Go rate yourself "A, B, C, D, F" in your core business or vocation functions. There's probably, like, 5-10 of them.
Now, ask yourself, "If our goal was to be #1 in the field -- the very best -- what would the ratings be?"
It's easy to give yourself a couple A's, mostly B's, and the occasional C.
But grading out at a "C" in one key area -- being average -- might just be fatal to being the best in the industry. A "C" when measured against the field is quite possibly an "F" when measured with really being the best.
If you were very strictly grade yourself, would you really come away with more than a single "A"?
And, wouldn't you really have a few areas that are critically deficient and holding you back?
Try this exercise. It's eye-opening. Most people benchmark against average, so something that seems "OK" could well be fatal if you'd like to break out of the commoditized pack and be known as best of the breed for what you do.
I just posted a new article at Less Wrong - "Steps to Achievement: The Pitfalls, Costs, Requirements, and Timelines." This is a little bit longer and more dry than I write for my blog, but I think there's some very important things in here.
If you're interested in goals and achievement, there's quite a lot of meat here. I'm putting the full version up here and please feel very welcome to comment here on this topic, but also consider heading over to Less Wrong, grab a free account, and start participating there. As I described in "You Should Probably Study Rationality," it's a wonderful community.
Reply to: Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic
In "Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic," Anna Salamon outlined some ways that people could take action to be more successful and achieve goals, but do not:
If you tell someone who is into personal improvement that you compare yourself with others, his kneejerk reaction will be to tell you not to. This advice comes with no contemplation, and is offered because it sounds so noble that no one argues with it-- except for me. I think that it's valuable to compare yourself with others, if it's done habitually and strategically.
On a daily basis I internally compare myself to people less fortunate than myself as a way of remembering how incredibly lucky I am. I'd like to think that I'm responsible for the good in my life, but at the same time I know that if I was born in Liberia when it was caught in civil war, my life would have been far worse. While some comparisons may serve to pat myself on the back, mostly I gain appreciation for the opportunities that have been presented to me, and am reminded how important it is to seize them.
This is the only way in which I compare myself to those I don't envy. I don't rest on my laurels because I feel as though I've exceeded some people's accomplishments in some areas. I filter out those comparisons, and only derive gratitude.