Measuring Up, Sizing It Down

In my earlier days as a young education professional, I often compared myself to those who I considered the gurus of higher education. You’ve probably dealt with people like that too, no matter what field you may be in professionally. You know them as the ones who have an answer or good piece of advice for almost any and every conundrum, remain calm in situations where you might be pulling your hair out, or even having the admiration of peers in the same business. I was one of those people too. I realized that I often measured my worth and my success based on how close to these people I came to emulating.

Many times I found myself saying, “Once I have my graduate degree, I’ll be just like so and so,” or “If I dress this way or that way, or carry myself in the same way as this person, I’ll be more confident,” and lastly, “If I could just have that same attitude as what’s her name, people would respect me and the work I do.” The problem with each of these statements is that I was trying to measure up to what someone ELSE had created as their own personal standard, and not living up to my own standard. I would forever be discontent with this struggle because I would not be measuring up to who I am. I was not being true to myself.

I learned that lesson much later in my career and in my own life. The epiphany occurred when I was laying in the hospital bed recovering from having just had an emergency C-section to deliver my first born son. It’s amazing what having to depend on others will do to your perspective on what is important in life. As I lay in the quiet maternity ward that night, reeling from sadness that I was not able to hold my son before they rushed him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I re-evaluated my life and had to think about how I was measuring up.

Younger cousins and relatives were getting married before the age of 30, and my family was pestering me with the obvious questions about when it would be my “turn.” They overlooked the fact that I had become well educated and was in fact the only one in my family to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree before the age of 40. Imagine their surprise when I told them all that I was getting married. I had rushed to get married after meeting what I thought was the perfect man at the age of 33, then realized I had done so because I was measuring my goal of having a family according to what others told me I was lacking. When my husband and I were pregnant, we pushed and insisted that we do natural child birth and deliver when the baby was ready to come out and not by induced labor. I started to question all this and asked myself, “Who or what is driving me?” and “Why does it matter what others think of me?”

When the epidural finally wore off and I was able to walk to NICU to visit my son, I promised myself to measure each goal and success not in leaps and bounds, but by baby steps. I started with how I would raise my son. I needed to start sizing “down” how I measured goal completion and success.

Here is an example. As an author, I set certain deadlines and aspirations for myself in order to continue being published. The goal I set for myself was to have a finished piece of work for my publisher by a certain date. Granted there are many steps in between to getting that piece of work to Melanie, my publisher, but the ultimate goal is to get it done and sent off to her by that deadline. When I used to think of going from writing to sending a finished work to my publisher, I would sometimes forget the steps in between that it takes to actually complete the novel(s). More often than not, I miss my deadline because, well, life happens. By only measuring my accomplishment on sending off the completed novel, I was feeling like a failure.Claire Gager signature icon

To remedy this, I began measuring my success, or at least progress toward the goal, by setting intermediate tasks to complete. I set the short term goal as “writing uninterrupted for two to four hours each week” or sometimes “writing uninterrupted for fifteen to thirty minutes a day.” By breaking down the bigger task into smaller, more manageable tasks to work toward, I was able to measure success more immediately, and take smaller steps toward the bigger goal of writing a complete novel. I began, in essence, measuring my success based on breaking things down into smaller victories for myself.

Here is one of my less cumbersome examples – one that I’m hoping most post-partum women can relate to. Before and after my children were born, I heard from every person I encountered the same question: Are you going to breastfeed? That question is soon followed by said individuals’ knowledge of all the benefits to breastfeeding to both myself and especially to the child. This became my goal – to breastfeed my children exclusively and do so until they became too old. Sadly, genetically on my mother’s side of the family, we were born with an interesting physiological abnormality that prevents us from being able to breastfeed… at all. In my attempt to feed my first born son from the breast, we both became frustrated very early on. I was only able to feed him in this way for less than an hour, and even then he only got a little bit of the nutrients.

I went to support groups through La Leche League and through my health insurance to remedy this, but it was no use. I had to pump and feed my son, Robert, for the first three months of his life, and then I sadly stopped producing milk all together. I initially felt like a failure for not being able to give him my milk exclusively, but after talking it over with supportive staff from La Leche League, I was assured that even the three months of pumped breastmilk I gave him was more than some children receive. So the big goal was not accomplished, but at least I was able to give my boy three months-worth of my antibodies and vitamins to help him thrive. Instead of measuring my success by the big goal, I sized down and saw the benefit and success in giving Robert the three months.

The Last Prophet Book Series (Books One through Five) are full of examples of how we can take smaller steps toward making our world and our society as a whole into a more loving place to exist. Wars, poverty, and injustices are huge problems in the world, but each one started with a single smaller issue with one person or one group. They became larger scale issues because we allowed them to grow and spread among us. Our main character shows us how even such grand scale problems can be resolved by starting with an individual and by starting with the individual who goes out to others he or she knows it can also spread widely. Blogs by Claire pic postIt is not an impossible task to change the world IF you start with where you are and who you are able to touch and change. Sizing down the world problem by addressing our immediate little world of our own life here and now.

The same shift in how I viewed my successes by sizing down the bigger goal into smaller but meaningful measurements helped and continues to help me stay positive. It is possible for anyone. Trying to eat healthier, but end up eating a double burger with extra grilled onions and cheese because you were having a bad day? Well, at least you spent the majority of the week eating better, greener, and leaner options. One day is just a minor setback compared to the success of eating six out of seven days on a better diet. That is success.

Attempting to ask someone out on a date, but only get up the nerve to ask them how they are doing when you walk past them in the hallway? At least you had the courage to make polite conversation. It is a step in the right direction and that is success.

Need to confront your spouse about something hurtful he or she said, but all you can say to them at the moment is that you both need to talk. You have at least planted the beginnings of the conversation and let your spouse know that a discussion needs to be had rather than just dropping it. That is success because you have made him or her aware that a talk will be coming sooner than later.

How do you measure your success? What aspiration(s) need to be sized down? Comment in the space provided.

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