I’ve been thinking a lot about ratings, about how I rate myself as a mother, wife, and full-time human being. These ratings aren’t usually written down or assigned a number – they are acknowledge by how I’m feeling about myself and what I’m doing in a given moment often after that moment has passed. When things are going well, I rate myself accordingly by feeling good about having that tough conversation because it needed to happen or about making time to vacuum the house because I am not a cleaner. When things are rocky, I berate myself and guilt myself and obsess about what went wrong or, more specifically, where I went wrong. Much of my day is quietly commentated by this unspoken rating system that captions my every action, a play-by-play that I often return to in an effort to determine if I’ve been worthy that day.
I never named this omnipresent phenomenon a “rating system” until today. I never even gave it a second thought, so natural a part of my being it has been. But I heard two instances of rating systems being used within the past couple of days that made me think of how inaccurate and unfair rating systems are, yet how I direct my days by them. This was foreshadowed years ago shortly after Z and I closed on our first house. At that time, our realtor sent us an online survey to rate her service and our satisfaction with it. Operating under the institutionalized practice of never giving anyone a 10 out of 10, we gave her an overall rating of 9. Within 24 hours she called us, frantic that we were unhappy with her (we weren’t) and that she did something wrong to not get the 10 that she was so accustomed to (she didn’t). She deserved a 10, but we were always taught that giving a 10 lent itself to future disservices by someone who thought they were perfect and didn’t need to keep up their standards. We felt horrible and assured her that she did right by us, but we were also surprised that so many people gave her a 10 for the above reasons. This week, I heard a supervisor telling her employee that “We never give ourselves a 10 because that means there’s no room for improvement, and there’s always room for improvement.” Heard that line before, and organizationally it’s a fair statement – in big operations improvement is what everyone is working for. But why can’t giving yourself a 10 mean that you’re doing great, that you are working on improvements, but what you’ve got going with the present situation at the present time is pretty kick ass? When rating her smile, my sister’s dentist told her that no one ever gets a 10, but she was the exception (to his credit, she does have a gloriously white grille). Way to brake the rules, doc.
We use rating systems on ourselves every day and I doubt many of us are giving ourselves 10s or even 9s for the hard things we do. If anything, we should give ourselves automatic 10s for the easy, gimmie tasks of daily life like clearing off the table after breakfast (even if the dishes don’t get washed) or putting dirty clothes in the hamper (even if that hamper doesn’t get nudged any closer to the washer). If we don’t numerically assess ourselves, we may try to determine how closely we approach that ogre of perfection and feel and act accordingly. It is a heartless way to decide if we are good enough or not, but it is a hard habit to break if it’s one that’s already been formed.
Let’s not forget that we do things – we make life happen; we make households run; we earn money; we budget that money; we raise children; we shuttle said children to the moon and back; we feed loud, sometimes screaming toddlers; we workout; we face our fears – that deserve 10s, even if we are the only ones giving them out. And therein lies the power – only we get to give ourselves those ratings. Others may try to, but our lives aren’t theirs to rate. Some days, remembering to make coffee is easy. Other days, it’s a forgotten task among soggy diapers and lost socks. Either way, you better believe that coffee is getting made. 10. Some days the entire house gets vacuumed, the kitchen floor gets mopped, and the dog gets a bath. Other days, calling the dog over to lap up the milk Ike dumped on the floor is the best I can do. 10. Some days dinner is nutritious, edible, and on time. Other days, Hot-N’-Ready pizza it is! 10. Some days my hair is washed and my clothes are clean. Other days, I can’t remember when I last showered, there are countless streaks of toddler snot on the thighs of my jeans, and I’m wearing the same shirt I wore three other times this week. 10. Some days, we give ourselves 10s for meeting the high standards we set for ourselves. Other days, we should give ourselves 10s for just being there (showering optional). If you’re not comfortable with giving yourself a 10, try a 9 or, if you really feel the need to harp on yourself, a 7. But don’t you dare dip much below that. Don’t exile yourself to the depths of a 3 or 4 where only bad things happen.
I haven’t experimented with this yet, but I’m pretty sure that the higher we rate ourselves for doing what we can with that we have, the more we’ll see the potential 10s in the world around us. We may be stuck in a long grocery line, but we get home with fresh food to feed ourselves and our families. 10. Traffic may be a beast, but we arrive at our destination safe and sound. 10. A co-worker may call in sick, leaving us with extra work for the day, but that gives us a chance to show everyone what we’re made of. 10. I’m not calling for passivity, but for acceptance, for a belief in the power of just showing up. I’m asking for a belief in the simple existence of a 10, and that is you and me even on the hard days because we do what we can do and some days that might not be much. From now on, 10 is not only the starting number when counting down before saying something unretractable to a wild 4-year old, but the number to start with if the need to rate arises. Let’s start the day the way Oprah would end a show: You get a 10! You get a 10! You get a 10!
Yup, it’s a 10 kind of day.