There’s a meme that’s been around for a while about reality vs. perception when considering the path to success. It compares the over-simplified straight line that most external observers see with the crazy squiggled line of what progress actually looks like for those working towards a worthy goal.
I think this meme resonates with a truth that most of us get. It’s easy to understand how an external observer won’t grasp the blood, sweat, and tears that go into being successful at an endeavor. All they usually see is the end result.
But I think we actually miss the way that this understanding can help us on a daily basis. Instead of pointing us towards the end of the journey, it can provide some some meaning to the middle.
We’re Usually In the Thick of the Mess
I often say to my clients (and to a lot of other people these days), that progress isn’t a straight line. In life and business, we like to create neat and tidy narratives about how we got to where we are. But the stories we tell ourselves when we look back are usually just an invention of hindsight.
For example, when I’m at the start of writing and editing another book I forget about how much of a slog it can be. Part of me looks at my previous books and forgets the hours and hours that went into creating them. I see the finished products and wonder why I can’t just have another one already done. I’d like to say that each book just gushes out. Unfortunately, for me writing well takes time, effort, and so much more.
Deleting entire paragraphs and chapters because they don’t hold up is frustrating. Staring at a blank computer screen can be defeating. Picking just the right book cover takes creative guesswork. Basically, I find myself in the midst of an incredibly squiggly line.
Here’s the lesson from the meme, though. I’m reminded to honor the effort in the here and now. It’s crucial to remember that progress is chaotic and challenging, and doesn’t detract from its legitimacy. Not not only is that chaos and effort OK, it’s right where we should be. Just because our journey isn’t a straight line, doesn’t mean that it won’t get us there.
So whatever your goal is, whatever success means to you down the road, press on and keep walking forward.