The Dangers of Looking at the Wrong Scoreboard

In high school a friend of mine set out to create a feature length movie about our town. It was an ambitious production. He raised money from people in the community, had a large cast and a crazy shooting schedule. The whole ordeal created quite a buzz. He showed me dailies every once in a while and invited me to script readings. I was in the loop enough to be green with envy. When an article about the project was published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram I lost my mind.

I remember sitting in the living room over several evenings with my patient father who listened to me complain about the success of my friend and how I had no clarity on who I was going to be or what I was going to do. My friend had it all figured out - why was life so unfair?

That pre-pubescent pity party with my father wasn't the last one.

About a year ago we were having - ahem - the same conversation when he remarked I was doomed carry around all this inner turmoil if I insisted on continuing to pay attention to the wrong scoreboard.

In my professional career I can't tell you how many times I've found myself envious of my peers. I imagine a scoreboard awash with points, awards and accomplishments on their side, and a bunch of goose eggs and errors on my side. I find myself wishing I had what my colleagues and intimate Instagram friends have. Worse than wishing for what they have, I believe they don't deserve what they have because I deserve it. If only the world knew how good a person I was on the inside, maybe the odds would tip in my favor and I'd get what was rightly mine.

I get so frustrated at the seeming ease others navigate their lives. It appears so effortless for them to take risks, say what they believe, advocate a point of view, weather disapproval, and remain consistent in all their affairs. So I start to get down on myself because I don't have the right levels of courage and will.

Yes, envy can morph into self-hatred rather quickly. Now not only do I want what they have in addition to believing they don't deserve what they have, but I'm frustrated with myself for not being able to do whatever they did to get it.

This thought spiral makes even more clear the real issue here: My focus on anything but my own work.

When we're concerned with the scoreboards of others we take our attention off of the things we have control over. When we do that we excuse all sorts of immature behavior and void all kinds of responsibility.

This often leads to complete inaction. We're afraid to put any points on the board at all because what if it's the wrong board? What if we get too far down a road and find it's the wrong road? Then where will I measure up against everyone? Then where will I find value? Then what will they think? Then we're right back where we started - still concerned with the lives and scoreboards of others.

For those who share in my tendency to keep score on the wrong scoreboard, peep this:

We think we want the security affirmation from others will bring, but we're sorely mistaken. What we're doing when we compare scoreboards is further delay our own growth and ability to contribute something of actual importance. If we continue to divert our eyes from the real work we'll never do anything of substance at all.

The truth is, we don't deserve gold stars for showing up, learning how to make our best contribution, finding a way to stay healthy, and serving others. Distracting ourselves with arbitrary point systems is no way to live a life that matters. The work we're so concerned about receiving recognition for isn't about garnering attention or followers, it's about saving more lives. Regardless of how far you strayed from the right path, the good work once saved you, and it's now incumbent upon you to saves others. There is no score when it comes to helping others see life can be brighter than their current reality.

We don't remember those who obsessed about their own importance, we remember those who found a way to call importance to good living, and through their work showed us a way to progress toward something owned by no one, but of benefit to everyone.

This is it. This is all we need to remember. Each day we must show up ready to contribute and sometimes we're given inspiration which guides us to offer something, which we do without expectation. Then we express gratitude for being alive and having the faculties to participate in such a beautiful and paradoxical practice and we wake up tomorrow and do it again.

If any scoreboard exists for you, it's only function should be to track your participation in activities to center yourself, interactions with people who remind you what really matters, and habits which push you to deliver value to others regardless of how you feel.

Daily we’re provided with the opportunity to choose one of two paths:

  1. Live in anxiety about whether or not you'll be applauded and given all the credit for shapeshifting enough to please imaginary people who don't matter. The stakes are high because only a few people can be stars and the rules of the game change constantly.

  2. Live in the freedom you're a part of a bigger story not dependent upon you - yet you get to wake up, put your ego to rest, and participate in a unique way. There are no stars and therefore there are no stakes. You experience peace as you give away what was freely given to you.

The scoreboards of others should be of no concern to us. When we choose to commit to this growth our own scoreboard matures beyond the tracking of accomplishments or approval, and we begin to see with clarity that living and working with purpose is a fluid practice of doing the next right thing, having no expectations, and humbly returning to the great task ahead.