I went to a super-competitive nationally ranked school, and while I valued the education it gave me, it warped my view of what was within the normal range of acceptable intelligence. As a result, I felt an intense need to prove I belonged there, so I became obsessively focused on the minutia of the numbers and measurement at the expense of the bigger picture. Test scores. Memorized facts. Boxes ticked off. Hours spent in ballet class or on the piano bench. Rarely did I ever think about doing something I enjoyed or learning something real. 1
This is a thought pattern I’m still trying to break. It’s hard, because you wouldn’t believe how often I hear adults who are several years out of school talk about their test scores or their GPAs. Few things compare to the universality of these numbers – nearly everyone remembers their scores and their grades. Some people took their SATs multiple times. 2
There are other, more common measuring sticks that grown-ass ladies and gentlemen regularly use to measure their success. Salary. Dress size [sometimes relative to the dress size you wore in college]. Calories burned. Square footage of your house, garage not included. How little we slept last night [because the amount we sleep is inversely proportional to our importance].
The Internet isn’t exempt, either. In fact, it might be worse, because we have so many ways to measure everything – ways that can be refreshed constantly and cost us nearly nothing. Blog hits. Comments left. Retweets. Friends, +1s, likes. Ad revenue. Subscribers, clickthroughs, forwards, CPM.
I want to stop measuring the easy stuff and start measuring the important stuff. I’m not sure what these actual metrics will be yet, though.
For you, though, what are your personal yardsticks? How can you tell, quantifiably, whether you’re doing a good job with what you’re doing?
1I’m not going to tell you my standardized test scores, because that would defeat the purpose. But for the record, I studied very hard for them. I think this might have had less to do with raw intelligence or desire to do well and more to do with the feeling of virtue I got from sitting around in coffee shops surrounded by half a dozen SAT practice manuals when I knew my classmates might be doing something other than studying. And, honestly, those logical reasoning problems weren’t going to solve themselves.
2 Strangely, I’ve fallen in lately with a bunch of graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and they never bring this up. I did some digging and discovered it’s because their classes are all graded on a pass-fail basis. Lucky bastards.