A Better Benchmark

What are we really comparing ourselves to?

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In my business we use measures of performance standards called benchmarks for our performance reports. It’s easy to look at the overall growth of a portfolio, noting an increase of a certain percentage. However, the use of a benchmark shows the increase relative to that of what it’s being compared to. Someone may be happy with the performance until they realize that the benchmark performed substantially better. The reality is that standards of comparison impact satisfaction, even when they shouldn’t.

I thought about the concept of benchmarks, and how someone who did pretty well could come away wishing they just did better. I acknowledged my own personal benchmarks that I compare myself to. Although its never a healthy thing to do, there are times when the irresistible pull of comparison overtakes us. We may not even set out to compare, yet data sneaks in via conversations we shouldn’t be privy to.

There will always be someone doing, looking, acting, earning, performing, and living what we perceive as “better” than we do. Similarly, there is always someone doing worse than we are. In both cases the effects are draining and erroneous, leaving us to feel either inadequate or superior to another human being. Neither of those scenarios assist us with evolving into our most authentic, uniquely wonderful selves.

Like the portfolios we manage, nuances matter. We can’t expect to return 15 or 20% without assuming more risk, and having less downside protection. Looking strictly at the benchmark to measure what your account should be earning is no better than glancing at the cover of Vogue or GQ right before you leave the house. All at once you long for an airbrush machine and an extreme makeover. Let’s face it, we live in a comparative, analytical world. However, what we compare ourselves to is often skewed, creating disillusionment.

What we need is a better benchmark.

We could choose to tether our well being and performance to our roles as parents, children, spouses, co-workers or friends, but these are evolving scenarios. As the years go by and purpose or significance changes, we may feel let down, unfulfilled or unsuccessful. Using a moving target as your benchmark may lead to the emotional ups and downs we try so hard to avoid.

Perhaps the better benchmark is staring at you in the mirror, the most customized point of reference you could possibly use. If we strive each day to become a better version of ourselves than the day before we are well on our way. Some quarters may not return the results you hoped to obtain but it’s the overall, long-term growth that matters, and there is still time left for a rally.

Reframing mistakes as learning opportunities, failures as stepping stones, and heartache as strength training for your soul are time tested strategies. Your race is not a team sport or competition, it’s simply a journey. Embrace it — hills, valleys, bumps and all.

Originally published January 28, 2018 at

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