The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher. – Thomas Huxley
As I mentioned in Stand Tall, Creative Giants, one of the characteristics of Creative Giants is that they always up the ante on their own success. No matter what they do, there’s always some level of success higher than what they’ve reached that disappoints them.
Jacob’s Ladder, if you recall, was the ladder that reached from ground to heaven. There are many different interpretations of the significance and meaning of Jacob’s Ladder, but I’m using it as a metaphor for our tendency to climb higher and higher, even though we’ll never actually get to the top. The top is not to be reached, not because of our deficiency in capability but because of our abundance of imagination.
Like any other virtue, this one can serve us quite well in moderation, for it means that we’re always going to be making our lives, our family, our community, and our world better each day, even if our reach will always exceed our grasp.
However, if taken to excess, it can be maddening and self-defeating. It can move us from the joyful exploration of possibilities to the drudgery of Sisyphus: every day is just another day to either push the stone up the hill or chase it when it rolls back down. Even when, from an objective point of view, we’ve risen higher than we were before.
I know it’s a waste of words to pretend as if you won’t compare what you could’ve accomplished with what you’ve actually accomplished. Like Icarus, we can’t help but fly as high as we can. It’s who we are.
But you are many rungs higher than you were before. Progress towards your own vision of your best self is progress, full stop.
The steps we take today create a different path for tomorrow. And since each step and each rung counts, let’s start there. Your best work is going to be broken into projects that are going to require months, quarters, and years to complete. But between when you start a project and when you finish it may be a lot of daily setbacks, cascades, thrashing, and existential mini crises that, combined, are enough to make you lost track of the picture and careen into a thrash crash.
To make progress, you have to finish projects, and while that comes with a great deal of satisfaction, it’s usually not the end goal.
At a certain point, the joy is in the process and progress, not the product. (You can read more about progress vs. completion in Chapter 9 of Start Finishing.) But if progress trumps completion, it also means that all the smaller chunks of work we finish every day are worth celebrating in their own right.
Of course, when I say celebrate, I’m not talking about throwing a party every day — though if that’s how you roll, I’m not judging. What I mean is to take a moment to acknowledge that you showed up and — in the midst of an over-distracted, over-pressured, and over-urgent world — you finished something that mattered.
Take a look over what you’ve done in the near past. What needs to be celebrated? How are you stronger, smarter, better, faster, wiser, more prosperous, or more resourceful?
Zoom away from the ladder you’re focused on climbing to see the amazing life you’re living. (Tweet this.)
It’ll make climbing that next rung easier and more joyful.
If you’re looking for strategies to reach another rung and build daily momentum, read Chapter 9 in Start Finishing. We cover routines to minimize decision fatigue, how to mitigate distractions and interruptions, how to handle stuck projects, and how to bring those projects to the finish line.
Nice reminder, Charlie, thank you. I came across this recently, which I think says the same with other words, I thought you’d like it:
“[E]xperience has taught me that you cannot value dreams according to the odds of their coming true. Their real value is in stirring within us the will to aspire. That will, wherever it finally leads, does at least move you forward. And after a time you may recognize that the proper measure of success is not how much you’ve closed the distance to some far-off goal but the quality of what you’ve done today.”
— Sonia Sotomayor
Charlie Gilkey says
I love it, Julica. That just about sums it up. 🙂