When’s the last time you heard that you did a “really great job”? Even better, when’s the last time you heard that you did a “really great job, and here are some ideas as to how you can do an even better one”? Hopefully in the last few weeks, but working at the average company with average boss, chances are that it’s probably measured more in months or years. As an individual in search of constant improvement, I am severely bugged when I see this happen. When one acts as their own sounding board, the veracity of the evaluation they give to themselves will be inherently more random. And with randomly correct data about what was and wasn’t good, the precision with which you can determine how to improve your actions is low. After working even one year without meaningful feedback, you end up with a lot of data points representing tasks that you completed, but no bin to sort them into. They are points in space, and the value of that experience is largely diminished because of it.
So, not getting feedback=bad. But is getting feedback=good? Sometimes. A concurrent epidemic that seems to have infected many of the noble feedback givers is that of not assigning degree and example to feedback. Did you ever have a class that was graded on a curve in college, and sit in class on a day where the professor jubilantly declared that “everybody did so well on this test, I am so proud of you all!” Seldom was there a compliment that I less wanted to hear. In reality as we know it, there are few, if any, absolutes. So feedback such as “you did well last week,” ranks only slightly higher in data conveyed than no feedback at all. A disclaimer is in order here that this is coming from a computer programmer who works in a world of logic and quantifiable principles, but in my eyes, a compliment that does not come attached to a comparison and an example will still be only marginally informative. Strictly speaking, whether you are “smart” or “good at what you do” does not exist in an absolute world. It only exists relative to other people (or your past self) who do those same things worse.
“Harsh,” you might be thinking, because it is. Society likes to sugarcoat the reality of comparison by labeling those that see the world as a place of relative degrees as “competitive.” Competitiveness of this type is often discouraged in casual affairs, or even in some business settings where it is important to preserve feelings. But whether you’re winning or not, the relative nature of success is here to stay. Deal with it and grow richer in your understanding of yourself and the world. Deny it and protect your self esteem while you remain ignorant to how you could do better.