You Should Focus On Progress, Not Perfection
Lessons learned from Denzel Washington
“Progress not perfection.”
It was a passing line in a movie I watched the other night. Denzel Washington says it to a co-worker who’s training to become a security guard. In case you were wondering, that movie is called “The Equalizer.”
Recently I’ve taken up teaching myself Tagalog. I’m not where I want to be, and many times I catch myself comparing my crappy handle on Filipino to the expert-level that other foreigners possess here.
The problem is I just started. If I learn one new word per day, that is progress, and while it may not be the level of progress that I want, it’s nothing to get worked up over.
It happens in other areas of my life, too.
Every month I sit back on my earnings/expenses and I wish I could’ve made more money. I feel bad for making $2,000 more than I spent. It should’ve been $3,000. I keep minimizing incredible progress because I’m never satisfied with myself.
Why can’t I just be happy with progress?
I Met An Influencer With 11,000,000 Followers And He Said He’s Never Going To Be Satisfied
Nas Daily, one of my favorite vloggers, told an audience of 2,000 people last month he was going to die dissatisfied. He said $1,000 used to be a lot to him, then as he saw success, it wasn’t anymore. After a while, $5,000 didn’t mean a lot to him, then $10,000 didn’t mean a lot to him. Here he is today probably making tens of thousands per video and he still says he’s not satisfied.
That’s horrible, but I can relate.
Nas’ problem may be that he’s been chasing a pot of gold since 2016. That pot of gold is perfection. Maybe he’s waiting for success to give him some perfect peace of mind.
That moment when he doesn’t have any cares in the world and can just kick his feet up and relax, satisfied. With the success that he’s achieved, I doubt perfection like this exists. If he hasn’t found it yet, then nobody will find it.
Perfection is an illusion. Because we just end up wanting more.
I think the real solution to all of this is to be okay with life being in a constant state of “in progress.”
We Got To Be Okay With “In Progress” As Much As “Completed”
My life is a collection of 5–6 big tasks that are always “in progress.”
- Learn Tagalog (In Progress)
- Get a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jistu (In Progress)
- Write and publish a book (Barely In Progress)
- Pay off my student loans (I have a little bit left)
- Purchase my first piece of real estate in the Philippines (Not even started, actually)
Then I have 10–15 medium-sized tasks that are all “in progress” too, like start a non-profit here in the Philippines.
I’m always thinking about the person I want to be. I want to be healthier, I want to be happier, I want to wake up every day with motivation to work.
And I won’t be happy until I become him — this better version of me. Wrong. I need to be happy right now. I need to be happy with “In progress.”
Because I’m never going to be the best version of me.
The Solution Is To Focus On Systems, Not Goals
Every week the items on our to-do list should be about progress, not completing goals. It gets back to the systems vs goals analogy that so popular nowadays.
The idea behind that is instead of having a concrete goal like “write a 1,000 word blog post,” we should write down a system like “write today for 1 hour.”
This helps because a lot of the stuff I want to do are things I simply have to wait on. I didn’t pay off my student loans in 4 days. It took me four years.
If I had a goal constantly hanging over my head to pay off all my student loans the last 4 years, that’s a to-do list item that would’ve haunted me every week since 2015. Not good. If I had a system in place to make progress on these loans by paying, say, $500 per month, then that would’ve made me happier.
Goals are perfection. There’s nothing beyond them except the next thing. Systems are progress. Writing every day. Paying off loans little by little.
It will help your mental health a ton if you become content with “in progress.”
Life is about progress, not perfection.
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