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The Benchmark Trap
Benchmarking is not how we should measure our performance.
This week’s edition of Prompted is centered around how we think of our accomplishments and our performance. Our tendencies differ from one person to the next, but I hope today’s thoughts and prompts will help you take a closer look at how you think about things.
As always, thanks for reading!
The Benchmark Trap
I could think of several reasons to qualify the accomplishment. Ultimately none were valid. Pace and place are irrelevant. You finished a 50 miler. You’re an ultramarathoner. That’s it. Congratulations.
The last place I expected to find any durable wisdom was scrolling through the ultramarathon subreddit, which usually consists of detailed discussions about sock choice, body lubrication, and aerobic capacity, but a few weeks ago, I came across a post from a guilty ultramarathon finisher.
They shared they felt like an imposter for finishing in the bottom 10% of a 50-mile race and wanted to see if anyone else in the community felt the same way. There was one comment on the post that received more upvotes than the post itself, and that comment is the quote above.
This stopped me dead in my tracks. What’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if we automatically diminish the accomplishment because someone else did the same thing better or faster?
The time, place, status, and performance don’t matter when we do something worthwhile. What matters is the commitment we make to ourselves. A personal best is a personal best, whether you finish first or last.
In a culture increasingly dominated by comparison and performative personas, it’s easier than ever to orient around ambiguous goals and benchmark our performance to external comparisons, but nothing will make us feel worse faster.
External comparisons are irrelevant. We should judge our accomplishments on internal benchmarks instead. There are 8 billion people in the world, and there’s no question that someone will always be better than us in whatever we choose to pursue.
We will never be the best, and it doesn’t matter.
Our pursuits should be entirely contained within our internal sphere of capabilities and accomplishments. If we train for six months to run a marathon and still fall short, that’s one thing, but if we’ve never run a 5k, we shouldn’t be upset we’ve never finished a marathon.
If we accomplish something near the limits of our capabilities and on par or better than our prior performance, it’s cause for pride and celebration. That’s all there is to it.
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When have you accomplished something worthwhile that you immediately diminished or overlooked?
What external benchmarks or comparisons do you make most often?
What could you accomplish in the next 30 days that you can be genuinely proud of?
A quick read from The Simplicity Habit
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.