The Inner Scorecard: How Good Do You Want To Be?

How good do you want to be? What defines you? Name, fame, success?

Human beings have a deep biological need they have to satisfy by acting in such a way that will bring them praise and adulation—for their wealth, their success, their skills, or their looks.

This inherent need also helps us push ourselves. It gives us the drive to accomplish. We’re willing to do extraordinary things that are extremely difficult, like starting a company from scratch, climbing Mt. Everest, solving a supposedly unsolvable theorem, or trying to settle on Mars. This is all well and good. But a bi-product of this behaviour is the need to compare ourselves with others. The problems come when we start compromising our own standards, those we have set for ourselves, in order to earn more admiration tokens that others.

Truth is, we can be anything we want, but we can’t be everything. When we compare ourselves to others we’re often comparing their best features against our average ones. We naturally want to be better than others, but the unconscious realisation that we are not can become self-destructive. Also, comparing ourselves to others allows them to drive our behaviour—which is definitely a bad sign.

Warren Buffet has a beautiful saying in this regard:

The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard.

Maintaining an outer scorecard means being concerned by how the world sees you and think of you, how you are perceived in comparison to others—and then acting according to that. On the other hand, inner scorecard is something which you maintain for yourself, without thinking much about what people will be thinking of you.

As a kid I read a quote from Shane Warne which went something like,

“You have to decide for yourself whether you’re bowling well or not. The batsman going to hit you for fours and sixes anyway.”

I can’t say that I understood it completely, but it did make an impact upon me. Warne basically says that the scoreboard is just a superficial judge of the game. Winning the game doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve bowled well. Losing the game also doesn’t mean the opposite. You have to set a standard for your own skill sets and achievements, no matter the result, no matter how many sixes and fours the batsman hits. You should be your own judge—neither the scoreboard, nor the batsman.

Having and inner scorecard forces you to ask yourself: How good do I want to be? What standards am I going to judge myself by? What am I going to hold up as important? These questions are an essential part in business, in sports, and in the stock market as well.

If you measure yourself by an inner scoreboard, you’ll have a strong tendency towards self-criticism, and be able to identify areas where you need to improve. Your inner scorecard propels your growth. Because you can win or lose by luck, but to set yourself up to high standards, you gotta go beyond luck and be better judge of yourself. Having an inner scorecard helps you outdo luck.

Warren Buffet asks an important question in this regard:

“Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?”

You don’t have to answer it, but I would urge you to meditate upon it for some time. There are no clear and easy answers to this, but it’s a good thought experiment to find out what drives you. Are you simply dancing for admiration, or are you really trying to get good at what you do?

You don’t necessarily have to choose one over the other, but the benefit of holding yourself to high standards even if you win (a promotion, a game, or a funding) is that it actually makes the losing easier. (Oh yes, no matter what people say, you’re definitely gonna lose at some point. If you aren’t losing, most likely you aren’t playing any hard games—which means you aren’t growing.) True loss isn’t when you lose a game or a promotion. True loss is when you don’t make an attempt to live up to high personal standards.

While having an inner scorecard shields you from jealousy of others’ success, it also helps you know your limits. It makes you understand how regularly you are going to fall short, how many sixes the batsman gonna hit, and that you’re okay with it. Your inner scorecard is also what allows you to focus on the positives within those loses. And the best bit is that what you become with this attitude is completely outcome-independent. What you care about is the process—of getting better, of being the best version of yourself in the given circumstances, or making the best out of what life gives you. You don’t let the world judge you, and thereby you don’t let the world have power over you.

I’m sure all successful people deeply enjoy their wealth and status. But all of that can be ruined very easily by making too many compromises, by living according to an external scorecard rather than an internal one. Because all things we pursue, such as success, money, fame, and beauty are merely the numerator. When you make a lot of compromises, the denominator of your life equation—regret, compromise, jealousy, unhappiness, anxiety—becomes too large, and your life satisfaction score ends up being tiny. Even if you have all the admiration of the world, pursuing the outer scorecard for false admiration is going to unbalance the equation of your life.

Now, coming back to Buffett’s question, I am not in anyway suggesting that you don’t need an outer scorecard. What I am suggesting is that you should seek self-admiration before seeking admiration from others; you should seek self-respect before seeking others’ respect. Don’t let your external image come in conflict with your internal image.

On this note, Nassim Taleb said:

Most people get it backwards and seek the admiration of the collective and something called “a good reputation” at the expense of self-worth for, alas, the two are in frequent conflict under modernity.

The good thing is that if you start maintaining an inner scorecard, it will automatically translate into boosting your outer scorecard as well. And what better example to validate this idea than Buffet himself. He’s isn’t concerned if the world would look at him as the greatest investor or not. He doesn’t care what the world thinks of his decisions or ideas. He has openly said that there are a bunch of things he and Charlie could do that you generate a lot more money for the company, but he chooses not to compromise his standards. Buffett also greatly admires Charlie Munger for this. In Buffett’s words, Munger “marches to the beat of his own music, and it’s music like virtually no one else is listening to.”

Another famous personality is Richard Feynman who also held the same life philosophy. He didn’t plan on winning the Nobel, nor did he plan on becoming one of the most famous physicists of our time. In fact he got bored and frustrated when he had to work for a lofty cause such as the progress of science or the betterment of the society. In his own words, he was just playing with physics, trying to satisfy his inner curiosity. He famously said, “What do you care what other people think?” which, if you ask me, is the very idea of having an inner scorecard.

In conclusion, more than more happiness, more fame, and more wealth, we need less anxiety, less worry, and less regrets. And we’ll have that only when we’re successful by an inner scorecard. We can’t just earn praise, we must strive to be praiseworthy as well. Similarly, we can’t just be loved without being loveable, and we should not be admired without being admirable. This simple shift in mindset makes all the difference in the world. We must, as Munger puts it, “earn and deserve the success we desire.”

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