This post is a part of an ongoing series entitled MIP (Man In Progress). After my 25th Birthday I decided to improve three aspects of my life (my physical well-being, my writing career, and my romantic relationships). My philosophy is that a writer’s work and his life are irrevocably intertwined and in order to improve one we inevitably have to improve the other.
We all want perfect progress.
Let’s face it: this is the reason why products are often marketed to us in a way that tells us that progress is easy and fast.
That’s because we want progress to be easy and fast.
Get great abs in 30 days! Get the perfect boyfriend after 10 dates! Quit the job you hate and have the career you love in under a year!
Now this may be the kind of manipulation we all hate about modern advertisement, but when you think about it, is this really manipulation? Or are these people just telling us what we want to hear?
Okay, I won’t speak for you, but I’ll speak for me: I think I want to hear what advertisements tell me is possible. Even if, deep down side, I know they are lying to me, and that their promises are all too good to be true, I want progress to be easy and fast. I really do.
I didn’t realize it until after I made my Man In Progress pledge a year ago that I had actually bought into all the marketing messages I had seen on TV over the years. I had actually been convinced by all of those messages that progress was linear. I believed that progress was like me going from point “A” to point “B” and then to point “C” on a map.
I was convinced that if I just reached the first level of success, then I’d just start aiming for the next level, and once I’d reached that next level, I’d just keep improving by jumping from higher level to higher level to higher level—and never going back down a peg.
But this past year I realized that real progress does not work that way. No, real progress is not linear like most advertisements seem to have us believe. Real progress, instead of being a constant upward movement from one success to the next one, feels a lot more like being stuck in a merry-go-round.
How Real Progress Follows A “Circular” Trajectory
More often than not, when you try to progress in life, it’s like going from point “A” to “B” on a map, only to find yourself back to point “A” again. Then you work another couple of months to arrive at “B” again, only to find that a month later you are back at home, at “A,” once more. And it goes on like this. Over and over again.
As you experience this circular trajectory, (a trajectory that is frustratingly unlike the linear one you have been told to emulate), you hate yourself because you think that you’re not achieving perfect, consistent, upward progress—you’re failing.
For instance, during this past year there were several months when I ran consistently. On the other hand, there were also several months when I didn’t run at all and I felt really guilty about it.
There were some months I had dates all lined up and was looking forward to each of them like each of them was a fun little adventure. Then there were whole months when I stopped looking for dates, and dreaded the idea so much that I avoided it like the plague.
There were many days when I felt I was on a roll with my writing career. But then, there were also other days when I made mistakes, experienced setbacks, faced rejection and that’s when I was totally stuck in a funk. I would avoid going forward with my career until I was able to pick myself up again.
After every up, there was always a down. Progress was never just an uninterrupted rise to success; it was always a rise, then a fall, then another rise, then another fall, then another rise, followed by another fall, yet again.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was fooling myself: there was no such thing as perfect progress. The ads, and movies, and media images of perfect, linear progress were just a fantasy. It was also fantasy that I, secretly, wanted the movies and advertisements to fabricate for me. And when the ads and the movies and the television shows didn’t weave that fantasy for me, I didn’t care to listen or to watch.
Who would listen to a message that carried the reality of progress anyway?
Let’s be real, would you buy anything if the sales pitch were the following:
Get great abs slowly after a massive lifestyle change, and several decades of hard work, determination, and sacrifice!
Get the perfect boyfriend slowly, after massive work on yourself and your issues; and then several decades of hard work, determination, and sacrifice—all while achieving several healthy compromises with your partner and adapting to their ever-changing nature!
Quit your job, and slowly, after committing yourself to several small, achievable goals, building a network from scratch, gaining experience, studying the experts, learning and then mastering the skills you need, exploring different fields to help you narrow down your career choices to something you’re really passionate about, adapting to the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression, and after several decades of hard work, determination, and sacrifice—get the career you love!
No. No one would buy books that had those sales pitches. No one would buy a product or service that told you the reality of progress. No one would buy an American Dream with such a painstaking list of prerequisites.
We Should Want What We Need, Not Need What We Want
We always like to blame advertising for selling us what we want, and not selling us what we need. But maybe the advertisement agencies aren’t completely to blame here. Maybe we’re also partly at fault. Maybe we’re just a culture addicted to getting exactly what we want, when we want it, and how we want it, and completely willing to ignore what it is we need, when we need it, and how we need it.
We should want what we need, not need what we want.
So what do we need to hear–we, who are so hell-bent on “self-improvement” and achieving this fantasy tale of “linear, constistenly-rising-and-never-falling, progress”?
What we need is to hear this:
Real progress is not about having the ability to go from success to a bigger success to an even bigger success, without ever falling. No, real progress is rising and falling many times over—and, when you are in a moment of falling, having the courage to start again from rock bottom.
It’s easy to keep going when all you have is success after success after success. It isn’t easy to keep going when you quite often you feel like you’ve lost all the progress you have every made.
Maybe we need to learn the wisdom of the Mayans who invented the number “0” and believed that “0” didn’t just mean nothing, it meant both everything and nothing.
Maybe when we feel like we’ve lost all progress, and we have nothing, we should question whether we haven’t just been given everything instead, and go forward from there.
Going Forward From “Zero”
A year ago, on my birthday, I made the pledge to improve my relationships, my physical health, and my career in the hopes that all of this effort would benefit my writing process.
The good news is that I was right: my MIP pledge has benefited my writing process.
But the downside is that my MIP pledge has put me in the trap of chasing a fantasy, and in my opinion, it’s time to stop that.
This past Wednesday was my birthday, and so, for this year, I plan to renew my MIP pledge. But this time I will do so with a bit more humility and soberness. Because I now know that real progress is not easy nor is it fast.
I now know that real progress will take several decades of hard work, determination, and sacrifice. I now know that real progress means that for every time I am likely to rise, I am just as likely to fall.
But that’s okay. Because when I fall I know that it’s not because I’m not progressing, it just means that it’s time for me to start over again, from the very beginning.
MIP (Man In Progress) Progress Report 2010 – 2011
Year: 2010 – 2011
Area(s) of Focus: Physical Health, Romantic Relationships, and Writing Career
Classes and Lessons Learned:
P.E. (Physical Health)
Romance 101 (Relationships)
Advanced English (Writing Career)
How do you deal with the sobering reality of starting from the very beginning all over again? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below?
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