I’d never really encountered the word benchmarking until I came to my current job in the financial services industry. I’ve since warmed to it. Because it’s what I do all the time as I wonder just how other people are making it.
Don’t get me wrong: we’re making it. I’ve been told that enough times by enough people who know, and things are definitely more comfortable around here this year. I’m convinced, finally. But if we’re making it, why the pit in the stomach? Why the sense that we’re one room short of a full complement of rooms? Why do the ceilings seem a couple of inches too low and we powerless to change that?
I started writing this entry, then came up against the fact of our making it and had to cast my mind back, had to relocate my principles. Oh, that’s right: we chose it. A manifesto was perhaps written.
Once in a while, that rankles. The principles and justifications seem a little more elusive, a little less apparent. Are the kids just growing faster than we thought? Are the toy piles and innovative storage solutions (nooks, crannies) getting overfilled? Is it just the persistent sugar ants and nonresponsive exterminators that make us feel a hair below the comfort zone of privilege we feel we should inhabit? Hard to say. The people I meet, the bloggers I read, I want to know: how are they making it? It’s not about status per se. It’s more about the practicalities. "Look honey, that’s a one-income household but their ceilings are higher than ours!" It’s not about the high ceilings. It’s about the how. How do they have higher ceilings than ours?
If we’re making it, and we wanted higher ceilings, why do we have these low ones? I go back to our decisions, and realize again: we chose it. [Just squashed an ant.] Tonight, again, writing that first paragraph, I reran the math we ran when we sold the more expensive, larger house to purchase this 1,100 square foot one. I see what we did. I remember why. And I calm down a little.
But here’s the rub, for me: my fiscal conservatism is characterized more by fear of failure and pessimism than it is by frugality and intelligently converting money into more money.
So I benchmark, and it comes out like this: There are people with a near-innate self assurance. It comes across as street smarts, business savvy, negotiating skill. Sometimes there’s physical handiness. It combines tolerance for risk with an apparently willful lack of imagination regarding risk. Some of the least socially adept people I know have it. CEOs have it. It’s in the easy self-assurance of the lawyer, or the contractor, or the banker. It’s not just blind certainty; it’s that coupled with skill at mitigating risk. Many entrepreneurs have it—but it doesn’t seem prevalent in the more distant reaches of the cube farms. Sometimes those who possess this complex of traits actually fail, but I suspect they simply pick up and move on to the next project.
I haven’t got the gene. So what I DO have is a small old house whose purchase was very safe and which left us in pretty good shape for college down the road, PLUS a job in a cube, swoopy floors, little sugar ants, unfinished novels, a floody basement, poor air circulation, bats, and, sometimes, a sense that even this can’t last.
And that, friends, is what passes for making it. How are you making it?