This is what one of my dance teachers said (or more accurately, yelled) in the middle of my body conditioning class the other day, while all of us huffed and puffed and crunched during a set of "hundreds" (an ab exercise, for those of you who don't know).
I don't know what she was referring to; getting our bodies in shape, becoming better dancers, better students, better workers, better people. But as someone obsessed with self-improvement and inspirational quotes, I listened.
While my abs burned and my teacher yelled, I started thinking about progress. What is is, and what it isn't.
what it isn't
- Progress isn't a bullet-point list of things that must happen today or this week or in the next thirty days.
- It's not one event that, when (and if) you reach it, a little sign will pop up saying "you made it!" and you're then (and only then) allowed to be proud of yourself.
- Progress isn't a math problem. It doesn't have only one answer.
what it is
- Progress is regular life. The same life you had before.
- Progress is like that lobser-in-the-pot-of-hot-water metaphor. Sometimes you don't feel it happening until later.
- Progress is good things mixed with bad things everyday. And then maybe in a month or two you'll say "oh wow I guess I did make some progress."
I'm a self-professed addict of plans, but I also kind of hate them. Because the thing about plans, and about goals, is they only provide one possibility of success. They quantify things that haven't happened yet, things that may not be completely quantifiable. We whip out random, countable, touchable goals from who-knows-where, and then obsess over them:
- 'I must lose -- lbs' (who decided that was the magic number?)
- 'I must go to college at *insert dream school*' (there's no possibility of finding happiness in any other place?)
- 'I must have -- followers on social media' (will that really feel any different than a few less?)
- I must buy a car by age ---, I must have a boyfriend by age ---, I must start meditating every single day, I must not eat sweets for a month.
When you only have one idea of success, everything else becomes failure.
Progress becomes failure. Just because it never got quite big enough to hit your magic number, to hit the magic button that releases "you did it!" signs and streamers and victory confetti.
And that's because it is.
Change does not mean you go into perfect-human mode. Progress, no matter how big or small, will still have bad parts. It will all feel normal on the day-to-day; until a year or two from now when you think "wow I've actually made some progress. When did that happen?" But I think, in order to be happier right now, and in order to stay motivated, we have to dig a little bit. We have to find and celebrate the progress in the midst of the rubble, instead of waiting for some big, glimmering "you did it!" that may never fully come.
Progress is not an event. It's not something faraway in our future, something to dream about, something you're terrified will never actually come. Progress is a process, and as long as you're really working and trying, you're in it. Making it. Surrounded by it. Sometimes it feels like it's left you behind, like it's not there anymore, but it is. It's there when you're struggling to write a new blog. It's there when you're doing sweaty crunches in a crowded ballerina-conditioning-class in Indiana (just me?). It's there through all the happenings of regular, crummy, wonderful life.
Progress is a process, not an event.