Progress is a funny thing. Progress is also a difficult thing to define. There is “progress” in all three scenarios below. But at what cost?
- If you are training for a marathon as a wife and mom of three kids—and spending time away from your kids in a way that makes you feel remorse.
- What if you are working on your marriage so hard that you never hit your planned cycling workouts? You feel your training and race goals slipping through your fingers like sand. And as a result, you are miserable.
- What if you are hitting all your workouts, and getting faster, but you are just too tired to care about the other things in life? You have no “real” relationships, no time for anything else, and no fun outside of triathlon? You feel alone.
Progress always costs something, which leads me to believe that progress is merely a game of life monopoly, life motion and priorities.
And guess what? No one knows what your true priorities are (or should be), and therefore only one person matters when it comes to defining your progress: Y-O-U.
See, the issue with the three scenarios above, is that each summary fails to tell the whole story. That’s the “flaw” in the commentary. The list consists of three judgmental approaches to explain three fake people whom I completely invented. Finally, the three scenarios include massive assumptions and judgements about said fake people.
Because here’s the thing: progress is subjective. Sure, there are objective progress markers that are generally acceptable, but true progress is defined by the individual, how the individual feels, how the individual is mentally thriving (or flailing), and at what cost said progress comes.
I’d like to introduce the ground-breaking terms of perception and truth.
Perception: Jennifer is a second-year triathlete. She is a mom of three and trains for triathlon, obviously neglecting her family and mothering responsibilities, and at the cost of her family.
Jennifer’s Truth: I am the mom of three kids and I work 40 hours a week. I do marathons so I have the energy and space to work on something for myself, so I can be a better wife, mother and employee. I only train about 8 hours a week, which is time that most of my friends likely spend sleeping in or drinking wine and watching “This is Us.” A little known fact, however, is that I also watch “This is Us,” just like them—I just do it at 4:30 a.m. while on the treadmill.
Perception: Bob is working on his marriage so damn hard that he never hits his planned cycling workouts, he feels his training and race goals slipping like sand … and as a result, he is miserable.
Bob’s Truth: I am working so hard on my relationship with my wife, but I know it’s ending anyway. I am miserable and missing my training, because I am heartbroken, and want to make the transition as easy as possible. It’s worth it to me to give up a little bit of this year and transition to make sure that I take care of this person who has been such a big part of my life. I am trying to be kind. I am trying to make sure everyone is okay. My bike will be there when I feel that I have taken care of the important people in my life.
Perception: Sarah is hitting all of her workouts and getting faster, but she is just too tired to care about the other things in life. She has no relationships, no time for things she should enjoy, and no fun outside of triathlon. But she’s heading toward her triathlon goals.
Sarah’s Truth: I am nailing my workouts and I feel like Superwoman. Triathlon is my favorite thing ever, and it makes me unreasonably happy. I have dedicated these two years to chase my dreams, be exhausted and go after what I want. I am just out of an unhealthy relationship and really enjoying getting to know me during this process.
Progress is really about the individual’s truth. For some, progress can be measured by certain definitions of salary, career, relationship status, race times, job title, kids or whatever. But progress is not objective. There is always another side to the story, another push or pull, another reason.
Someone else’s definition of progress has absolutely nothing to do with yours.
Just because we see something, doesn’t mean we know anything about it. In fact, we probably know even less about that something than before.
For example, a week after IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta in September 2016, I ran a 27:03 5K.
In case you are wondering, that’s fast (for me). I am historically like a slow-moving land yacht in running races, so this little 5K, a week after a long-distance triathlon, was quite a huge victory. (In other words, that was my big great progress of 2016: my 27-minute 5K).
But someone looking at me might not think I did anything special. Some might laugh at that speed (but then again, some might find in inspirational). By my yardstick, I was extremely proud and felt like I conquered the world. In fact, 2016 was a great year in general.
If I had one thing to reveal about this last year, it’s this: Every single ounce of progress I made had absolutely nothing to do with speed.
In fact, all of my progress happened when I slowed down.
When 2016 started out positively with a few great running races, I quickly took a turn for the worse with a stress fracture and a subsequent halt on my “big” race plans.
I did eek out a 10,000 meter (6.2 mile) swim before I decided that cramming for an IRONMAN (especially Lake Placid) just wasn’t in my heart, and neither was IRONMAN Chattanooga. I headed for Augusta 70.3 instead at my lowest racing weight ever, endured the heat and a fall on the run, ending up with a 6:40 IRONMAN 70.3, not my best, but certainly not my worst.
But I rounded the corner into 2017 one year sober (progress). I fit into a size of jeans I never have before (non-scale progress). I did what I wanted to with my hair, without caring what people think (pink and purple progress). I made huge strides with my children’s education (family progress.) I got a lizard (no idea what sort of progress that is. Oh yes! Progress over fear!).
Things change. Races changes. Priorities change. People change. And, thank goodness, people change.
And thank goodness that we get to decide the progress we make.
Here’s the key to happiness (Okay, just kidding I don’t have the key to happiness). But I do have the key to progress. And here it is. Are you ready?
Measure your progress in your life by your yardstick.
Don’t worry about what that someone else is doing, saying, hating, believing, thinking, pontificating. Don’t worry about what they think about you. Don’t care what they say about you. Don’t worry when they point out your flaws—they are just too busy pointing at you in an attempt to keep the focus off themselves.
Just define your own vision for your life, your race, your herb garden, your whatever— and do that thing. Do your life by your yardstick. And if someone doesn’t like it, just thwack them with your yardstick. Just kidding.
But feel free to carry your stick however you want. After all, your way is just fine. Your measurements are accurate. Your life is defined by your metric system.
That, my friends, is all the progress in the world. And certainly all the progress that we need.