Have you ever considered how much of your life has been dictated by the standards of others?
Very often when I have a new aspiration, I’ll consider what is ‘reasonable’ or ‘possible’ to do. To do this, I look to the lives of others as an example of what I can or can’t achieve in a given time.
But, herein lies the problem: trying to live someone else’s version of life can only create a false reality around you.
You can’t expect to get the same results as somebody else, as you are not them. You can only get results in your own way, and at your own level.
All of us are born into a certain lifestyle and culture. As children we can’t ‘see’ the culture that surrounds us, just as a fish can’t see water. It is such a part of our lives that it becomes invisible.
It is only when we choose to do something new, or spend time away from our culture, or that it becomes evident.
When I was a teenager growing up in Australia, I used to have part-time jobs over the summertime. Very often the adults who worked alongside me would tell me to ‘stop working so hard’ because I was ‘making them look bad’.
This idea always puzzled me.
How did my efforts have any reflection on them?
The fact was that by making more effort than the other people in the workplace, I was shining a light on what was possible. I was making them look ‘bad’ by comparison. What I finally realized was that the compulsion to tell me to not work so hard was their issue, not mine. They knew that they could do better, yet they chose not to.
In Australia, this concept is known as the Tall Poppy Syndrome. It is an unwritten cultural norm: don’t rise higher than your peers. Stay at the same level, and toe the line as much as you can. Your reward for doing this is that you fit in, and get the approval of the group.
For me, this idea never made sense. Honestly, it is one of the reasons I live as an expat today. I love my home country for many reasons, yet I have found my ambition levels resonate more with the American way of living.
I know many other people have experienced the same thing by moving to a new place. The culture that was invisible to them suddenly becomes apparent when they were no longer in it.
Whenever I have an ambition now, the only person I compare myself to is a person who has done the thing I want to do. I only measure myself by the standards of those who are where I want to be.
The bane of ambition is mediocrity. The illusion that there is a ‘way’ to live is something that clouds our judgement and dampens our dreams.
Don’t be fooled: there is no right or wrong way to live. There is no ‘average’.
There is only a false reality that grows from believing those who are threatened by our desire to rise.
Choose your own standards. The sooner you do, the sooner you will rise to them.