What’s your measuring stick?

Several years ago, local grocery stores started a coupon feeding frenzy, offering triple face value for manufacturers’ coupons. People flocked to stores to take advantage of the savings. Budgets aside, they bought hundreds of dollars worth of groceries and sundry items because of the great deals they were getting. Look how much they saved!

Every week, I panic on the day of my French class. As the hour approaches, I realize that despite my good intentions, I’m lucky if I’ve cracked the book even once. When I get to class, however, I relax. I can keep up with the oral exercises that we practice, so I start to feel better. I can “do” class, and I’ve made decent progress since I started. Look how far I’ve come!

Cases like this–and I could name many more–happen all too often. We judge ourselves by how far we’ve come rather than where we need to be. Does it matter how much I’ve “saved” if I run over my budget? Does it matter whether I can improvise my way through grammar lessons if I can’t speak the language? Does it matter if I’ve done twenty really cool things at work if I haven’t completed the one strategic project that my boss needs?

Of course, there are really good reasons to measure progress, and even to celebrate milestones along the way. Ultimately, however, we can’t let progress become the goal. Think about it. If you had three days to drive from Chicago to LA but only made it to Denver in that time, you wouldn’t tell the person waiting at the other end, But look how far I’ve come! I covered a lot of miles! If that’s the case, you’re measuring the wrong thing.

The job is not done until you reach your destination, hit your budget, speak the language, or finish the project. I guess I’d better crack that French book.

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