Why a Work in Progress Is the Best Thing You Can Be

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 on graduating to 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 my mid-career, and so on.

I didn’t notice a trend until a good friend pointed it out to me: I was wishing my life away, bit by bit. Not intentionally, but I was still doing it. I was fostering a scarcity mindset by always telling myself that the grass would be greener at the next stage.

Without realizing it, I was telling myself the story that now was not ‘the good times.’ Instead, now was a time that I just needed to get through so that the real good times could arrive.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

A blend of two feelings led me into this pattern of thinking.

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, I want to get there as soon as possible. Today is just something to get through.

Something became clear when I finally realized this pattern and these two feelings that had led me there. The enthusiastic voice that says that tomorrow will be better has always been right. But its counterpart, impatience, has never been right. Each stage of life got better, but I still felt a pang of regret for emotionally racing myself through the step before it.

Each chapter of life brings something new and the possibility of greater happiness and fulfillment. But life is a work in progress. So there’s never a good reason to waste it by not enjoying every step of the journey.

There’s More to the Mountain Than the Summit

Reaching milestones, achieving goals, and graduating to new and exciting things is excellent. 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.

Think of it like going on a hike. The views from the top can be stunning. But being at the top is just one small part of a day of activity. Most of the time is leading up to (and onward from) reaching that goal.

People who love to hike don’t do it just for that 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 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 most of our time 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 small 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. 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 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. So allow yourself to enjoy today for what it is; the things you have, the people you’re sharing it with, the work you’re doing, and the person 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.

A Work in Progress Is the Best Thing to Be

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, wanting to escape existence, or anything so bleak. 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” your life journey. No more goals to accomplish, boss battles to fight, rewards to pursue, memories to make. You’ve checked all the boxes, and there’s nothing left to do. 

I assume you and I can agree on the existential horror of such a situation. If so, we can 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 we need it.

As much as we want memories behind us that tell our story, we also need to have a journey ahead of us. The climb itself is every bit as important to us as, if not more so than, where we end up.

I think it’s great that you have big ideas for where you want to go in your life and what you want to do and see. So all I’m saying is, don’t wish away the climb because there’s joy in being a work in progress.

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Hey, I’m Sam. I created Smarter and Harder to explore big ideas, both old and new, about building a better life. My mission is to evolve the conversation about personal growth and have fun doing it.

5 thoughts on “Why a Work in Progress Is the Best Thing You Can Be”

  1. Okay, this was the best blog post I’ve written in months. It’s so beautifully written, I can’t describe how much I love it.

    All the things you said are so motivational, deep, and true. Being a work in progress is GREAT. The paragraph about the mountain? Are you serious? This is amazing. The way you’ve tried to convey the message using the example with the climbing – just WOW!

    I’m sharing this blog post on Twitter because it’s actually worth reading. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Just beautiful.

  2. “there’s more to the mountain than the summit” I can’t express how much I love that quote, and it is so so true. Really great post, I enjoyed it a lot!


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