Longing for the Metrics of Success

Am I doing a good job? Over the years I’ve wondered, fretted actually.

My preoccupation with the question began early.

The unspoken prime directive of our home was “Don’t upset your Mother!” The upside of this principle was that it set a clear one sentence criteria for evaluation.

The downside was that, like all principles, it did not name specifics. So a certain amount of guessing developed.

“What exactly would please Mom?” Or, in longer form, What would it mean to be a good son to my mother? Or, as an even broader text, what would show you that I love you?

During my childhood the general rules provided by church shaded in some of the puzzle: no mean comments, make sure you stand for something, no alcohol, tobacco, drugs, movies or dancing. And of course the obvious – no yelling or extreme displays of any emotion.

Normally the other details of appropriate behaviour for a son would be filled in either by example or instruction of my father or the larger family. But one of the clearly stated directives from my mother was “Don’t be like your father!”

A vacuum developed.

As the years passed I have come to understand that lack of clarity about expectations erodes investment. If “good” is only defined by “don’t” then scant soil exists for joy or creativity to take root.

If meeting or exceeding expectations becomes a moving target one gives up, continually whips oneself with guilt to produce even more effort or settles into an accommodation, “I’ll never be what’s required so I’ll just do/be what I can.”

I recognize the pattern in other key relationships.

What would it mean to be a good husband other than “Don’t?”

Professionally, what would it mean to be a good minister?

There were some obvious requirements – show up on Sunday, visit the sick, be pleasant, not too introverted. Beyond that, just be a good leader.

Which means what in these times?

In business oriented language,the metrics of success were never clear other than the ever present, but submerged, criteria of bring in more people and more money.

One of the gifts any congregation/organization can give its leaders is clarity. A good job this year would see these results; an excellent year would be shown by these marks.

As in any relationship such markers do not define the relationship but they would be a significant step forward in dealing with the question of adequacy if not excellence.

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