There are three kinds of people in the world: the ones who know they’re winning, the ones who know they’re losing, and the ones who don’t know the score.
Which one are you?
From the nascent stages of our lives, someone else sets our scoreboard (many thanks to my Mama and Papa). Get good grades. Contribute to a team that wins championships. Pursue higher learning. Graduate. But eventually you must define what success looks like on your own, and that’s where your brain starts to trick you into thinking setting up permanent mental residence in the late 90s isn’t such a bad idea.
"It's about having a personal benchmark you can leverage against you instead of binge watching the third season of House of Cards."
Keeping score is hard, and I don’t mean keeping score with others. This isn’t about keeping a tick list of your good deeds so you can eventually declare, “Honey, I emptied the dishwasher eleven times in September, so you should wash the gym clothes I’ve left marinating in the trunk of my car since Thursday.” It’s about having a benchmark you can leverage against you when you’re trying to sort out whether you should get outside and do something with your life or binge watch the third season of House of Cards.
Truthfully keeping score isn’t the hard part. The hard part is coming up with the damn scoreboard, which is no longer a haphazard summary of collegiate aspirations and low-budget international travel. It’s a clear means of evaluating whether or not you’re accomplishing the very core of what is most important to you. Naturally, I’m operating under the assumption that you want your life to mean something at some point, although a discussion regarding the value of vagabond misanthropes is potentially worthwhile. But for now let’s be the man (or woman) in the arena, have our faces marred by dust and sweat and blood, and do something.
Your personal mission sets your scoreboard, and you can casually summarize your mission as your purpose in life. If you’re going to do something, especially if it involves changing your personal status quo, you better tie that change to something that matters to you. This link is a principle reason many faux sentiments for life improvement wither before they even get close to the vine; there’s no heft behind them. If you’re doing something just because, then you will fail just because.
So enough with the borderline esoteric semantics. Here’s how this actually works:
1) Define your mission. This is a Brobdingnagian undertaking, but don’t overthink it at first, as it will likely mature over time. Mine is simple: Be the very best at the few things that matter. This is important to me because a) it reminds me that being the best is a choice I make, not something I’m given (although I readily admit I got a heck of a head start by choosing my parents wisely), and b) invest heavily, both emotionally and financially, in only those things that matter. Kindly pass over the things that don’t.
2) Define your goals. One of my “things that matter” is my photography. If you’re having trouble finding something that matters, consider this Venn diagram that I’m borrowing from Jim Collins: find the place where your gifts, your passion, and the fuel for your economic engine all overlap. Invest there.
3) Make the scoreboard. For the photography aspect of my personal scoreboard, I borrowed loosely from one of my favorite photogs (duh), Ansel Adams. Purportedly he had a mantra of “creating one masterpiece per month,” so I endeavor to do the same. I’m not speculating that anything I do would have granted me f/64 membership, but it’s the inspiration that counts. At the time I first started keeping track of this particular score, I had just started shooting routinely, so my version became, “Make one portfolio piece per month.”
4) Do something that constitutes winning based on your scoreboard. This is where the photo at the top of this post comes in. To take a wandering, wildly entertaining long story and make it short and boring: I was on what I objectively construe as the worst backpacking trip I’ve ever been a part of, and I was the leader. We had twisted ankles (turns out he tied his shoes too tight), coyote attacks (turns out the howling was just someone screaming because they were tired of hiking in the snow), and sundry other affairs that conspired against us. But it was the first morning on our trip, it was the only trip I had planned all month, and I knew that if I didn’t get up and shoot something, I was going to fail at my personal portfolio benchmark. So I talked myself into getting out of the tent in single-digit temps, postholing through the snow for half a mile, and picking the one spot that had a sliver of a view of the sunrise behind the Great Western Divide. And for 120 glorious seconds, I got this.
And that’s the point. Figure out what’s important to you, break it down, make a measurable means to identify success, and then actually do something that results in a better life.
"If you're doing something just because, then you will fail just because."
Defining how you keep score is onerous, and if you’re doing it right, the necessary self-reflection will occasionally (temporarily) crush your soul. It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror and positively acknowledge that you have failed at something intrinsically essential to the core of your being. But don’t be deterred; you’re in the arena.
I get it; this is some heavy content for a creative blog. So I’ll leave you with a (loosely paraphrased) favorite quote from a favorite author, the inimitable Mr. Kipling: “If you don’t get what you want, it’s either a sign that you did not seriously want it, or you tried to negotiate on the price.”
Don’t negotiate on the price.