Having Your Own Standards

In 2015, Stephen Colbert was the Wake Forest University graduation commencement speaker.  He stressed the importance to have your own standards.  I love this mentality because it pushes us to consider what standards to hold ourselves to.  Sometimes standards imply the bear minimum, in which case it’s beneficial to hold a standard beyond what’s expected.

The concept of having your own standards is critical, but how does one apply this general concept into specific elements of their life?  The key is to identify instances in your life when there are gaps between common standards and personal standards.  I have an example from my own life that hopefully paints a clearer picture.

Shooting Hoops

Anyone who plays or watches basketball knows the goal is to put a rubber ball through a metal cylinder.  It doesn’t matter if the ball hits the rim three times or bounces off the backboard.  As long as the ball drops through the hoop it’s considered a made basket.

Over the years I’ve played shooting games where the basket only counts if the shot is a “swoosh”.  The swoosh is the sound the ball makes when the ball goes through the hoop without touching the medal cylinder.  It’s the purest shot in basketball not only because it makes a great sound, but also because it indicates the shot had the utmost precision.

Playing basketball games that required a swoosh shifted my frame of mind.  Instead of aspiring to the standard of making shots, my mind zoned in on swooshing shots.  I found I began swooshing a higher percentage of my shots.  More importantly my shooting percentage (shots made out of total shots taken) increased.  Keep in mind the majority of shots made aren’t swooshes, but still result in a positive outcome.  This aligns well with the old adage “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss you land among the stars”.   Some of my “misses” would be makes for those with lower standards.

The Swoosh of Life

I recognize most people reading this have little to no interest in improving their jump shot.  Regardless you should ask yourself, “what’s my personal swoosh?“.  Your personal swoosh establishes your own standard that goes beyond the common standard.  Find areas in your own life where you attempt to swoosh it when others simply attempt to make it.  Perhaps your swoosh is to take 15,000 daily steps instead of the common standard of 10,000 daily steps.  Let’s say on a specific day you manage only 12,000 steps.  You may not have achieved your personal swoosh but you still surpassed the standard of 10,000 steps.

An objection to creating one’s own personal higher standard is experiencing disappointment.  Some people may feel if they set the bar too high, they will continuously fall short.  It’s vital to accept in order to set a higher standard, you must be ok with a higher rate of failure.  Swooshes wouldn’t be special if you achieved them with such ease.  Your swoosh should only be achieved in the moments your true potential is realized.


Even if you come short of your personal swoosh, by setting a higher bar for yourself, you will increase the likelihood of meeting or exceeding standards set by others.  Establishing a swoosh narrows your target, which gives you clarity on the specific result you desire.  Just as important, creating your own standard gives you a sense of control within your life.  It feels empowering to create rules within your own life, especially when it feels others are constantly making rules for us.

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