Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Progress Not Perfection

I am not sure why I am writing this little essay today, except that I feel compelled to do so.  I see so many people beating themselves up over what they perceive as their lack of progress in life, on the job, in relationships, or toward a life goal.  

For many years I counseled employees upon how to better succeed in their role in the company.  Sometimes the coaching was about how to obtain that promotion they had been longing for and other times it was about how to better operate under a boss who was less than the ideal, or any of a myriad of other issues.

I kept a framed poster on my office wall, with a picture similar to the one shown above, that read:  Success is not a destination, it is a journey.  I still believe that.

When working with people who wanted some help in making progress toward a goal, some of the questions I would pose were:

Why do you want this? (If it was a desired promotion, and the answer was simply "more money" - that usually meant we had a lot of work to do.)

What skills do you have that make you feel well-suited to this next role? (If the response was, "I don't have any idea" - we had a lot of work , etc. .....).

What have you done (on your "own time and own dime") in the past year to prepare yourself for this opportunity? (If s/he looked at me and said, "huh?" - we had a lot .....)

What approaches have you already tried to improve the working relationship? (If the answer was "nothing" - that did not bode well.)

It was my genuine joy to see them succeed, sometimes beyond their initial hopes or dreams.  However, there were times when they just could not seem to "make it happen"; they could not find a way to achieve their ideal employment situation.

When they would come back to me, in such circumstances, wondering why they had failed, I often pointed out (when it was true) that they had not failed; rather they had overlooked their own progress.

In life, just as in a career, the goal should be progress not perfection.  

Progress is not defined by "how am I doing compared to so-and-so."  Using this definition we will almost inevitably be disappointed and frustrated.  And there will usually be more than a dollop of envy and self-pity thrown in, too.

I defined progress by "how am I doing compared to where I was this time last year?"

Questions we may legitimately ask ourselves are:
Am I more effective in my role this year?

Have I shown growth in the areas of compassion, patience or generosity?

Am I doing my best to be a good role model where I have the opportunity to do so?

Our progress along the time/life continuum will always be less than ideal. And sometimes our honest answer to each of the questions above may be a regretful "no, not really." 

After all, we live in a fallen world.  But our situation can almost always be improved upon, depending upon whether we are willing and able to invest the energy and discipline to make it so.

Whether it is our spending habits about which we are concerned, our weight management struggles, or our dreams for ways in which we would like to participate in the world, progress is the goal.  

God never expected us to become "perfect" in this life, except as seen through the sacrifice of his son and the beauty of grace.  Even the verse in Mathew that says "Be perfect as your Father is perfect" - in the original Greek actually uses the root word "mature" meaning a fully mature person spiritually, not an infallible human being.
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Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else ... Galatians 6:4 (NIV)
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Hope you are making good progress today and that you are not beating yourself up because you just aren't perfect.  Guess what, no one alive today is!  Until next time ... Marsha


  1. Marsha, this was awesome! I call myself a *recovering perfectionist* - though there's not a lot of recovering going on. And this was a great message for me to read. I especially loved this line:

    "...they had not failed; rather they had overlooked their own progress."

    Amen, yes! I think our enemy, the father of lies, is the one who whispers to our spirits that we are failures, falling short, imperfect and pathetic.

    God does not say that. To Him, I am a masterpiece!!


  2. Good Marsha,

    Very helpful blog - my blog was once called a Work in Progress, I know I still am, maybe, I should slot it in somewhere again.

  3. This is such a wonderful, wise post. We would be so much happier if we saw ourselves as the Lord sees us, and in the end His is the only opinion that counts.

  4. I can see you were awfully good at your job, and full of wisdom.
    Yes, we are a society of comparing ourselves to others, in the media and in our personal lifes. We really need to rethink that as you point out so well.
    I also see a pattern of "how much do you really want it" in what we consider success in our life. Sometimes we just don't want "it" bad enough. I'm speaking for myself here...especially regarding weight loss, LOL!

  5. Hallo Marsha. I really enjoyed this post, with such wise words for us. Like Pat, I can see why you were good at your job. We wouldn't be human if we were absolutely perfect. There is so much pressure on people these days, from one source or another. People should relax more, and put their trust in God.

  6. How can I get a job? I can't be a nursing assistant anymore. I can't stand for more than a few minutes and I can't lift anything heavier than a few pounds. I have a BA in English. My work record is terrible. I had to change jobs all the time because we moved frequently (Dr. X's mental illness). I've re-worked my resume and applied to be a teller at my credit union. They get to sit in chairs. What else can I do? I'm afraid that at almost 54 I don't look like a good job candidate, though I certainly meet the qualifications to be a teller. If you have any ideas, I would value your opinion.


    1. Janie,
      I wanted to send you a reply directly to your email, but my current location (out of town on a "loaner" VPN) did not allow me to do that.

      Thus, in respect of your privacy, all I can offer via this response is:
      - let them know that you really want the job (many candidates are reluctant to do this, afraid they will seem desperate, but if done right, it does work in your favor)

      - emphasize your willingness to work hard

      - assure them of your intent to be "present and accounted for" every single day.

      Those things are usually more important to a prospective employer than the data on the resume.

      Wishing you well on your job search. Saying a prayer on your behalf, too.

  7. Great insight.
    I always enjoy your posts.
    Lots of things for me to think about.