Progress is better than an outcome

What is an outcome? Saving a million dollars. Selling your company. Completing your DIY. Getting married and having a baby. Getting your braces off. Buying a house. Completing a work project. An outcome is a thing that is finished, it’s the destination, the place at the end of a road.

What is progress? Save $20 dollars. File for a LLC. Browse DIY projects. Signing up for a dating app. Googling orthodontists. Calling a realtor. Opening your code editor. It’s the steps you take along the way, it’s the journey, not the destination.

There’s a hidden difference: outcomes often change. Saving a million dollars turns into having an emergency fund for your ruptured achilles tendon. In my work, projects are constantly changing, canceled, and modified. You start your day with one goal only to have it change several times before it ends. When I judge my day by how I think it’ll go then I usually end up frustrated.

Recently, a big work project was cancelled after months of labor. It was emotionally draining. I found myself discouraged. So, I started making a list each day. I already have a list of everything I do, this is a new list. It’s a list of all the steps I take, the progress I make on various activities. It’s not a list about outcomes, goals, or achievements even. At any point, I can look at the “progress list” and say, “hey, I’m doing stuff!” Right now, it’s just a list I use at work but it could be expanded to other areas.

One area I use this idea is in my romantic relationship. In times past, I’ve looked to my ideals to determine my level of happiness but man I’ve got to say that’s disheartening. Ideals are not reachable and like goals they change. The more you learn, the more you want. I don’t personally ascribe to the idea of detachment. For me, that’s a great way to feel, well, nothing. I want to be here for life, the ups and the downs. I want to ride this ride with all the passion I can muster. You could say I’m all heart.

The point is, if you look to progress in your relationship, you’ll find so many things to celebrate. You probably aren’t giving yourself enough credit. You probably aren’t full of joy because you’re not appreciating the steps everyone is taking. Life just seems so much better when you stop to smell the roses as they say. I find progress to be practically more fulfilling than living by outcomes.

There’s a great Japanese buzz-word for this, “Kaizen”, which means improvement. I’m finding that living from improvement to be motivating. I’m actually enjoying the one life I have. If unmet expectations are a big part of what make us miserable, why not refuse them? If you ate like a skinny person today, celebrate. If you exercised by a fit person, enjoy it! If you’re doing stuff, hey, you did stuff! It seems silly but it isn’t, it’s a game changer. Small steps. Small changes. Small celebrations. It’s how to live.


Part time mad computer scientist, full time lover of the extraordinary.

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