April was my favorite month of the entire year for almost a decade.
It was that time of the year when one could see from close quarters the effects of the annual nautanki known as performance appraisal.
Picture a team of twenty at a successful Indian company that has just been told their annual performance ratings. Those with the best ratings can be seen floating around for the next few weeks like a hot air balloon, as if they were an Alexander who has conquered half the world. And then those with a sub-par rating will be seen walking around with stooped shoulders as if the world has suddenly come crashing down.
The reaction obviously emerges from a different place, not from logic and rational thought. It is the perceived unfairness of the evaluation mechanism and the perceived lack of distributive justice that gets to people. Here you are feeling miserable because your colleague got a better deal than you did. Or maybe you are feeling good about yourself because you got a better deal than all your colleagues.
The organization you work for just succeeded in a very devious way. By controlling your frame of reference for self-evaluation, it has covertly influenced how you feel about yourself. This is just one of the many examples where reference classes are chosen for you by systems that do not necessarily have your best interest at heart. What is good for the employee need not be good for the employer and vice versa.
Choose your own reference class, do not let others make that choice for you. Whoever makes that choice for you can tie you up in things you wouldn’t have cared about, left to yourself.
The cost of not making your own choices is that someone else makes those choices for you.
In the context of personal growth, becoming a CXO at 45 can lead to you becoming financially independent but it does not necessarily lead to you becoming mentally independent. I have known a few people who are worth USD 10 Mn+ but have no damn clue of how to spend their time productively if they are left to themselves, they need some external source to set the direction for them. Their sense of self-worth is so intricately tied to their professional titles that once those are gone, they are rudderless. There is a reliance on external systems to be productive and for their daily lives to appear meaningful.
On the other hand, I know some entrepreneurs who aren’t worth 10% of that but have a tremendous sense of purpose in life. They are up and running the moment the sun is up, not due to any external factor but due to their sense of drive which is independent of how successful they are. These people deal with stress almost daily, but of the positive kind. Here there is a reliance on internal systems.
There are pitfalls and benefits on either side, that is not the point. The point is that you must choose which side you want to be on. Else there is every chance that you end up running a race you do not care about, given that someone else will make that choice for you.
One of the more sustainable ways of making decisions is to attempt to minimize regret, rather than to maximize gain or to minimize loss. You can do this only if you have done some soul searching on what makes you tick as an individual and what your intrinsic preferences are; not the preferences that have been programmed into you by peer pressure and social conditioning.
This works in investing too, some of the most evolved investors I know care about process clarity too and not just the investment outcomes. Their ability to say “I am not going down that path” more often than not allows them to see investing as a steady race that can be enjoyed, not as a race that one needs to suffer while perennially looking over the shoulder.