The Competency Bar
As I stepped onto the racecourse of a local 10k race, I found myself battling the usual pre-race self-talk: “you’re not as good as you used to be when you were younger,” “you haven’t put enough time into your training” and the ever doubtful “I just hope to finish”. Truly uninspired thoughts that did nothing to ready me for the race ahead.
And yet, I persisted in my thinking; a litany of reasons why I wouldn’t have a good race and endless comparisons to myself when I had been at my very best. Why was it so incredibly hard to just be in the moment and enjoy race day? Then I had a realization. It occurred to me that the memory of my in-the-past, highly-honed skills was obscuring my real, actual, present ability.
We all do this: make excuses for “not being as good as…” some other time or place in our lives. Once we have worked hard to achieve a goal this becomes our baseline of achievement. Our pinnacle of achievement becomes the norm. But this is incorrect. The pinnacle is not normal, it is the outlier, the exception, the anomaly. Our high achievement is a wonderfully rare moment and it is so wonderful because it is rare and very hard to come by.
Being good at something and achieving a milestone in our lives or careers can be a fake-out. I know so many people who cling to the best or the highest achievement and mark it as their baseline, myself included. But the height of achievement is not a baseline.
I suggest that we try and discover our baseline of success. There are times when we will achieve more than the baseline and exceed the baseline with additional effort. And sometimes the baseline will suffice. Sometimes decent is actually pretty good.
There is something wonderful to being competent. To being conversational. To being informed. Not every endeavor in life has to be exceptional, expert and excessive. And I do not suggest adopting a lackadaisical attitude toward your pursuits. But how about basking in the “pretty good for how much I have put in” mindset instead of beating ourselves up for “not being as good as I was when I put my all into it”? Take the bar and lower it based on your actual competency in the moment. And see if you can meet this new expectation in your day-to-day pursuits.
That 10K I ran? Well it turns out I came in 2nd place in my age group. Despite my comparatively poor shape, despite my comparatively undisciplined preparation. My decent effort was enough. I was completely competent at my age, with my exact amount of training and in that very moment of the race. And the realization and acceptance of that has been priceless.