“We think we’re made of numbers: percentages on tests, pounds on a scale, likes on a photo, price tags on clothes…but we’re not. We’re made of love, happiness and the way we laugh. We’re made of good memories and late nights. We have more substance than numbers.”Unknown
As humans, we count everything. From the size of our pay check to the amount of likes we have on social media — from how much we weigh or how much we’ve lost to how long we’ve worked toward something or waited for something to happen — we rely on numbers to verify and validate our existence.
The other day I came across a picture in my TimeHop that was both meaningful and poignant for me. It was a screen shot of an email sent to me by my regional manager detailing the top performers in the company and among the highlighted names from the northeast region was my name at rank 11.
I remember the pride I felt when I received that email. I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt for having come so far in just two years of being with my company. I remember thinking, Only a few months ago I was ranked 16 in the company and now I’m at 11. At that time, my world felt limitless and I felt validated by a number that reflected my worth and value as a fitness performer.
But, not only did I feel validated and good-enough (for a moment anyway), I felt like I was the shit. I was cocky. I felt invincible. I thought I had this path ahead of me that would launch me to the forefront of the company, doing all the things I wanted to do…
When the metrics that define us, derail us
Flash forward six months and I lost everything. I was more or less forced from the club I called my home. I lost my ranking, my classes and my community. I had to start all over from nothing at a new club where I knew no one.
It was the most devastating loss of my life — professionally and personally (obviously real loss and death aside) — because it forced me to confront my very limited way of thinking: If my worth was continually tied up in numbers and statistics, how would I ever be happy or good enough?
When you lose everything, you start to think deeper about your existence and how you measure your life. And, as I started to reflect on my life, I realized I was always counting something to valid my own worth and existence:
- Starting at the age of 6, my mother put me in beauty pageants and from a young age I started to measure my self-worth on physical appearance and by how others saw or “judged” me.
- As an athlete my value was measured in my performance — my time, my points, my medals. And if I wasn’t at the top, if I wasn’t winning, I essentially had lost and wasn’t good enough.
- In my 20’s, I began using my body as a way to reaffirm my worth and spent a decade in an eating disorder with the mentality ‘thin at any cost.’ I truly believed if was smaller, I’d be prettier, and then I’d finally be enough.
- As a fitness professional, I used the ranking in my company, the amount of people I had in class, the followers I had on social media as a way to affirm my worthiness or lack thereof.
- In my relationships, I’ve measured my worth based on the amount of attention I was receiving or in terms of the love being shown by the other person.
- As a parent, I’m continually comparing myself to other parents who actually have their shit together and then find myself in a spiral of both guilt, remorse and lack for not being a good-enough parent.
The metrics we use to define our life, determine how we live our life.
Choosing another yardstick
As I started off from ground zero, I found myself asking, “How do I want to measure my life?”
Did I want to create impact or was having a packed class more important?
Did I want to have meaningful relationships with deep connection and conversation or was it more important for me to be “liked”?
Was what I earned, achieved and accomplished more important than what I was giving?
Did I want to be remembered as pretty and thin at my funeral, or did I want people to remember me by the impact I had and how I made them feel?
I sat with the questions. I started to examine all the ways in which I was measuring my life that didn’t really serve me or how I wanted to feel. And I started to chose different yardsticks.
Measure what matters
Measuring what matters requires you to get clear on what actually matters in your life. What are the things you value? What are the principles that add to your life? How do you want to feel and make others feel?
I knew if I wanted to shift from the yardsticks I had been using to measure my life into new ones, I’d have to get clear on MY values. If I wanted to feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose, I had to identify the values that mattered to me and that would act as guideposts for my actions and decisions.
After spending some time writing about the things that mattered to me, I finally arrived at 8 core values that I’d use as my yardsticks to measure my life:
Rest & Rejuvenation
The list felt good, like a breath of fresh air from the old metrics that had been sucking the life and joy out of me. But, I didn’t just want to write out or identify my guideposts. I wanted to live life through the lens of them. So, I decided to get these words, my 8 core values, printed and framed. To this day they’re hung in my office and my bedroom so that they are visible to me every day — so that they are at the forefront of my mind when I’m taking action or making decisions or caught in a shitstorm of a not-enough story.
Let’s be clear: having my core values as my guideposts is great. And it does give me a bigger sense of purpose and freedom in my life because these are metrics that really matter for me. But, having my core values doesn’t stop the comparison or the old metrics from coming up. It also doesn’t mean that I’m 100% on each core value every day.
Some days, I still get pulled into the ‘thin at any cost’ conversation; especially when it’s been a rough week with my body.
I still have days where I fight feelings of not-enoughness, where someone else’s class is more packed than mine and feel less about myself.
I have moments where I feel like throwing in the towel and quitting my job when I see other people who haven’t been doing what I’ve been doing as long as I’ve been doing it and are further along than I am.
Lately, I’ve been sucking at honoring my core value of Rest & Rejuvenation and to be completely honest, I have said yes to so many things that I’m on the brink of burnout.
And it’s when I hit these walls — when I feel frustrated, tired, angry or burnout — that I get the “wake-up call”. It’s in these moments I’m reminded that I’m not living by my metrics…I’m living by someone else’s.
The universal yardsticks will always be there…whether or not we buy into them is our choice.
What will you count?
Many of society’s “standards” and metrics are useful measurements for us. It’s good to know where our business is improving revenue or KPI’s and where our losses are. If we’re looking to build muscle, it’s important to track our workouts and measure body fat versus muscle percentage.
But, it’s equally important to remember, many of society’s “standards” and metrics aren’t useful to us living a meaningful life and many of the things that give our life meaning, can’t be measured.
Can we count emotions or how something made us feel?
Can we count moments?
Can we count the joy we feel when we look at the ocean or into the eyes of our partner?
The countable world has consumed us to such an extent that we’ve forgotten about the happiness that the uncountable world offers us.
Where this week can you measure time with people who matter?
Where can you measure your impact versus your reach?
Where can measure what you give instead of what you earn?
Where can you measure what you have rather than focus on what you lack?
Remember, when we measure success with our own yardstick, metrics we choose and that add value to our lives, we find and define success on our terms.