The Myth of Breakthroughs
Fulfillment through incremental steps
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, hoping for a miracle may not be my best approach.
I desire slow and steady progress.
Because, that’s how I grow — and most probably how you grow, as well.
Consistent movement welcomes development at a pace I can embrace and build on.
Relying on breakthroughs creates a recipe for dashed expectations.
I expect phenomenal, instant accomplishment.
All well and good.
Except, when I don’t achieve my breakthrough, I may feel disappointed. Or when I do, and can’t repeat or sustain it — 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.
In my view, the Universe encourages me to integrate current issues; inviting progress by repetitively introducing similar circumstances. When I no longer need to grapple with these issues, I meet new circumstances. New circumstances invite new levels of development.
I don’t only have one chance.
Believing I do only invites anxiety, pressure, and regret.
Projecting imminent breakthroughs dissuades me from small steps.
It’s akin to putting all my eggs in one most precarious basket.
Or, like betting it all on one spin of the wheel — without realizing I’ve embraced a strategy that encourages failure.
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.
Sure, dreaming stands as vital.
Yet, dreaming in such a way as to prevent incremental forward steps can prove counterproductive.
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 immediate and incredible achievement. I dream of worldwide recognition as in a blaze of glory, I sail across the finish line to thunderous applause.
Still, loathe as I may be to admit it, I am a tortoise.
And, the more experience I have under my belt, the more pride I take in being a tortoise!
I am learning to respect myself for my burgeoning allegiance to seemingly mundane actions; to celebrate ordinary steps which are so eminently doable they seem inconsequential.
Yes, I can!
A while back, I engaged in a group 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 would make that long and super difficult shot.
We then tried from five.
“This is so simple, it’s beneath my abilities.”
I made it.
Piddling, repeatable success
“Where’s the drama?”
“What a waste of time!”
“Anyone can do it.”
“I am better than this.”
These thoughts flit through my mind to invalidate reproducible progress.
But, guess what?
Six successful shots at five feet is every bit as valid as one at thirty.
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. Working through manageable, bite-sized chunks empowers worthwhile progress. I keep steadily moving forward.
My inner fans and I cheer for each little step.
And, I don’t become demoralized from impossible attempts.
Even if I somehow miraculously made one thirty-foot shot, there is 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, going for it all cultivates pressure, encourages ‘make it or break it’ thinking, and increases fear of failure, not to mention its impact.
And might possibly lead me to conclude, “I can’t do it”. Or, “I’m not good enough!”
Which could lead me to stop.
That is, until I remember…
“A thousand mile journey begins with a single step.”
The amazing thing is that while I may feel I can’t accomplish such a long and unpredictable expedition, I know at some point today I can probably put one foot in front of the other — and travel three feet forward.
And, I’m not likely to “blow” the opportunity — or destroy the hope — presented in that single stride.
Or, become paralyzed contemplating it.
As a part of keeping my dreams alive, I remind myself every day to downplay my yearnings for that one in a million breakthrough, which even if it came, I don’t yet have the skills and experience to support.
I am just fine being an ordinary tortoise, no longer looking for, nor expecting, instant glory.
Happy to be me.
Happy to win in the end.
Thank you for your time and attention. I value and will respond to your feedback (you may leave comments by clicking the little cartoon bubble to the left below, or by emailing me directly, here.) I learn from what you offer.
You may find more of my writing, as well as follow me (valuable to me), and also subscribe to be notified as I post new articles, here.
If you care to support me by joining Medium through my member link (most valuable to me), you may do so, here.