“I crave progress and believe in showing, not telling. If I am not learning or doing something every day that is making someone’s life better, it hurts.”
Those words are from a letter I wrote to a potential employer some time ago. They were sincere at the time and remain sincere today. However, a recent conversation with a friend caused me to stop and consider why those words remain so deeply embedded in my core. What is it about work without progress that gnaws at people like us from the inside?
For me, the distinction between work and progress is a function of two characteristics. The first is a desire to see whatever work I do positively affect others and the second is a drive to build things that are tangible.
Life is precious and finite. Any full-time job occupies, at the very least, eight hours of your daily life. Work with progress allows you to convert. those limited lifetime hours into something tangible, and when you build something tangible, you can pass it on to others. Work without these qualities is just toil — lost and forgotten.
To analogize, I have always thought that humanity’s infatuation with music derives from music’s unique ability to capture time. Music gives something back to us for time-spent. It makes the passing of time visceral, tangible and not lost. In my mind, progress does the same thing. Progress effectuates a conversion of time-spent into mass, a movement forward, a physical object or even an emotion. That is a beautiful thing and something I think we should all be striving to achieve in the work we do, the products we build and the services we offer. That’s why I crave progress, and work that promotes progress.
One of my favorite books is “Creativity Inc.” by Ed Catmull. There are two things in the book that are especially relevant to how we should define progress. The first deals with failure:
“I’m not the first to say that failure, when approached properly, can be an opportunity for growth. But the way most people interpret this assertion is that mistakes are a necessary evil. Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality).”
Catmull, Ed; Wallace, Amy (2014–04–08). Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Kindle Locations 1712–1714). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Failure is not the absence of progress. Failure lends itself to progress so long as something is learned in the process.
Another view of progress comes from the idea that it is worthwhile to pursue something you believe in, advocate for something new or quite simply encourage a friend when he or she feels vulnerable. Catmull calls this “protecting the new” and, to me, the idea is synonymous with craving progress:
“When I advocate for protecting the new, then, I am using the word somewhat differently. I am saying that when someone hatches an original idea, it may be ungainly and poorly defined, but it is also the opposite of established and entrenched — and that is precisely what is most exciting about it. If, while in this vulnerable state, it is exposed to naysayers who fail to see its potential or lack the patience to let it evolve, it could be destroyed.”
Catmull, Ed; Wallace, Amy (2014–04–08). Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Kindle Locations 2070–2073). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
So protect the new. Fight toil and promote progress. Progress does not equate with traditional notions of “success.” Progress does not mean a higher salary or promotion. It also does not have to mean task completion. Instead it is the process of seeking out new ideas, fighting for them to uncover new findings and totally committing to that process. Progress means moving forward intellectually because you cannot mute your curiosity or quell your appetite to make some difference in the world. That is why the absence of progress “hurts” because losing progress means missing the opportunity to turn time into something tangible for either ourselves or others to enjoy.
So crave it.