1st January 2020; New Year. A date in time when we look back on our goals and achievements, this time, exceptionally, not only of a year but of an entire decade. Before you do that again this year, read how mine was.
"The gym goals proved to be a terrible idea yet again, I'll carry these into January, like the year before. I'll make sure I do better this year. Work was hard, but I guess growth comes through pain. Personal life was ok, working on it. I've achieved most of the goals, some misses, some surprises... Overall: 3/5."
- Me, each year until I stopped.
Does this sound familiar? I've assigned grades and judged each year of my life with results ranging from excellent to terrible. Each year only had one thing in common with the year before - I never really changed anything.
All I did was set the same goals, except this time I'd raise the bar higher... The carrot was back on the stick, the race was on; starting Jan 1st of course.
It's all the same until it's not
So one year, amidst this yearly retrospective ritual, I asked myself "Am I being honest to myself"?
Was I taking this occasion to learn something or was I just satisfying the social pressure and setting up an escape hatch to my consciousness? I realized I was looking at it the wrong way. Should the goals have changed mid-year and have I spectacularly failed at noticing? Was I able to look at myself and say that I've done the best I could? Often times, not really.
So why do we try and fit our life on some sort of scale? Does it have something to do with how we are raised? Where do humans learn the extraordinary ability to reduce meaningful moments to simple words, hollow of their content? Sometimes, I hear sentences or words that make me think it might have something to do with our modern-day values; they go something like this:
"Our kid is only 8 months old, he learned how to walk before the neighbor's kid who is a month older!" or the famous "Our kid is X, he knows the full alphabet before even going to school, he's way ahead of his class!"
Like we somehow thought other kids will never walk or learn the alphabet? Who are we doing this for? Someone might have done well in basketball during high school, but that's because they hit puberty 2 years earlier than the other kids - they got lucky, it was temporary.
Sadly, these grades and the goals imposed on us will define who we are. They will likely even impact our perception of ourselves. They'll start as homework grades, GPA scores and later on, our yearly performance reviews. First defined by others, then, by ourselves, present for our entire life, right up until we die.
Now let me comfort you, it gets a lot easier. We are taught how to grade ourselves and likely, others too. By now, we have years of experience and mentorship. We got good at it, very good. So good that when we ask ourselves how our year was, the answer usually jumps out, it's pretty clear. If it wasn't good, then it was bad. Some may say it was ok, but isn't that just a nice way of saying bad?
Are we not missing the point here?
What does good, bad, ok, 3/5 or 10/10 tell us? Mostly, that we haven't learned anything.
At age 15 (parent credentials) to somewhere around 21, I played a lot of poker. I learned how to beat the game and earn enough income to sustain myself, not having to require a student job. I played 30$ heads up hyper turbo games, the format where blind bets seemingly increase with each hand and games end before they really start. Bankroll swings of +/-1000$ in a span of 1h were not that uncommon.
The variance crushes the best of players. Ironically, it is that same soul-crushing variance that hides a very important lesson - only the current game counts.
From the great book of Tommy Angelo called "The 5 elements of poker":
"From the instant each of us learned that three-of-a-kind beats two pair, we have been working on our A-game. When we think about how we play, we are working on our A-game. When we read a poker book, we are working on our A-game. When we write about hands or talk about hands, we are working on our A-game.
. . . Whenever you lop off some C-game, you increase the percentage of time you spend playing your A-game. This means that the work you put into your A-game will pay a higher return by being put into play more often."
Each day counts
Tommy was right - instead of thinking of your best game, think of your worst, think of the decisions, habits, failures, that really cost you. Most importantly, don't think about it at the end of the year, think about it daily.
We are all dealt good and bad hands daily and it's important to remember that both of those can win or lose. What matters is recognizing the badly played ones and learning from them, thus, creating a process that is guaranteed to deliver results in the long run.
So think about this before you tell everyone how your year was. Are you happy with your decisions and your efforts right now? Can you, instead of missed goals, find missed lessons and ignored opportunities?
I've learned a few things this year... I learned how to observe and listen. I've learned how strong gestures like buying flowers and being sincere can be. I learned to step back, slow down and look at what I'm doing. I learned that my future lies only in my hands and how I can take control of it. When times were tough, I tried hardest and was able to honestly answer a single question to myself:
"Am I really doing the best I can right now?"