It was a long time before I understood what it meant to be a work in progress. See, I used to fixate on the transition points in life. As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to start college. I could broaden my world and be something that looked kind of like an adult. Then, I focused my attention on graduating so I could jump into the real world, earn a real income, and travel all over. When I started my first job, I was already itching to hit the stride of my mid-career, and so on.
I didn’t notice there was a trend until a good friend pointed it out to me: I was wishing my life away. Not intentionally, but I was still doing it. By always telling myself that the grass would be greener at the next stage, I was fostering a scarcity mindset.
Without realizing it, I was telling myself the story that now was not ‘the good times.’ Now was a time that I just needed to get through so that the real good times could arrive.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow
What led me into this pattern of thinking was a blend of two feelings.
The first was optimism. I have always felt, as I still do, that tomorrow is an exciting day full of new adventures and new opportunities to grow.
The other feeling was impatience. If tomorrow will truly be better, then I want to get there as soon as I can. Today is just something to get through.
When I finally realized this pattern I was following, and these two feelings that had led me there, something became clear. The optimistic voice that says that tomorrow will be better has always been right. But its counterpart, impatience, has never been right. Each stage of life did indeed get better, but I still always felt a pang of regret for emotionally racing myself through the stage before it.
Each chapter in life brings something new, and the possibility for greater happiness and fulfillment. But life is a work in progress. There’s never good reason to waste it by not enjoying every step along the way.
There’s More to the Mountain Than the Summit
Reaching milestones, achieving goals, and graduating on to new and exciting things is great. You will never hear me say that setting your sights on the next big thing isn’t cool. It’s just that reaching those milestones isn’t everything. In fact, it makes up a very small part of everything.
Think of it like going on a hike. The view from the top can be pretty great. But being at the top is just one small part of a whole day of activity. The vast majority of time is leading up to (and onward from) reaching the goal.
People who love to hike don’t do it just for that one moment at the top. They do it because they hate their friends, and love telling them it’s a “super easy trail” before forcing them on a 12-mile uphill-both-ways climb up a shadeless nightmare on a 90-degree day with like, no snacks at all.
But apart from that, I have it on good authority that hikers actually enjoy the hike itself – the exercise, the unique challenges of navigating different terrain, the futile laments of their sad, sweaty friends who never should have agreed to this, the connection to nature, and so on.
Reaching our goals and seeing the culmination of our work is a euphoric reward for the effort we put in. But the majority of our time is goes to the journey itself, so we’ll be FAR better off if we can enjoy that, too.
And, fortunately for most, we don’t have to hike to feel the thrill of being a work in progress. “Take a hike” is something you say to someone as an insult. Just saying…
These are the good old days
There is a lovely little painting in my home that I walk by every day. It is a few words that my wife painted, that serve as a constant reminder. If that statement sounds familiar to you, it may be because this is not the first time I’ve written it, and if I’m being honest, I hope it’s not the last. But this is a different painting than last time. This one has just six words on it: “These are the good old days.”
These are the good old days.
One of the greatest tools we have for happiness in life is the capacity to create new memories. Cherish those memories, but also stop to notice that you are making new ones all the time. You’ll get much more out of each memory if you pause to enjoy it as it happens.
Every great memory was once a present moment. Every ‘good old day’ was once a today. Give yourself permission to enjoy today for what it is; the things you have, the people you’re sharing it with, the work that you’re doing, the person that you’re becoming. Tomorrow will be cool too, but we’ll get there when we get there. No need to throw today out the window.
These are the good old days.
Okay Freaking Great to be a Work in Progress
Let’s get real for a second. Have you ever stopped and considered what it would be like to be “done” with life? I don’t mean giving up, or wanting to escape existence, or anything quite so despondent. What I’m talking about is far more… neutral.
I mean “done” in the sense that you can be done with a puzzle, or done with dinner (but still have room for ice cream, of course). Imagine you’ve climbed to the top of the mountain of life, claimed the rewards, and “finished” the journey of your life. No more goals to accomplish, boss battles to fight, rewards to pursue, memories to make. All the boxes are checked and there’s nothing left to do.
I assume you and I can agree on the existential horror that such a situation would be. If so, then we can logically conclude that the journey, the climb, is essential. Always. If not having a climb is as dreadful a prospect as it seems, then that can only mean that we need it.
“And Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds left to conquer”– A misquote from Plutarch that I’m using anyway because it’s still cool. Fight me.
As much as we want memories behind us that tell our story, we likewise need to have a journey still ahead of us. The reason is that the climb itself is every bit as important to us as, if not moreso than, where we end up.
I think it’s totally great that you have big ideas for where you want to go in your life, and what you want to do and see. Alls I’m sayings is, don’t wish away the climb, because there’s joy in being a work in progress.