Are you making progress toward your goals?
This was the question posed during a mid-year review workshop I attended last week.
I didn’t answer it. As I tend to do, I took issue with the question. Sometimes the lawyer in me comes out to play.
In the courtroom of life, I object to questions about “progress” on many grounds, the most crucial of which is that it calls for speculation and relies on facts that are not in evidence.
We’ve been led to believe that “progress” is a linear phenomenon.
Start at point A, do these prescribed things, and end up at point B. That’s the model for how we advance through school.
At some point maybe we realized that the trajectory of progress isn’t quite that straightforward. Seth Godin popularized the concept of “the dip” in the creative process: start at point A, follow an upward trajectory for a while, then you dip before climbing back up. It looks more like a U shape than a straight line.
But even the dip is still plotted on an XY axis. It’s still a linear progression.
Both of these models are illusions.
Progress in nature is a spiral. It cycles around and around. Sometimes it even appears that we go backward.
Sometimes situations appear to look worse before they look better.
It’s like when you organize your closets. If you’re doing it right, you’ve got to take everything out of the closet to sort through it before you organize and put it back. That stage of the process where the clothes are everywhere is a hot mess; it doesn’t look like progress. It looks like a tornado blew through.
It’s the destruction part of the cycle. You may know that as your in the middle of it because you know in this case what the cycle is.
If a stranger walked in, all they would see is a mess. They wouldn’t know.
When it comes to our work and our life trajectories, we may think we know what’s going on based on our plans and our vision. So we may see a mess and think, this isn’t progress.
Here’s where the illusion comes in: We don’t know the plan. It’s ultimately not our plan that’s in charge. And as much as we think we know the process, we don’t.
In effect, we are like the stranger walking in on our closet organization process.
We don’t actually know the process or where we are in it.
So we can’t really assess progress.
progress is spiral
you are blind to where you are
in any moment