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So often in life we find ourselves in periods of reflection. Looking back, we contemplate our successes and failures in various aspects of our lives. When we do this, we open the door to the feeling that we’re coming up short; we’re not measuring up to our own standards.

Holiday time can often be a time of such reflection. As the year draws to a close, we often reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the past year, and what we haven’t. Birthdays are another time of year (particularly big, round numbered birthdays) when we may look back with a critical eye, tending to emphasize what hasn’t been done yet, instead of what has. We begin to measure our selves and our lives to discern: am I living up to my own standards?

Standards are so important. They weave their way through our lives in so many ways. We have standards of care and love in our intimate relationships, standards of professional conduct in the workplace and standards we set for ourselves in terms of life goals. When these standards aren’t achieved, evaluating what need has gone unmet and working toward resolution through effective communication, sharing expectations, and reevaluation of what may be possible are all ways to restore balance.

One question I love to ask when discussing the idea of personal standards is “What’s Your Metric?” What exactly are your expectations of yourself? In response, most people’s eyes widen and they smile a bit before they say “Hmmm, goooood question….”

What typically follows is a dialogue in which people realize that they’ve never really thought about this imaginary ruler they regularly use to “whip themselves into shape.” When we tease out the actual values that underlie their desires, we often find that they aren’t really so far off track, after all.

Once there is clarity about actual expectations, we can talk about the likelihood of accomplishing the task or living up to the ideal, and prioritize from there.

So, if you find yourself feeling deflated, berating yourself, or generally getting down about what hasn’t been done this year, I invite you to really consider what’s your metric? Are you regularly expecting to execute Herculean feats or reach perfection? If so, perhaps it’s time to reassess.