Using Your Compass

Sometimes, on my hard days, I feel like a failure. I am overcome with a sense of just not being up to snuff. I look at my friend Amy and she has fewer wrinkles than me. I listen to Brené Brown and she has more followers, and is clearly wiser than me. I hang out with my brother Todd and he is so much funnier than I am.

“The days where I feel like a loser or a failure are rare now because I’ve figured something out.”

After wrestling with these feelings for what seems like my whole life, I have finally made some headway. My metrics were wrong. Dead wrong. Comparing myself to anyone else was a losing game. And I am NOT a loser. I noticed that I tended to compare myself to people who I assessed as “ahead” of me. Why didn’t I compare myself to people who have not achieved what I have? That’s a weird setup, isn’t it? Then I realized that comparing is in itself a recipe for heartache, and I’m getting too old for breaking my own heart.

“I slowly began to unwind my habit— the habit of looking outside myself for validation.”

I spent a few days at a silent retreat a few months ago. My sole purpose was to figure out what mattered to me in my life. What exactly are my values? I realized that I had the most peace around the successes where I had made my own decisions based on my own standards. For example, I have carved out a set of moral principles for myself that I adhere to. And I know that my morals are not always what other people believe. For the most part, I think my standards are pretty demanding; getting through a day without harming another person on purpose, acting kindly, telling the truth. These things may sound self-evident but there are many different standards out there about ethics. At the end of the day, my metric of success morally is, “Can I look in the eye of the person in the mirror and be proud of her? Do I trust her?” That is my metric of success.

“Being a good person on my own terms is the highest value I have, and by that measurement, I am successful.”

I have learned that riches, smooth skin, fame and followers have virtually no meaning. Leaving the world better than I found it does. Loving and being loved does. Feeling free of guilt and shame does. I am certain of these things. When I apply this architecture to money, I find that my values are not about volume. They are about independence. They are about stewardship. And they are about sharing. These are the metrics of achievement for me financially. I have seen so many examples of financial misery with people who are chasing an ever-increasing number and comparing their money situation to their sister’s, to Oprah’s, or to an idea they had at the age of 25.

I’ve learned that keeping track is not about looking at everyone else, or watching a stock portfolio minute by minute. It is about grounding down into my sense of purpose. It is about looking inward for my compass, and then establishing a map to get where I want to go. I am accountable for that and that alone. It is my map. I decide how far, how fast and where I want to go. And I decide on my metrics for keeping track — miles travelled? number of friends on the way? speed to destination? using less gas? My values define my objectives, and these goals define the measures I will use.

Now, when I am having a rough day, I can look at where I fell short of my own expectations. And I can do better tomorrow. One foot in front of the other, step-by-step, I will get to where I want to go. On my terms, with my own tracking system.