Breaking Free from the Performance Treadmill

I keep thinking I should have learned this by now.  But I continue to need to be reminded:  my worth is not ultimately based on how I perform compared to others or what they think of me.  It’s no wonder I forget this.

We live in a world that says, “if you perform well, you’re valuable.”

‘Tis the season for annual performance reviews at work.  And this message is blasted at us not only at work.  It comes from all directions from day one…

As kids, we are graded on a curve at school, we compete to win in sports, and we vie for the lead roles in plays and musical groups.  We compete to get into the ‘top’ colleges and for the ‘best’ jobs with the highest salaries.

In most areas of work and life over the years, I have performed well enough to be rated at or near the top of my class.  But not always.  When I am ‘the best,’ I feel pretty good about myself.  But when I am not the best, I often feel lousy.  And it’s during those times that I am reminded of the volatility and de-humanization of trying to base my ultimate value on my performance.

We need a performance perspective shift.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with healthy competition.  High performance is great, and so is wanting to do my best.  But when does this healthy striving to perform well and achieve cross the line into an unhealthy and all-consuming drive to win?  For me, it is when I measure my ultimate value by how well I perform compared to others or by what others think of me.

I know intellectually that I am inherently valuable – whether or not I perform better than anyone else.  And regardless of what my boss or others may think.  On good days, I believe that I, like all people, am created with amazing and unique personality and talents.  Yet it’s so easy to forget this.  When I do remember this, I find confidence and peace similar to a child who knows he is deeply loved and valued by his parent – whether he hits a home run or strikes out.

Again, I don’t want to discount great performance.  I just want to put it into proper perspective.

Too often I perform so that I can feel worthwhile and significant.  I want to perform because I am valuable.

High performance is a way I can express and contribute to others the value and talents I have been given.  When I keep this perspective, it makes all the difference in how I view myself, how I live and work, and how I relate to others.  And I perform better.

I’m free to perform – not pressured to perform.

With this performance perspective shift, I’m better able to be unselfish in helping others perform.  And, frankly, I’m a lot more fun and inspiring to be around.

Joe Baker is a Partner and Executive Coach with PeopleResults who helps leaders and their teams perform at their best.  You can contact Joe at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.