How Do You Recognize Progress?

Photo by  Elena Koycheva  on  Unsplash

An unavoidable part of accomplishing any goal is patience, a quality that seems in short supply as I struggle to maintain faith and action. The reality, however, is that I am more often than not, tapping into a surplus reserve without even realizing it.

Using my current situation as an example: it has been nearly nine months since I left my old job, and during this time of writing and “finding myself,” I have felt impatient about my progress every single day. It is only when I look back on what I’ve actually done, that I realize I have been acting patiently. My thoughts and feelings are a different story, which is why I stand by the idea that everything going on inside my mind is stupid and of little to no use.

This all very much like the analogy of the dog as a demonstration of progress: when you get a puppy you are fully aware of its size, but as the puppy grows, its size becomes less apparent as you feed and care for it on a daily basis. One day you suddenly realize that your little puppy has become a large dog and you didn’t even notice. You may have felt impatient to have a calmer, bigger, grown dog while dealing with your hyper and tiny puppy, but you acted patiently by hanging in there and busying yourself with the task of keeping it alive.

I think of that analogy often as I chide myself for not being “better” or “farther along” or “more successful” or other such nonsense. I remind myself that I am that puppy, and I probably won’t realize when I’ve become the big dog — not until someone else points it out or I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror or I’m suddenly too big for something that used to hold me easily [like my old job].

Earlier this week I got accepted into a small business program funded by the city; 40 hours of training over 10 classes. While I was daydreaming the next day, it occurred to me that when I quit my job, my “plan” was only to write — end of story. I figured I’d work at it quietly, posting articles on my new site until I felt comfortable pitching to magazines and freelance assignments. Since then, I’ve done the practicing, the posting, the developing, but also realized a much bigger mission along with many other projects, none of which I could have anticipated all those months ago. I sought entry into the city program to develop my site into a platform for media production — not just writing, but podcasting, publishing and who knows what else.

I’ve been working on these ideas offline, but it has only been in the last couple of months that any significant traction has been made. I’m not only embarking on the business training, but also taking classes in audio editing so I can better manage the production of the two podcasts for which I’ve already recorded episodes. I took steps to generate the content, but then became so overwhelmed with ignorance for the editing process that I stalled out; three weeks from now that will have changed.

The slowest progress of all has been with the publishing projects I began pursuing this summer. I’ve been transcribing decades-old poetry so that I can typeset and print a series of volumes highlighting the work of Jeff SSB, the “man who writes poetry” I profiled earlier this year. Similarly, I’ve curated a large batch of artwork from a young and talented illustrator; I’ll be laying out her work into a single volume if we ever manage to get the scanning completed. The time, access and cost of digitizing hundreds of images have proven trickier than expected.

Despite having my fingers in so many pots, I still feel stuck. I still feel like not much has changed, like I’ve wasted my time since resigning. Maybe it’s just that so little has been completed, but once things are completed, won’t I just move on to feeling inadequate about what comes next? Does anything ever feel complete? What counts as success? Or finished?

It’s more than likely the point is not to finish, to just continue wondering and pushing and growing. Someday while being interviewed, someone will point out what I big old dog I am, and then I will know — I will finally realize I am no longer a puppy. Until then I guess I’ll keep running around, oblivious.

Want more? Sign up for our weekly email