Raising the bar for future you

November 4th, 2010

A good question to ask yourself when doing something is “why am I doing this?”

A good answer is “to raise the bar high enough to challenge my future self.”

I was discussing the prospect of homework with a friend and he said the six-page paper he was working on him had taken him longer than any other six-page paper he’d ever done.

And he was only on page three of it.

I told him that while this might be the longest it’s ever taken him to finish a paper of that size, he’ll have no problem taking longer in the future.

Well, that and he’s not a senior yet so once that senioritis sets in it won’t be out of the ordinary to take up to a month past the due date to finish an assignment.

I’ll vouch for that last statement’s validity.

Senioritis and overdue assignments aside, my point is that people are driven by competition.

A lot of people have somebody they aspire to beat. There’s nothing wrong with that, competition inspires us not to accept the status quo as good enough.

And by competition I don’t mean the intramural flag football playoffs either, though those are a big deal too I guess.

Personally, my toughest nemesis is myself … from one and/or two years ago. Both versions are formidable opponents, I have trouble picking one over the other.

In any case, he set the bar really high. Sometimes I think he set it too high.

But it’s better than him having made it too easy for me to feel I accomplished something worthwhile.

It’s human instinct to try and outperform your past self. As Jay-Z once said, “Go further, go farther, go harder. Is that not why we came? And if not then why bother?”

I don’t have an answer for him, and if you do it’s probably dumb.

If you’re content with the status quo and getting the same results over and over, year after year, then that’s great.

That means it’ll take less effort for me to do better than you. But if my current effort isn’t better than my past efforts then there’s no point for me to put them forth.

For me, resting on my laurels is a sign of failure. It’s admitting defeat. It’s giving up.

That’s why I don’t do it.

I can’t speak on behalf of everyone (despite the fact that I wish I could), but progress is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Well, sometimes it’s the afternoon, but you get my point.

To put it simply, you should try to do better than good enough.

Getting better in every area of life is kind of unreasonable though, because priorities change so it becomes unimportant to exceed your past self in some areas. For example, after graduation it’s not going to be as important to be a better student than you were in the past.

Here’s my advice on how to deal with that obstacle: List your priorities and then focus on doing better in the areas of life you consider most important.

You should be able to outdo your past self in the things at the top of your list. It won’t be easy, but if you really care about it then you’ll find the time and energy to get better at it.

Trust me, you can take a long time to write a six-page paper.