A few years back I downloaded a language app in order to keep my French-speaking skills in passable condition. Over time, the app has added upgrades that definitely improve learning. But some ‘improvements’ are triggering my inner self-critic: “Am I working hard enough? Should I be doing more?” The app now has a feature that compares my status (daily achievements) with other learners. It also displays how many languages others are taking at the same time. (Some peeps are up to seven, while I struggle with two). Taking-stock of our progress – whatever the task – is irresistible, even unavoidable. But how important is it to set goals that are uniquely personal, and — hopefully — avoid the “Status” Trap?
If Media Input is even somewhat reliable, what’s on everyone’s minds – surface level or unconscious – is how, as individuals, we measure up to others: our status. Even though we may pretend that we don’t, we want to know whether or not we’re in an acceptable range of ‘accomplished’ versus ‘slacker’. The work we’re engaged in. The things we have. The quality of our relationships. The trips we’re able to take, or the remodels we can afford. Lifestyles that are not only comfortable, but that others might envy. It just feels better to be doing better than – or at least as well as – others.
It’s not an age-thing. My 92-year old Uncle Paul – battling Lyme disease and walking-pneumonia – mulls his status. He reads at least four east-coast newspapers a day but recently asked me if I thought that was “enough”. Feeling the need to “keep up” is not an internet, or social media-thing. I can remember as a little kid an explosion of swimming pool construction on my block one spring. To my young mind, pools were a symbol of affluence. We didn’t have one. We weren’t a part of “the club”. (Never mind that we traveled abroad every year – that didn’t count, in my ‘hood at the time.)
As I go through life, charting my course and steering toward large and small accomplishments, my satisfaction (personal sense of status) hasn’t always been automatic or guaranteed. Sometimes the goals I set for myself brought open resistance from others. Often, people I cared about just scratched their heads and asked, “Why would you do that??” (Learn to skydive…paint a giant jungle mural on my kitchen walls…travel abroad solo…quit a lucrative job I hated…start a doctorate program in my sixties.) Not having instant approval – or even understanding – from others often didn’t feel good at the time.
Growing older and gaining perspective, I’ve realized some important truths (again). I often tell myself, “I’ll never get it ‘right’” and “I’ll never get it done.” These are ongoing love letters to myself: there is no right (scripted) way of living life; it’s a process of dreaming dreams that feel good and true, then allowing those dreams to manifest. If I let myself get tangled up in someone else’s dreams (or version of ‘progress’) – so that it feels like a competition of sorts – I always end up unhappy.
Staying aligned with my personal goals means unplugging from Media Input as a regular practice. But it also requires staying tuned-in to what my ‘gut’ tells me. Literally, the “heart mind connection”. I want to keep my French language skills fresh. But when I started racing through the lessons in an effort to keep my League Status, my anxiety increased and comprehension suffered. It stopped being fun. When I relaxed and just focused on beating my own daily point average, the stress went away and what I learned I actually remembered.
Whether or not I’m doing what I “ought” to be doing (achieving, buying, wearing, listening to, reading, eating) – at any given moment – is a personal choice that, at the end of the day, brings results that I alone enjoy or regret. No one else experiences Life the way I do. No one else knows what I know about who I really am, where I’ve been, and what I want for myself now. I’ll never be “done” learning how to resist making silly comparisons (or checking my official ‘status’). I’ll never be “done” learning how to trust my own inner guidance system over the noise out-there. But doing my best in this effort, choosing to live bravely each and every day, I’ll always be in the only League that truly matters.