We get used to report cards from school.
Some dread it, some love it - but it happens to be there and somehow, one has to live with it.
At one level - a report card assesses people on seemingly ‘common’ criteria.
On another level - it successfully manages to 'differentiate' on performance.
At work, the report card has a different name - 'performance appraisal'. It still does the same job.
These kind of report cards successfully train us to accept that - someone else apart from us will define judgement criteria & the same someone will judge us on it. Our job is then to meet ‘expectations’.
This will work tremendously well in the world upto a tipping point of self-awareness. We realise that life is short and can be taken away anytime. So we have to make the most of it when we are here. This is when we start thinking about our life’s report card through either serendipity or soul searching.
That’s when the fun starts :)
We live most of our life thinking that a great career, a fat bank balance, international vacations, etc. are the criteria to judge our life and that our colleagues, friends and families are the judges of our performance on it.
We live by it and over the course of time discover that this wonderful report card looks like a pretty make up on the face but we are not happy.
We are deeply stressed in the pursuit of things that do not matter to us.
Health fails, relationships fail. Failure feels like end of the world.
Then strikes the realisation (hopefully) that life’s report card is not working like the other score cards we are used to, that are based on other's perceptions.
We have to define the criteria, call out the yardstick and then judge, all by ourselves, if we have to make the best of it.
One of the questions I usually ask my clients is - when you reflect back on your life, say when you are 60, what does your 'successfully led life' look like?
Most people smile at this point. Somehow the number 60 relieves them from the clutches of drudgery.
They invariably talk about impact ( to people, animals, planet, country, community etc ) and how they would like to be cherished by the people close to them (relationships, nurturing).
On a high level, the purpose of one’s life is often hidden in this answer.
Comparing oneself with our own previous versions may seem strange at first.
In my coaching conversations, I do observe that 'playing to the gallery' is so ingrained in us that breaking this pattern is tough but not impossible.
A golden cage is definitely beautiful but it is still a cage. With practise, the bird can chose to fly towards freedom. Having an anchor to remind oneself, helps a lot. A coach can definitely help you be accountable to yourself.
Professor Clayton M. Christensen (May God bless this wonderful soul who passed away recently), author of Innovator’s dilemma, Ex- Independent director TCS board, world’s most influential thinker 2011, in his HBR article, "How will you measure your life" mentions:
“I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric (by which God will assess my life) isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched. I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.“
Summing up - Your report card is yours. You define the criteria, you define the yard stick and you are the judge. Not to forget that you also have the choice to allocate your resources - your energy, time, your talent etc towards keeping your metric up.
Do you like to create a report card that you are proud of?
Here is a beautiful tribute written by K. Ananthakrishnan, EVP & CTO, TCS on Professor Clayton - You chose the right yardstick, Gentle Giant