What’s your best yardstick?
What’s your best yardstick?
If you want to help yourself, compare yourself to who you’ve been: yesterday, last month, last year. You know best who that person was. But when you compare yourself to someone else you’re inevitably selective.

By Dan Fine, Management Consultant at Hive Business

If you want to help yourself, compare yourself to who you’ve been: yesterday, last month, last year. You know best who that person was. But when you compare yourself to someone else you’re inevitably selective. You’re probably honing in on one element that may not be true.

It could be a misperception based on projection: you might be reacting to people or events from your past, you might be magnifying qualities in your subject that you feel are painfully lacking in yourself, and perhaps you’re airbrushing over their undesirable attributes.

But why have you chosen this person to compare yourself to in the first place? Probably it’s that on some level you admire them because they seem to represent what you want to be but, to your shame, aren’t. So you are, unconsciously, biased and, sadly, emotionally primed to fail before you begin your comparison. What could go wrong?

Making unhelpful comparisons is a phenomenon that we come across quite often among dental practice owners. Pretty much everyone has a warped view of their peer group and it’s usually based on nonsense assumptions. Your analysis of another person is doomed to be faulty because other people are far too complex to understand objectively.

Your impressions, subjective judgements and emotional reactions will paint an ephemeral idea of your subject, not even close to the bundle of contradictions that they themselves might privately feel baffled by.

It’s too easy to spend your life wanting to be other people. Perhaps you’re impressed when you see someone’s vision manifested in where they are in life, what they appear to be doing in the world, but you can’t know the price they have privately paid. They might be deeply unhappy.

It’s in our nature to believe the grass is always greener, but the only grass that matters is your grass, not someone else’s, and it can only get greener if you tend to it. You might understand this in an abstract way for most of your business life until a single moment brings it home with sudden urgency: a competitor opens up down the road; your best associate leaves; you go through a divorce and change your priorities; you get seriously ill and then recover; you get ill and realise you aren’t going to recover.

Whatever the catalyst, this realisation is a pivot into the future with you at the wheel rather than playing the semi-passive passenger of fate and circumstance. It’s entirely possible that you alight upon your insight because of false information: “That glass fronted practice down the road is doing so well, it’s owner drives around in a Maserati and visits his four other practices. I’ll never be that successful…”

Yes, the owner seems to be swimming in wealth and success, but in reality he’s hopelessly over-leveraged, drowning in debt and if his costs move up by another per cent he’ll lose his operating margin and face the ignominy of losing five teams their livelihoods. Would you want that hanging over you every day, wouldn’t it be more like a living hell?

Should you ever have a realisation like this, that you were beating yourself up over a misperception, it’s still a valuable one. You’ve made the humble acknowledgement that you can do better. You may have come to it for the wrong reason, but it still allows you to begin to correct your course and your way of thinking. That’s where change begins. Who were you this time last year? Are you moving in the right direction? Do you want to speed up or change tack? You can, but first you’re going to have to stop worrying about everyone else.

Dan Fine
By Dan Fine Management Consultant
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