The Courage To Start Again, From The Very Beginning (MIP Progress Report 2010 – 2011)

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.

much love,

Ollin

MIP (Man In Progress) Progress Report 2010 – 2011

Name: Ollin

Year: 2010 – 2011

Age: 25

Area(s) of Focus: Physical Health, Romantic Relationships, and Writing Career

Classes and Lessons Learned:

Interdisciplinary (Health/Relationships/Career) 

MIP (Man In Progress)

Rejection.

Acceptance.

Becoming The Caretaker of Your Soul

P.E. (Physical Health)

Writers and Their Bodies

The Story of How An Unfit Man, Allergic To Any Kind of Physical Activity, Fell In Love With Running And Became A Better Writer In The Process

Writers and Their Sleep

Romance 101 (Relationships)

Writers and Their Broken Hearts

Writers and Their Mended Hearts

Writers and Their Sex Appeal

Advanced English (Writing Career)

Writers and Their Careers

A Guide To Turning Every Loss Into A Win

9 Negative Beliefs That Are Sabotaging Your 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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26 comments on “The Courage To Start Again, From The Very Beginning (MIP Progress Report 2010 – 2011)

  1. Christina says:

    Happy birthday Ollin:))

    Hope you’re having a great day – take time off from achieving success to just have a wonderful time!

    Maybe success is circular because we have to embrace ourselves on our journey – both the good and bad, ups and downs, forward and backward – and have faith that our own unique path is taking us where we have to go. Lots of love!

  2. Brilliant post, Ollin. I’m smack dab in the middle of one of these resets. I worked to get what I thought was a near-final draft of my novel done, sent it to two beta readers, and got feedback that indicated I needed to practically start over with the main plot.

    Lemme tell ya… A VERY sobering reality.

    The rewrite has been three steps forward, two steps back for weeks and weeks. It’s been painful at times. It’s been frustrating. I’ve sat staring at the screen with nary a word in my head.

    But… In the midst of that process, there have been flickers of promise–the realization that “hey, this plot is flowing a lot better than the first one did,” and the acknowledgement that this rewrite has solved some significant timeline issues I had in the other draft, and the sense that I’m being more true to the characters than I was in the earlier version.

    Progress, even slow and roundabout, is rarely without those flickers of promise. You have to cling to those during the periods of backward motion. Those moments are progress, too. I daresay even finding those moments is progress in your overall improvement as a human being.

    • Ollin says:

      The original draft of this post had a discussion about how this applies to novel writing. But I thought it went without saying. I mean that’s exactly what you do when you write a novel. You have to start from square one so many times its ridiculous. You soon learn that believing in linear progress will get you nowhere. You have to be at peace with linear progress.

  3. Victoria says:

    Ollin: Your topic this morning is once again right on target: learning that success is a circular rather than linear process. I just wrote about my feelings of falling down a rabbit hole, being stuck and struck dumb. And what helped me was visualizing and writing about that rabbit hole. Somehow it was my words which helped me climb up and out to the the ground above. And then this seemed to free up the words for an essay I’ve been putting off for several weeks. But you are right. I’ll think I have conquered my procrastination or my phobias and then pow (!) it all comes back again and I feel like a failure who hasn’t made any progress at all. But I have…because I’ve gained another tidbit of knowledge about myself and this life I’m living. Thank you always and happy belated birthday! Victoria

  4. Jessica Zisa says:

    This is such an awesome post! I especially love what you said about want what we need not need what we want. I think that’s a great question to ask yourself every so often. You’ve inspired me to start my own WIP!🙂 Thanks! Congratulations for all you have accomplished this year!

  5. Daniel Best says:

    This is what I’ve been needing thank you! I know this, but I always seem to forget. And as for health check out marksdailyapple.com it’s made my metaphorical road to fitness incredibly easy(after a lifestyle change of course). Though it takes less work than anything else I have seen, and is the way that has made the most sense to me. Your choice of course, and good luck in everything you do! You are one of the most inspirational writer bloggers out there. Finally, simply if you continue to write I will continue to read.

  6. It’s about the journey…having the courage to fall and get back up again…thank you for the reminder.

  7. Jeanne says:

    Happy Birthday Ollin. I am an oldie who always reads you for your wisdom. Thank you. I have started again many times with projects and intentions and I am about to start again. It’s not a habit, it’s just what you say it is: life. The main thing is we keep striving. Starting again is courage not defeat.

    Thank you.

  8. Oh, I see you’ve realised the same thing I did, that we sometimes, can be our own worst enemies by the goals we set. We mean well, we really do. I too fell into the same trap about my WIP. Last year, as you know, I quit my last permanent job, and I did it because I was convinced I was months away from sending my novel away to agents. Oh how wrong I was…

    A year later, I can tell you that I am re-writing that said novel completely from scratch.

    A year ago, that very thought would have sent me into a huge depression.

    but now? I am actually excited by the thought, why? Because I know it is the best I can do for my novel. It means too much to me, to be impatient, and send out some half finished work that will only get agents turning me down.

    I owe to myself, and my boy, to write the best possible novel I can write and that will take however long it takes. It’s different for everyone.

    Wishing you the best of luck with your own WIP. It has always sounded like a great story to me, so I am sure you will do a great job at writing it🙂

  9. There’s one important aspect of life that you are starting to identify, Ollin. It’s the ability to manage yourself throughout the journey of life. It’s about starting to see the warning signs of danger well ahead of the damage, while course corrections are simple adjustments. It’s about developing eyes that let you reflect on your soul separate from your circumstances or activity. I have friends over 50 who understand less about this aspect than you illustrate in this post, Ollin. You show amazing insight for so early in your journey. That’s a great quality for a writer, and to me is one of the signs that you are going to become an amazing writing.

    Godspeed on your journey!

  10. Happy Birthday! You’ve inspired us all in the last year so in that way you are a huge success. I see personal evolution as a lifelong journey. The fun never ends!

  11. Aaron Pederson says:

    This was really refreshing to read. I think we all start out with fantastic goals and aspirations but become humbled when we realize what it actually takes. It’s better for someone to come to that realization sooner than later because once they do–life gets real simple. The focus on success and glory get’s shifted to the actual work that needs to be done. Then you can do either one of 2 things: opt out now and save yourself a lot of wasted time and energy, or sign up for the long haul.

  12. Tracy López says:

    Thanks for this post, Ollin. It’s full of wisdom and encouragement.

    “Progress is not linear” — So much truth in so few words!

    Also, you made me laugh with, “Get great abs slowly after a massive lifestyle change, and several decades of hard work, determination, and sacrifice!” …. Point well made. Hilarious.

    I wish you luck on all your goals. Happy (belated) birthday.

    • Ollin says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think it would be great to see that slogan on an infomercial. I might actually buy the product for once.

  13. inkspeare says:

    Happy Birthday and many blessings! All I can say is that I wish I had such understanding of things when I was your age; for me, it happened much later in life, so consider yourself very blessed and certainly in the path of enlightment and success as well, which is as you point out never linear.

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