Our culture’s obsession with progress is often a very useful thing. It can be helpful to identify a way to grow, work toward that growth, and then enjoy the benefits of growth as they come to us. Problems can arise, however, when we jump from goal to goal without taking the time to enjoy what we have achieved. Problems can also arise when we do not take the reality of our situation into account when we are setting our goals. Often that happens because we pursue goals we see other people achieving. We do not take the time to recognize the ways those goals might not serve us, and we might not recognize the specific obstacles we face that the person we admire doesn’t face. The result can be a sense of failure, inferiority, and shame. Social media makes it easier than ever for us to see others achieving their goals and then assume we should be equally as interested and successful in pursuing those goals. It allows us to see the successes of friends, enemies, and strangers but not the obstacles those people face or the ways they fall short. We create a fictionalized version of another person and then compare ourselves to that character who only exists in our mind.
Another possible source of problems related to a focus on progress is a lack of recognition that it is not always linear. Sometimes we need to take a step backward one day so we can take a step forward on future days. Sometimes we need to stay still to preserve our health as best we can. Over the past couple months, we have been asked to do some extraordinary things. Many of us underestimated how tough those things would be. Maybe we did not recognize how much added cognitive taxation we experience when we must weigh the potential risks and benefits of leaving our homes each day. And when we must strategically plan how to stay away from other people when we do leave. And when we must consciously prevent ourselves from doing things that have been unconscious and automatic for years. And when our brains must adapt to much of our communication occurring through a screen with barely perceptible but significant delays between when we speak and when we are heard. All of this requires energy, and it can be exhausting.
If you have been able to use time at home over the past several weeks to achieve goals, you deserve congratulations. To develop and make effective use of internal and external resources in the service of maintaining your health and making progress during this challenging time is a genuinely impressive feat. If, however, you are doing everything you can to survive and care for yourself and others, if you have made the very reasonable decision to postpone or modify long-term goals in the service of your immediate needs and the needs of your loved ones and your community, if, whenever the finish line presents itself, you will be limping across instead of running, then you also deserve congratulations. Many of us will be limping across the line right alongside you.