Progress Sometimes Means Taking a Step Back To Get Better Traction.

I once heard a quote that changed my life. Perhaps I heard it from the blog post of an enlightened yogi, overheard it from a high-powered CEO at the coffee shop, or speaking with the homeless, down-on-his-luck veteran living behind the local grocery store. Regardless, it’s a short and straightforward notion that hit home with me on many levels and changed the way I view my personal growth.

Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash
“If you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backwards — unless the regression is to serve progress.”
Photo by Ben Dumond on Unsplash

I won’t give you a buzzword-filled lecture on the “Points of Professional Success and Synergy Through The Acquisition of Low-hanging Fruit,” but I will describe some tips about personal evolution — overcoming, as Steven Pressfield puts it in his acclaimed book “The War of Art,” your share of resistance.

We all feel our lives could use a little improvement. Mr. Rogers and Levar Burton spent years teaching us that the sky is the limit — we just have to be open to growing and recognizing opportunity when it shows it’s face, even when it means taking a step back to move forward. I know, because it’s what I had to do to survive in real world. That’s right; there’s a life story coming, so strap yourselves in:

I am currently the lead designer at a successful company; but in 2005 I was a broke college grad in debt from school, working a part-time at a body shop, living in a warehouse and showering at the YMCA. It wasn’t the greatest time in my life, but it was the most defining. This was when I came across the quote above.

I was going nowhere fast. I needed a change and was looking for opportunities everywhere, but there were none in Jackson, MS at the time — not for an entry-level graphic designer with no experience in web development, that is. I felt lost, but I knew my options were to either fade away into society or shake things up and create an opportunity. So naturally, like a reasonable and sane person (please note the heavy sarcasm), I enlisted in the Army during a time of war. Everyone said I was crazy, but no one more than myself, but I concluded that if I can’t improve my art/design career, I can at least try to improve my character and resolve. I needed to be a more confident person to evolve (not to mention pay off my college debt). Guess what? It actually worked, which brings me to the first point.

1. When you feel stuck, seek out new experiences. Insight is a powerful tool, and experience of any kind can lead you in a better direction.

My time in the military changed me, as it does so many — and fast-forwarded my maturity level by quite a few years (arguably). I may not have gained any direct design experience, but I had evolved as a person by my own choice — and if I could do that with my own character, where else could I apply this concept?

When I ended my military career, I decided to give the creative world another shot, and it welcomed me back with…well, not as many open arms as rusty metal tentacles saturated with smallpox, but the new insight had given me a stronger resolve. It was harder than you might think to get back into the “design-world.” Again, I was faced with the same two options I had left behind — settle for a job I wasn’t happy with or evolve into the person I wanted to be.

2. Admit your shortcomings then start fixing them.

The process is different for everyone. It can be a few weeks of training or a decade of trial and error while raising children and balancing a full-time job. For me, it took two extra years of school and countless hours of tutorials to get my resume to a point I was confident with. In your case, it may be hitting the gym a little harder, overcoming a social fear, or reading a bit more. Obviously, all of our goals are different, but self-evolution applies to us all. Remember, we are only here now because our ancestors were the best and the strongest. Generations of overcoming and adapting have groomed us to the beings we are today. If an angry wooly-mammoth couldn’t take down your great(x1000) grandfather, that extra online course isn’t going to kill you either.

3. Carpe Diem, because some cliche phrases are timeless.

I know, I know; that phrase has been grossly overused over the years, but it has stayed alive for a reason. Opportunities are everywhere; you just have to find and act upon them; even if that means taking a “step back”. In my case, I was a 30-year-old college grad/combat vet when I took a low-wage internship in my desired field. I had gone from advising commanding officers to picking colors for the company business cards. But sometimes, if you want to make an omelet, you have to break your bank account and promises to your bookie. In any case, my foot was in the door.

4. Attack!

So, enough about me. What are you trying to accomplish in life? Are you looking for that opportunity to evolve? Trying to find a single person or company to give you a shot? No matter what it is, make a conscious decision right now to attack it full force! Get mad that you aren’t there yet then do something about it! Get to the gym! Practice that guitar another hour! Call the wife and book that flight to Napa Valley to begin your new life as a sommelier! Start your life-long dream of becoming a professional Liam Neeson impersonator! Just choose, right now, to do it.

5. Never stop growing.

These concepts don’t apply only to your professional life, nor do they have to be limited to any single situation. In fact, you may be happy with your career, but I will bet a million schmeckles that you aren’t 100% satisfied with every aspect of your life. My advice, if you are feeling lost and looking for the next step, is to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, adapt, and evolve.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 295,232+ people.

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