The Illusion of Breakthroughs

Published in
14 min readJun 12, 2023


Fulfillment Step-by-Step

📖 Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction: 🔮 ⫸ BREAKTHROUGH OR ILLUSION? ⫷ 🔮
  2. 🔮 ⫸ TEMPTING? YES. ⫷ 🔮
  4. 🔮 ⫸ ALL OR NOTHING ⫷ 🔮
  5. 🔮 ⫸ REFLEXIVE FEAR ⫷ 🔮
  10. 🔮 ⫸ SMALL VICTORIES ⫷ 🔮
  11. 🔮 ⫸ STEP BY STEP ⫷ 🔮
  12. 🔮 ⫸ EASY DOES IT ⫷ 🔮
  13. 🔮 ⫸ GLORY, HALLELUJAH? ⫷ 🔮
  14. 🔮 ⫸ AUTHENTICITY ⫷ 🔮
  15. Conclusion: 🔮 ⫸ FINDING MY STRIDE ⫷ 🔮

( …with clickable footnotes)

  1. ⚛ Introduction: 🔮 ⫸ BREAKTHROUGH OR ILLUSION? ⫷ 🔮

Breakthroughs stand largely on illusions.

Quite a few, actually.

Illusions feel pleasurable.

At least in the now.

Delusions might be considered ‘illusions held despite clear evidence to the contrary.’

Breakthrough thinking seems to me to engender a combination of the two.

🔱 The illusion one magical moment might catapult me either to heights I’ve heretofore only imagined, or into territory I’ve long yearned to embrace.

🔱 The illusion I might instantly transcend ensconced limitations.

🔱 The illusion sheer hope might replace devoted, dedicated effort.

🔱 The illusion I can consistently support glimpses of mastery and/or genius.

🔱 The illusion a breakthrough stands imminent or lies just around the corner.

⛔ ➛ The delusion my ‘issues’ might instantaneously evaporate.

⛔ ➛ The delusion scintillating, transcendent accomplishment guarantees I’ll be singled out for praise; that I’ll be cheered for stellar performance and beloved for wondrous integration.

⛔ ➛ The delusion accolades and approval contribute significant meaning, lasting satisfaction, and a foundation for fulfillment.

⛔ ➛ The delusion I am not subject to forces/dynamics/principles of human progress and development.

⛔ ➛ The delusion that Love for me rests on my performance and accomplishment.

The Illusion of Breakthroughs serves as the foundational piece in my series devoted to ‘demythologizing’ Breakthroughs and supporting intention and effort which leads to legitimate, reliable, consistent forward movement.

2. ⚛ 🔮 ⫸ TEMPTING? YES. ⫷ 🔮

I expect ‘breakthroughs.’


Because the idea of ‘breakthroughs’ permeates our collective thinking.

The Messiah will come.

The End of Days will bring cataclysmic ecstasy.

Once I find my soulmate, I’ll have it made.

I have come to realize people don’t change through breakthroughs.

At least not in lasting, permanent ways.

Yes, it’s great to hope.

Breakthroughs can prove useful. They bring a taste of something new. Of something hoped for. A glimpse into possibilities I can work into being able to sustain.

Yet, trusting in miracles may not serve me.

Green highway sign announcing, “Breakthrough Just Ahead!”
What happens when my anticipated ‘breakthrough’ doesn’t materialize? While alluring, banking on breakthroughs may stop me in my tracks. Photo 42151999 / Breakthrough © Feverpitched |

I desire slow and steady progress.


Because, I grow gradually.

Consistent movement welcomes development at a pace I can integrate and build on.

Most probably, you also grow gradually.

Moreover, incremental steps encourage further incremental steps.

None of which…

🐢 Prove daunting or potentially demoralizing.

🐢 Invite dangers of dissuading me from moving forward, or at all.

🐢 Stop me in my tracks by seeming impossible or out of reach.

Multiple incremental steps create progress and momentum.

Progress and momentum build satisfaction and trust, pride and self confidence.


Relying on breakthroughs may create a blueprint for dashed expectations.

How so?

I expect instant, phenomenal accomplishment.

All well and good.

Except, when I don’t achieve my breakthrough, I may feel disappointed. Or when I do achieve my breakthrough, and can’t repeat or sustain it — blindsided, or even, demoralized.

Being demoralized might point me toward more breakthroughs. Pointing toward more breakthroughs may lead to more disappointment.

The definition of a self-reinforcing cycle.

4. 🔮 ⫸ ALL OR NOTHING ⫷ 🔮

All or nothing thinking represents one of the most basic of all cognitive errors.

Anticipating ideal or disastrous results — seeing myself as either good or bad, a success or a failure — keeps me living on a precarious edge.

Far more discerning to understand that my worth, possibilities for achieving my dreams, sense of fulfillment all depend on approach, adaptation, mindset, emotional discernment, practices and habits. The way I respond to actions and outcomes matters so much more than how each specific situation unfolds.

I like to see myself as an incremental tidal wave — powerful in my determination and resolve, fluid in my creative response to developing events, flexible in my adaptation to an ever-evolving environment; my forward progress assured and unstoppable. [Upcoming articles will offer more on conceiving myself an incremental tidal wave.]

Believing I advance through breakthroughs may lead to putting things off, perhaps even interminably.

If I’m to meet the downside of my projected extreme, why take the risk? If I’m to achieve glorious success/mastery at some indiscriminate point in the future, why apply myself now, or indeed, ever? Why offer my best?

At the same time, I likely enjoy anticipating lightning/enlightenment will strike.

Yet, rapturous fantasies ignore realities of applied diligence and practical application, not to mention the kind meaningful satisfaction these qualities generate. Building castles in the air also obviates learning through process and experience.

I warrant recognition and reward for phased, step-by-step accomplishment — even if developmental factors —like a critical family environment or sibling rivalry — originally encouraged me to align with the obligation instantly to shine and never to look bad.


Believing myself valid only if and when I quickly accomplish what’s asked of me — or what now I ask of myself — creates insecurity and danger.

So much so, I may fear taking action.

I might secretly believe it best to keep my dreams alive; hence, motivating myself to eliminate the risk of crushing them through experiences which could introduce and reinforce failure; thereby carrying the specter of latent hopelessness.

Silhouette of a young man seen from behind with arms spread, giving thumbs up as he floats in the sky amidst the clouds and the sun.
Keeping my head in the clouds and orienting toward Breakthrough Heaven sure beats struggling with hum-drum routine and conceivably insurmountable obstacles. Even so, finding satisfaction in tiny bits of progress encourages forward movement while keeping me balanced on an even keel. Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

Illusions and delusions lay other deceptive traps, as well. Should I apply myself without immediately achieving expected/required mastery, I might not only profoundly disappoint myself, but also people whose approval and care I depend on.

And I could end up reinforcing or corroborating my trepidation that when push comes to shove, I’ll find I don’t have ‘what it takes.’


Nevertheless, exploring and experimenting deliver experience. Experience serves as a most effective teacher and excellent guide.

Besides, in my view, the Universe graciously offers continuing opportunity. By repetitively introducing similar kinds of challenges, the cosmos promotes integration, even as it encourages progress. When I no longer need grapple with current issues, developing circumstances invite higher levels, which invoke more advanced perspective and cultivate participating with more skill and awareness.

Further exploration and experimentation support expanded integration. And the process repeats.

While breakthroughs may feel thrilling, I need neither expect, nor depend on them.

I don’t only have one chance.

Believing I do discourages engagement and involvement, encourages tension and anxiety — while opening the door to regret.


Projecting imminent breakthroughs dissuades me from small steps.

Aligning myself with breakthroughs resembles putting all my eggs in one most precarious basket.

Or, betting it all on one spin of the wheel — without realizing I’ve selected a strategy which significantly increases the chance I could lose everything.

Or, perhaps, not dissimilar to feeling I have no prospects for setting up a scintillating date. And as a result, fantasizing about one evening of rapture. Which exacerbates self-imposed pressure, not to mention heightens disappointment.

Sure, dreaming stands as vital.

Yet, dreaming in such a way as to prevent incremental progress can prove counterproductive — even debilitating.

Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa brushstroke by brushstroke, accomplishing the major portion over four years. Yet, Leonardo continued to add elements over the next decade, up to the time of his death. Indeed, he was known for gazing at his canvases for hours, then concluding his day after making only a single infinitesimal alteration. (1)

As assistants scampered up and down his self-designed scaffold mixing plaster and applying his ‘cartoon’ outline, Michelangelo meticulously concentrated on crafting his fresco/painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel — a process he devoted himself to for almost half a decade.(2)

Not only did he devise the manner in which the project could be accomplished, he painstakingly planned the design, teaching himself perspective and shadowing so that his masterpiece would look realistic from over sixty feet below.(3)

The main portion of Michelangelo’s fresco/painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel featuring God giving Adam “The Spark of Life!”
Diligent planning, exceptional preparation (including having taken it upon himself to dissect corpses in service of mastering human anatomy beyond then conventional understanding), and painstaking implementation of his vision empowered Michelangelo to achieve the ‘miracle’ of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash.

Michelangelo’s own words best describe his tedious, excruciating, progressive process.

I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).

My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me all the time, dribbles paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!

My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.
My skin hangs loose below me, my spine’s
all knotted from folding over itself. I’m bent taut as a Syrian bow.

Because I’m stuck like this, my thoughts
are crazy, perfidious tripe: anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe.

My painting is dead.

Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor.
I am not in the right place — I am not a painter.

— Michelangelo Buonarroti (4)

“When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel” / 1509 letter to Giovanni da Pistoia

Though the legendary artist depicted the mystical instant of the Spark of Life — and his masterpiece stands to this day as a wonder to marvel at — Il Soffitto della Cappella Sistina stands as a testimony to years of study, assiduous planning, and grinding determination; anything but a ‘breakthrough!’


The Tortoise and the Hare.

We’ve all heard the classic story of plodding versus agile.

I conceive myself as a hero. I invest in incredible, immediate achievement. I dream of worldwide recognition as in a blaze of glory to thunderous applause, I sail across the finish line.

Still, loathe as I may be to admit it, I’m a tortoise.

A black tortoise with irregular beige patterning crawls over gravel.
The non-glamourous tortoise provides a reliable model for efficient, steady advancing. Photo by Melissa Keizer on Unsplash.

A deliberate tortoise with my feet on the ground.

The more experience I have under my belt, the more pride I take in being a tortoise!

I’m learning to respect myself for my burgeoning allegiance to seemingly mundane actions; to celebrate ordinary steps which prove so eminently doable they give the illusion of being worthless and inconsequential.


Yes, I can!

A while back, I engaged in a workshop exercise. Using plastic stakes and rings, the support team set up a game of indoor horseshoes.

First, we tossed from thirty feet.

I envisioned myself the special star. I’d be Mr. Magnificent; the one who made that super-impressive, ultra-difficult shot.

To my embarrassment and chagrin, I missed.

We then tried from five.

I thought,

“This is so simple, it’s beneath my abilities.”

I made it.



Sure, repeatable success may feel, well, piddling.

🐌 “Where’s the drama?”

🐌 “What a waste of time!”

🐌 “Anyone can do it.”

🐌 “I am better than this.”

These thoughts, and others like them, flit through my mind to invalidate reproducible progress.

But, guess what?

Six successful shots at five feet stand every bit as valid as one at thirty.

“A journey of a thousand Chinese miles starts beneath one’s feet.” — in Chinese characters.
A voyage of a thousand Chinese li starts beneath one’s feet. Chapter 64 of the Dao De Jing. Ascribed to Laozi, (Lao Tzu).

My accomplishment tastes just as sweet.

And, the adoring fans in my imagination don’t mind at all. I have come to understand the long game. Applying myself through manageable, bite-sized chunks empowers worthwhile progress. I keep steadily moving forward.

My inner fans and I cheer for each little step.

We emphasize a greater perspective.

I take to heart a powerful philosophical framework:


Melissa Billington

And, I don’t become demoralized from impossible attempts.

Even if somehow, I miraculously made one thirty-foot shot, there’s no guarantee I’d make the next.

Or, the next after that.

Yet, the dream I might make it — or, the expectation I should make it — could keep me shooting for the moon, thus preventing me from taking all important pedestrian strides.

Besides — as mentioned above — going for it all cultivates pressure, encourages ‘make it or break it’ thinking, and increases fear of failure, not to mention its impact.

And designing scenarios in which I might conclude, “I can’t do it” or, “I’m not good enough,” may promote demoralization.

Which could cause me to give up.

11. 🔮 ⫸ STEP BY STEP ⫷ 🔮

That is, until I remember…

A thousand mile journey begins with a single step.

— Lao Tzu

Indeed, according to Sean Kernan, son of a Navy Seal, candidates vying to complete the ordeal of ‘Hell Week’ succeed by concentrating on the current exercise, not on the imminent torturous remaining days. ‘Wannabe’s’ who contemplate the duress of the entire struggle usually end up giving up.(5)

The amazing thing is that while I may feel I can’t fathom an unmanageable and unpredictable expedition, I know at some point today I can probably put one foot in front of the other — and naturally, marvelously — propel myself three feet forward.

I’m not likely to “blow” the opportunity — nor destroy the hope — inherent in that single stride.

Nor, become paralyzed contemplating it.

Which means, tomorrow I just might be able to take another step forward. While cultivating faith that the day after tomorrow, and the day after the day after tomorrow — as well as throughout the abundance of days which follow — I may well take many more!

12. 🔮 ⫸ EASY DOES IT ⫷ 🔮

My foundation rests on consistent application. Counterintuitively however, applying myself consistently requires taking breaks, allowing for demoralization, moving in seemingly unproductive directions — in short, recognizing my humanity.

Being inwardly gentle, understanding, accepting.

So that I may evaluate, integrate, and above all — course correct.

My feelings matter. I’m not a machine.

Sometimes my progress will zoom. Sometimes my progress will plod. Sometimes pushing myself lies at the heart of moving forward. Sometimes, taking it easy serves me best.

Smiley Face affectionately hugging his own heart.
By responding to myself with Love and serving as my own Champion, I create a nurturing inner environment which promotes understanding, creativity, and adjustment and encourages motivation. PNG File Name: FB Care Icon Vector Emoji PNG/


🙌🏼 ➛ Listening to myself.

🙌🏼 ➛ Attuning to my experience.

🙌🏼 ➛ Responding with compassion, fluidity and flexibility.

🙌🏼 ➛ Giving myself space.

🙌🏼 ➛ Approaching myself and my activities with patience and perspective.

13. 🔮 ⫸ GLORY, HALLELUJAH? ⫷ 🔮

The itch for breakthroughs often correlates with yearning for recognition or relief. Or, succumbing to the pressures of ‘making it.’ Perhaps, even, attaining The Holy Grail.

Yet, Glory for Glory’s sake proves ultimately unsatisfying. Though seeded at early ages — who doesn’t at some point dream of becoming famous? — working for exterior approval or exalted status renders pyrrhic victories. If I haven’t trod the path of self-discovery, prioritized self-realization, don’t know who I am — perhaps, possibly don’t like who I’ve become — my prestige and wealth won’t render deep or lasting satisfaction.

Of course, in a wide-eyed way, dreams of glory can motivate working hard.

Yet, often unanticipated in the quest for glory: once I’ve astoundingly triumphed, I may want more.

Or perhaps, the unending quest may consume me.

I may need more.

Or in order to compensate for bigger disappointments, I may need to create more extreme and elaborate fantasies.

Enthusiastic fans exult as confetti rains down upon them.
Sure. From time to time, I may dream of euphoric throngs and ticker-tape parades in my honor. Yet, I’m wise either to chalk up these notions to innocent fantasy, or use them to nourish the kind of quotidian efforts which empower meaningful and lasting achievement. Photo by Keith Luke on Unsplash

14. 🔮 ⫸ AUTHENTICITY ⫷ 🔮

Yes, it can be lovely to receive recognition, praise, status. To reap the rewards of high achievement. Yet, if I don’t know how to recognize myself, value my process, and honor my worth, I might unwittingly set up incessant cycles of need.

Empty motivation bypasses inner satisfaction. Through working at goals consistent with my personal vision, focusing on contributing with determined excellence as only I can, and cultivating my calling, I gain riches.

Accolades mean only as much as the authentic pleasure I derive from my activities, as well as from inherent integrity in my manner of being.

Self fulfillment through genuine service proves rewarding.

Service might mean excelling at a game or sport or occupation or profession because I Love that game or sport or occupation or profession. Or, supporting others through making unique contributions based on what I notice and feel drawn to impact. Or, fulfilling responsibilities with honor.

Meaningful dividends generate from the satisfaction of engagement, rather than the ‘hallelujah’ of breakthroughs.

15. ⚛ Conclusion: 🔮 ⫸ FINDING MY STRIDE ⫷ 🔮

Breakthrough thinking’ can promote wild swings which ultimately discourage determination, and may even encourage inconsistency and demoralization.

Staying within myself means managing my emotions so I might both channel my resources into accomplishable tasks and reward myself not only for little victories, but also for choosing a wise and effective path.

Key to keeping my dreams alive: reminding myself every day to downplay my yearnings for that one-in-a-millionbreakthrough, which even if it came, I don’t yet have the skills and experience to support.

Neither looking for, nor expecting, unassailable recognition or instant glory, I am just fine being an ordinary tortoise.

Happy to be me.

Happy to win in the end.

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Songwriter, Poet, Comedian, One-man show performer, Imagin-Artist, Spiritual Guide, Leader in Love: Jonathan has sung, performed, & coached all over the world.