The Myth of Time (Why Time Is Not Actually on Your Side).

Time is just one unit of measurement for our learning.

We often measure progress by time — 14 days until launch, six years since I took the leap, 27 iterations later, employee #771. But true development, of both systems and individuals, is not actually contingent on time at all. Progress is contingent on learning.

So why do we rely on the measurement of time, and what exactly is time’s role?

Most of us get trapped into thinking that time is linear, one thing after another, on a great line back into history and forward into the future. But while we experience time in flow, does it actually work this way?

There are many physicists and philosophers who argue a variety of competing positions. Some believe time doesn’t exist, others that time is the sole fundamental dimension of nature. Or as my favorite living philosopher, Dr. Bernardo Kastrup argues, “The ostensible experience of temporal flow is thus an illusion. All we ever actually experience is the present snapshot, which entails a timescape of memories and imaginings. Everything else is a story.”

It is pretty heady stuff.

While I’m not a physicist or a philosopher, I don’t believe it’s all bad to think about time as linear. In fact, the intention is to wrangle this great mystery in a way that feels controllable and positive. There’s also value in thinking about something we believe we know really well, like time, in a very different way. It opens up doors we may not have even considered peeking through previously.

The door we need to open, the one to the next place, is learning.

If you wanted to be a black belt in karate, you may ask someone, “How long does it take?” The natural response may be, “Ten years, on average.” Becoming a black belt in karate is actually not about time, however. It is about what you learn and master. The difference between a white belt and a black belt is knowledge, not years or number of hours spent in the studio.

The same can be said for the journey from learning Chopsticks on the piano, to playing concertos with a symphony. Or doing addition and subtraction on our fingers to formulate the exact angle to pull a shuttle into the Space Station.

We treat time as the most important measure of mastery, success, and forward movement when it is far less important than what we know at any given time.

Time is just one unit of measurement for our learning.

A white belt who becomes proficient in black-belt skills in two days has earned the honor just as much as someone who took a decade or more. If it takes you seven years to scale your company, one of your personal units of measurement is seven years. Another is what you’ve learned in that time that led you to being ready to scale.

Being quick or efficient or productive or ambitious is great (and even necessary for many business owners), but if you never learn a damn thing as you go through the process, your growth is stagnant. And maybe, so are you.

It is tempting to measure by time alone. We are supported in that with countless books and Buzzfeed articles on time management tricks, what celebrity CEOs accomplish before 5 a.m., and the top 40 under 40 who’ve seemingly accomplished it all. If you feel yourself or your company not growing, not experiencing milestones other than boxes on a calendar, or making the same mistakes year after year, then the culprit might just be how you’re relating to time. You probably have a lot more to learn.

If a typical start-up is making slow progress in reaching milestones, there is probably a deficiency in learning along the way. If the co-founders of this company work together, research their market, study their product, get trained on hiring, examine best-practices for sales and marketing, they have a real opportunity to solidly step forward into scaling. If they invest in individual team members’ growth as well as the development of the company system, then they are progressing. But if those same co-founders push ahead into scaling too fast, the lack of learning will probably really hurt them when things get tough or break down completely. They will not have the mastery they need to meet higher and higher milestones.

Learning can be reading and watching, taking diligent notes, spouting off stats and facts. It is also visceral — that feeling you get in your bones when you really, really know something. It comes from having experiences, recalling those experiences, garnering lessons from those experiences, acting on new experiences with all that in mind, facing consequences, and continuing to make intentional, informed choices.

The black belt responds intuitively because she practices the forms, observes the masters, tries and tries something new, and tries again. Her fierceness in the face of real danger comes from all of these moments of learning.

If you are driving hard toward your goals, trying to get yourself, your team, and your company there faster and faster, it is time to press pause. Ask yourself: How are you thinking about time? How are you thinking about learning? What is your personal unit of measurement? What do you really know?

Time has nothing to do with it. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

Real progress comes from making space to learn more and then put what you learn into action.