Measuring Up


How are you really doing? There’s only one way to find out.

“Hey, coach,” called Peter, one of the senior track team members at the high school where I coached, “this is going to be a great year. It’s only the first practice, and I’m already throwing farther than I did last year.”

“Really?” I asked. I had heard that before. As a matter of fact, I heard it every year during the first week of track practice. Early in every season, all my shot-putters and discus throwers, even the veterans who should have known better, thought they were throwing farther than they really were.

“Let me watch you take a throw, Pete,” I said as I walked over to the discus ring. Peter picked up his discus, cradled it in his right hand, and stepped into the ring to make his throw. He extended his arms, crouched low in the ring, spun twice, and launched a smooth throw that landed far out in the throwing area.

“See, coach? I told you I was throwing great. How far do you think it is? 160? 170?”

I picked up the steel measuring tape and handed him the end. “Go mark your throw. I’ll tell you how far it went.”

Peter grabbed the tape’s end and loped off into the field. The tape reeled out past 100, 110, 120, 125, 130 …

I pulled the tape tight and read it: 134 feet 6 inches. Not a bad throw for early in the practice season, but not a particularly good throw either. Peter would be disappointed.

“Hey, coach, how far is it? It’s gotta be at least 160.”

“You’d better come here and see for yourself, Pete.”

Peter ran back to where I sat holding the measuring tape. He looked down at the tape. He looked again.

“That can’t be right. One thirty-four? But I threw farther than that when I was a sophomore. It looks a lot farther than 134. Are you sure the tape’s right?”

“It’s right, Pete. And you’re right, too. It does look like a long throw, but that’s why we have measuring tapes, to tell us exactly how you’re throwing.”

“Yeah,” said Peter, “and I’m not throwing so hot.”

“It’ll come,” I said. “The season’s just begun. You keep practicing, and I’ll keep measuring your throws. The tape will tell us both how much you’re improving.”

Peter and my other throwers aren’t alone in overestimating their own progress. I’ve had the same problem myself. As a chubby adult, I’ve learned that jogging every morning helps fight middle-age blubber. I jog far enough and long enough to burn at least half as many calories as the previous night’s milk shake.

Unfortunately for me and my blubber, I’m not always consistent with my running. Illness, deadlines, and vacations sometimes postpone my morning runs.

After my last month-long layoff, I started running my old course again. I chugged through the streets around my home, huffed and puffed and sweated, and wound up back in front of my house in what seemed like record time. Gosh, I thought, I must really be in good shape (old people like to believe things like that). It had been a month since I ran last, and I hadn’t lost a step. At least it seemed like I hadn’t lost a step.

The next morning, I ran my course again, this time with my stopwatch—I wanted to see just how fast I really was. I gave it my best effort, finished with a sprint over the last 400 meters, and punched my stopwatch just as I entered my driveway.

My watch read 26:30. I definitely hadn’t lost a step, more like both legs! My time was five and a half minutes over my previous best time. Like Peter, I was unable to accurately judge my own progress (or, in this case, regression), until I used something other than my own judgment to measure my performance.

So, you’re asking yourself, what’s this got to do with me? I don’t throw or run.

Well, whether or not you’re a thrower or a runner, you’ve still received the challenge of becoming like the Savior. That’s a greater task than running or throwing any day, and it takes much more determination.

One key to becoming Christlike is remembering that you can’t do it all at once. It comes little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept. In this life, the important thing is to be working toward perfection.

That’s where measuring sticks come in. Sometimes, because progress is a line-upon-line slow process, it may seem like you’re making no progress at all, that you’re no closer to achieving your goal than you were when you began. Of course, some things simply aren’t measurable. But many of your efforts are, so it’s possible to evaluate your progress to see if you’re improving.

Regular assessment of your progress helps motivate you to keep working. Peter’s goal to throw the discus 150 feet and my goal to run three miles in 21 minutes were helped with each measurement. When Peter threw 148 feet, he was even more determined to make 150, and when my stopwatch continually reads 21 minutes at the end of my run, I feel good about my efforts.

If, for example, you want to read the Book of Mormon every day, you can track your progress by writing the number of pages you read on a calendar or plan book. Seeing the daily progress you make will help you continue working on your reading. Likewise, writing your goals in your journal and reviewing them from time to time will help you see how you’re doing on them. Later you can add journal entries for new goals. That way, you can see your progress, and though it may take you several months or more to accomplish some goals, your measuring stick will show you that you are making progress.

Measuring sticks are as varied as the things they measure. Interviews with members of your bishopric, Young Men or Young Women leaders, and parents can help you judge how well you’re doing in your personal progress. Other measuring devices include report cards, bathroom scales, stopwatches, calendars, charts, scriptures, prayers, and anything else that helps you judge your growth in a given area.

One warning about choosing measuring sticks—make sure that you’re measuring yourself against gospel and Church standards. A gospel perspective will help you realize that you’re better off and happier being a Latter-day Saint trying to live the commandments and achieve worthy goals than being a beauty queen, a famous athlete, or a wealthy businessman without the gospel. They may be successful by the world’s standards, but if they choose to ignore the teachings of the gospel, they’re only laying up treasures “where moth and rust doth corrupt” (Matt. 6:19).

There will be times, of course, when the tale of the tape (or whatever you’re using to measure your progress) is discouraging. I ran my three-mile course five mornings a week for a year before I saw anything even close to 21 minutes. And Peter didn’t crack 150 feet until the third meet of his senior season.

But even if I had never made my 21-minute goal or Peter had never thrown 150 feet, the important measurements, the truly important measurements, would have shown that we tried. So even if we had failed to make our goals, we would have been better people, moved one line closer to perfection, than if we hadn’t tried at all.

Think, for example, of the thousands of athletes who compete for a single spot on an Olympic team or the thousands of students who vie for a single scholarship. Only a few can win, but those who joined in the competition are strengthened and blessed by their efforts. It’s not always what we achieve through our efforts that matters; it’s what we become from having made the effort. We are blessed, whether we succeed or not, every time we honestly give our best effort in an endeavor. By using the right kind of measuring stick, you’ll know for sure if you’re standing still, going downhill, or moving, line upon line, precept upon precept, towards accomplishing your own worthy goals.

[photos] Photography by Phil Shurtleff

[illustrations] Illustrated by Keith Larson