Ideals vs. Standards

Sometimes I get down on myself regarding work.  I don’t work enough, I don’t produce enough, I lack focus during work hours, I have no regimen or schedule, I’m not getting the sorts of things done that would really help move me along (i.e. getting an online store going), etc.

Ideally, at least in my head, I’d work 6-8 hours 3 days a week, and on the 3 days I work at my day job I’d at least put in an hour or two doodling, painting, practicing lettering, blogging, or clearing my inbox.  Then, one full day off.  I’d focus entirely during my scheduled (and non-negotiable) work hours, while taking adequate breaks every couple of hours.  I’d be pumping out paintings and writings and posts and ideas, and I’d balance my pure creative process with administrative work to further my business and stay organized.

Great things to work toward.

But that is the key, work toward.  If I have worthy goals and am putting in effort to build supporting habits, why do I feel so bad about where I am?  My first thought is that it’s because I’m an idealist.  Because, I realize, I’m trying to put all this in place at once while also:  balancing social life with solitude, exercising enough, eating healthy, cooking rather than eating out, being a good daughter sister friend neighbor employee stranger, reading, writing, meditating, waking up early, spending time in nature, traveling, relaxing, developing my spirituality, having novel and vital experiences, and of course practicing very basic regular self care.  No one does it all, or at least not all at once.  I can get trapped comparing all these different aspects of my life to a handful of people who do one of them very well, and wonder why I can't do everything as well as these people do their one thing.

But when I think about giving up or minimizing my idealist tendencies, maybe just to feel better, that never feels right either.  I’ve actually done that for short periods experimentally and I end up feeling disconnected, like I’ve lost some kind of tether.  I like the part of me that’s a seeker.   I like knowing my values and what I want out of life and trying my hardest at it.  I like finding and following the light, the one that beckons.

Finally, this week, I was able to make a little but important distinction while reading excerpts from various speeches by the Dalai Lama.  There is nothing wrong with ideals.  Ideals can exist on their own and do not depend on my consistency or level of attaining them to be upheld.  They’re a little light to follow in the dark, and branch to cling to in the flood, and they’re always intact and stable no matter my behavior.  The problem arises when my ideals mutate into standards, which are broken the minute I am inconsistent or my level of meeting them diminishes or disappears momentarily.  An ideal is a map to uncover my full potential, a standard is a potentially oppressive system of measurement, usually with a pass/fail outcome.

If my healthy ideal is allowed to become my standard I will be working up against a feeling of complete failure perhaps indefinitely.  However, if my healthy standard becomes my ideal I will not be aiming high enough.

I’m going to be working on being a little bit more careful with keeping my standards base and constant, and my ideals high and constant, and noting the difference.