I used to measure my success, and, ultimately, my happiness, based on if I was the number one student in class or not. If I wasn’t, then I had to figure out a way to get to that level. But once I achieved that, where did that leave me? Dealing with the stress of maintaining that status and never feeling a sense of fulfillment. At this time, I was 8 years old.
Fast forward a few years and my reading and writing levels were below average. From a class of 60, only four students, myself included, were in this group. It made me feel like, “There must be something wrong with me. I’ll never get better.” I used to get so caught up in the number, the ranking – as if the number measured my success, my personal growth, or my status in life. This time, I was 10.
In the sixth grade, my school started measuring our reading levels not by number in a hierarchy but by colour on a horizontal line. Even though many of my classmates were at the Purple level and beyond, I was at the Blue level! The importance of this horizontal line chart was it gave a visual of where you were without someone being above you, like in a hierarchy. Everyone was on the same level. I wasn’t at the Yellow or Orange levels which were behind blue, I was at the Blue level, and wanted to get to the Purple level next. I wanted to move forward rather than higher. Looking back, I learned something about myself; I understood that the way I would personally grow without destroying myself wasn’t measured through numbers, but could be seen through visuals.
We measure ourselves and participate in this “counting” throughout our daily lives: measuring our knowledge based on our GPA, our health based on the number on the scale, how wealthy we are based on the number in our bank account, or how popular we are based on the number of Instagram followers or Facebook friends we have.
These measurements, however, hide from us the real meaning of our learnings, achievements, and connections. For instance, your colleague may have over 2,000 Instagram followers, but you have 20 real human-to-human connections.
Then again, sometimes, using numbers to count ourselves doesn’t have to necessarily be a bad thing. For some of us, it’s a way to measure our journey towards a goal we want to attain. You may value your GPA because maybe you want to go on exchange, get into grad school, or you find it’s the best way to quantify where you are in your classes and look at where you want to be. For others, you may look at your classes as a reflection of what you’ve learned, not a grade point.
A great thing to keep in mind when measuring ourselves is having a healthy balance. It’s about knowing when to apply numbers to count our success and when to avoid focusing too closely on that measurement, which may ultimately damage us.
For example, if you’re working out everyday for a month and exercise your muscles, but you also jump on the scale and weigh yourself every day, you may be discouraged. But if we see our progress like with a before and after photo, that can keep us going. However, if your goal is to run 5km in 30 minutes and you finally did it, great work! You succeeded in attaining your goal, and now, you can set a new goal to reach.
But the best thing you can do is do what works for you and steering away from comparing yourself with numbers to others. Do what is best for you, your success, your health, and your well being.