trying to retrieve underwear from my top dresser drawer when I tumbled backward. Pain erupted from my ankles when I stepped back, and in desperation, I pulled the drawer back with me, emptying its contents on the floor.
I sat there stunned, trying to figure out how to fix the situation, when my dad came into the room. He looked at the mess, and before turning to leave, told me that I was going to need to figure it out myself and that I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself. I know it sounds harsh, but many of life’s lessons aren’t suited for the Hallmark Channel.
I thought about that scene this week, when watching and reading about the misguided destruction in response to a grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the unfortunate shooting of a robbery suspect. In Ferguson, Missouri and other points, people took to the streets to protest not so much the grand jury’s decision, but the injustice they perceived it to represent. They were goaded into this behavior by leaders who have made victimhood an industry and by media who sought to sensationalize a story and create a narrative which they know plays well these days – victimhood.
When you tell people, as the President of the United States did, that it’s acceptable to be frustrated and assume the role of a victim, it should come as no surprise that people act like frustrated victims. That’s a dangerous precedent, and it’s becoming more prevalent and more destructive to the American Dream.
Victims lose hope and feel shame. They are mistrusting and suspicious. They feel that they can’t escape a dismal fate, and when that false message is reinforced by leaders and many in the media, they lose all hope of empowerment.
The opposite of victimhood is empowerment – the ability to have an effect on your plight. You don’t have empowerment by throwing a brick through a convenience store window. That just feeds the narrative of the victim lashing out at his oppressor. You have empowerment when you hold yourself and those you influence to higher standards. Pointing fingers and casting blame aren’t acts of empowerment; self-realization and self-improvement are.
It all starts with honest self-assessment. We have to face who we are – both the positives and the negatives – and we have to assess our situation – do we deserve better and are we willing to do everything we can to make it better, regardless of what anyone else tells us is possible?
I sat on the edge of my bed and cried that Sunday morning. It wasn’t fair that I was cursed with a disease that made strangers stop and stare, that made me the last chosen for basketball games during PE, that made me suffer through excruciating medical procedures and physical therapy. It wasn’t fair that my own dad wasn’t going to help me.
It wasn’t fair, but it was my plight, and I faced a choice. I could be passive and negative, and accept whatever was given to me or I could approach the world with an optimistic and enthusiastic attitude, knowing that it wouldn’t be easy, but that I would give myself a chance, if I just tried.
Imagine if President Obama pushed that same attitude and spoke of personal responsibility and effort as much as he did of distributing a “fair share.” Imagine if Al Sharpton attacked fatherlessness with the same ferocity as he attacked voter identification legislation. Imagine if the media showed thriving inner-city schools as much as they showed burning buildings.
Imagine empowerment overtaking victimhood.