Why Making Progress Can Feel Bittersweet

Scott Leonardi

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No one likes falling into potholes of self-pity.

My writing, especially my early stuff, is full of that stuff.

Nevertheless, sometimes it can be hard to resist the desire to drop the act and yell — I don’t know what I’m doing! — in the middle of a busy intersection.

Yet, I understand the idea of faking it until you make it.

Or, in more positive words, focusing on creating your own happiness by reinforcing the idea that what you’re doing is meaningful to you while you work towards making small steps in a growth-focused direction, dismiss criticism, and ultimately convince yourself of the importance of your work as it pertains to your own personal well-being.

Not too complex a recipe, but one that must be mixed cautiously.

It’s a strange and bittersweet feeling to know that within the amount of time you’ve been focusing on your own self-betterment, you’ve definitely made progress and you’re in a noticeably different place mentally than you were when you started, but also, that as you look back over the time that’s passed and the things you’ve accomplished for yourself, you feel relatively the same as you did when you started.

Not the same as in you have the same concerns or the same anxieties. Not the same desires and same goals. A lot of these worries may have been taken care of and a lot of those goals reached.

When I say you feel the same, I just mean that the your scale of expectations of yourself has merely calibrated to a new point in time and adjusted to a new set of memories.

When we start to get ourselves in the habit of making continual progress, then within that mindset of continuity is the only place we find any respite. We start to lose the ability to slow down or even stop and still feel content with ourselves.

That bittersweet feeling I’m talking about is that feeling you get when you sit there and think back on all of the positive things you’ve done for yourself and you still feel lacking. It makes you instead turn your attention forward to think,

When will it really stop?

Will it ever be enough?

With every achievement comes more desire. With every desire, a new direction. Every direction, a new distance to traverse.

How long will it be if we continue this cycle until we circle our perspective globes and end up right back where we started?

Will we be older and wiser, yet born anew? Or will we finally realize that the thing we’ve been chasing the entire time has simply been ourselves? Perhaps those are the same thing.

Is the endless journey really necessary to find what we already possess?

Why is it easier for some people to stay put and see their value while others need to make that tireless trek?

Is it in some way better to make that personal journey because of the variety of experiences you accumulate rather than simply being content where you are? The result is the same, is it not? Is either person more well-rounded or insightful than the other?

Answering all of these questions would take longer than this entire rant.

Plus, given the number of self-improvement advocates in this community, I think it’s safe to say that majority rule would be on the side of the journeyman.

I wager that an overwhelming percentage of people here see and understand the importance of experience, growth, and change; especially over stillness and stagnation.

Then again, I can’t help but think about an old wise man living in the woods all his life that seems to have a better grasp on what life is all about than the rest of us who only seem to know how to operate in a state of restlessness and discontent, desperately clawing at “better” versions of ourselves.

Who’s to say? Maybe I’ve just watched too many movies and that old man doesn’t even exist. Maybe he does and he’s already traveled the world and gone through the motions and exact same trials that the rest of us have and he was finally ready to let it all go and relax on some distant hill by himself. I get that.

I suppose, when it’s all said and done, it’s never really been about “getting there”.

It’s about finding what works but keeping one foot in the door. We can’t lock ourselves inside what we think we know about ourselves and the world lest we suffocate in our own stale breath. We also can’t leave behind the mechanisms that keep us relatively stable unless we intend on leaving ourselves utterly unhinged and lost among the unknown.

That unsettling feeling we have when we think back on our progress and still feel like ourselves is entirely normal because we absolutely are still ourselves.

The fact is, we grow so slowly, change so incrementally, that by the time we become “different” people, we lose track of all those evolutionary minutes. We don’t see how far we’ve come because we’ve been watching ourselves the entire time.

We don’t realize that the only reason we’ve made it as far as we have is because we’ve actually gotten better at balancing our progress with our missteps. We’ve been so focused on looking down at that tightrope that we haven’t had the time to look back and see that the cliff from which we took our first step has long been out of sight.

The fact that everything I write about always eventually falls into the same bucket labeled Balance seems to be enough evidence to understand there may be a pattern emerging.

We have to take the bitter with the sweet. It’s the only real flavor of life. Too much of either taste will just leave us longing for its opposite.

As long as we can learn to love the bitter and hold it to the same esteem with which we hold the coveted sweet, there’s a good chance we can still make it out of this mess with our heads relatively on or around our shoulders.

You can even carry it around in a basket by your side if you’d like. Just don’t leave it at home.

And definitely don’t lose it.

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Image from Unsplash.com

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I write a lot about self-development and personal growth. I want to help people uncover their authentic selves through creative expression and in the process understand their place in the world a little better. I also enjoy writing screenplays, short stories, and poetry. All of which can be found at MossManSupreme.com

Imperial Beach, CA
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