How often do you feel like you’re coming up short? Whether it’s at work or at home, with your professional prowess or your weight, it’s easy to fall into the trap of grading yourself on everything.
We live in a performance culture. As someone who works in business, in sales no less, and who has also raised children, I am well acquainted with the various ways we evaluate ourselves and one another. Even the words “coming up short” imply that there is a place we should get to, and we’re clearly not there yet.
Our world is filled with performance metaphors, such as “His work didn’t meet the mark,” “She failed to deliver” or “They couldn’t get it over the line.” The performative mindset is reinforced by companies that rank employees and assign a number on their performance. Are you a 1 or 5? Do you meet expectations or exceed them? It also plays out on social media: Whose post got more likes?
Ranking employees is hardly evil. When the criteria is fair and unbiased, it’s a logical way to reward people and ensure you have the best talent. And social media, for all its ills, has enabled us to learn and grow in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise. Hello, Instagram cooking tips.
A performative mentality causes us problems when it becomes our default. Applying a performative mentality to every area of your life is exhausting, and it drives you to drink, literally. Talk to anyone who regularly needs a drink at the end of the day, and you’ll often find that what they really need is an escape from feeling like they’re always being judged.
Viewing your life as though some authority figure is grading you on it is a common curse. For some, a performative mindset manifests itself in a constant need to be doing something. One of my friends said she finally realized why she’s uncomfortable relaxing. Growing up, if her father came home and found her on the couch, he would get angry that she wasn’t “doing anything.” As a teenager, she learned, when she heard his car pull into the driveway, she’d jump into the kitchen to start boiling water or act like she was cleaning. When you’re judged as a child for your performance, you carry it with you into adulthood.
For some, a performative mindset goes in the opposite direction. Fear of failure can cause inaction. Why risk a poor performance when it’s safer to do nothing?
So how do we rid ourselves of this curse?
First, recognize that most people aren’t grading you as often or as harshly as you think they are. People are too worried about themselves to spend their days calculating your score. As one who has struggled with this myself, I came to realize I don’t evaluate every person in my life on every little thing. It’s unlikely that they do either.
Another way to calm down about your own performance is to pick a few areas where you refuse to grade yourself. Give yourself permission to enjoy something or someone without worrying about whether you’re doing it right. Lastly, and this part is perhaps the most crucial element, remember that you’re only getting one turn at this life. If you spend all your time grading your life, it’s pretty hard to enjoy it.
– Lisa Earle McLeod is a leadership consultant and the author of several books. For more information on her company, visit McLeodandMore.com.