If you look at people who are outlandishly successful, one of the most striking things they usually have in common is that their standards tend to be in the stratosphere. They not only shoot for the moon, but also expect themselves to catapult themselves to Pluto once they get there.

Makes it pretty dang hard to believe there's ever a time to let down your guard and put the bar down a few notches.

Yet, there are a handful of times where lowering your standards is probably the best thing you could do for yourself or your business.

1. You have a physical or mental limitation.

Early in your career you might have the energy of a squirrel on Starbucks. But over time, holding that frantic pace as your body naturally changes can become difficult. You also might encounter other physical situations where you have to scale back, such as when you're sick, have a baby or get hurt. Don't forget that chronic stress and depression, common with heavy workloads and responsibility, can cause very real fatigue and focus problems, too. In these cases, the new standard becomes whatever your body safely can tolerate or needs to recover. Disabilities absolutely count, too. I can tell you from experience, for instance, that as a 4'8" little person, there just ain't any way I'm getting the cereal on the tippy-top shelf without a sales clerk or my trusty-dusty grabby tool. I'm not giving up with those accommodations. I'm just finding a different way to ensure I get what I want. 

2. Others have set the standards for you.

We're not talking about a boss setting a basic quota or timeline here. We're talking cases where instrumental people in your life try to manipulate you into achieving life-altering goals they wanted for themselves. There are also cases where many people say what someone should do simply because that individual has a particular talent. For example, maybe your love-to-build parents pushed you into engineering even though you hate it, or perhaps everyone in your community keeps saying you should be a doctor given your aptitude for science. If you're working to please everybody but yourself, you'll likely never be happy in what you do.

3. You're perfectionistic.

Having a high standard is one thing. Expecting yourself never to make mistakes and being miserable because of it is another. The rule isn't to get 100 percent every time. The rule is to commit to giving your best every time, and to recognize that what you're capable of from day to day isn't going to be static due to all kinds of variables. You always can be proud of yourself if you're truly putting in your top effort and learning from whatever happens to go wrong.

4. You weren't given the right information.

Say a client tells you they need a 10-minute presentation for shareholders by next week. That's what you schedule time to create. Then they call you back and say they need you to present in two days. Here, it's much more realistic to lower the standard and maybe cut the presentation length, or to admit you can't do it alone and delegate some of the work.  

5. Your relationships are taking a hit.

At the end of the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life", the angel Clarence writes a message to George Bailey that no person is a failure who has friends. With this in mind, science tells us that friendship has a positive influence on physical and mental wellbeing. The late First Lady Barbara Bush also famously stated that "At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or parent." If your standards are keeping you from connecting with others, or if they are hurting people in some way, it's time for a reset.

High standards can help you push yourself to your best possible life. But they should never be so high that you sacrifice yourself or others. They also need to be made with an understanding that life can be messy, and that others around you can have their own goals and imperfections. This might mean that you step back or pivot once in a while, but it's the overall move forward that matters. After all, no one gets to the top of the ladder by stepping on the last rung first.

Published on: Jan 1, 2019
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