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Realistically Positive: Growth Isn’t Always Linear

As I drove on a stretch of open road the other day listening to Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” I thought about where I am going in my career and in my life.  How am I growing, both professionally and professionally?  Through the vision created in that song (for me a vision of driving somewhere along the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset with a breeze), I was reminded that we have a big windshield to see where we are now and the future down the road and a small rear view mirror for looking at the past.  

With 2015 over halfway behind you, now might be just the right time to look out of your front windshield and see where you’re going while staying mindful of the rearview mirror and what you’ve learned along the way.   What you will likely discover is that the plan you put in place — the realistically positive goals, resolutions and promises to yourself — don’t look exactly as you envisioned.  For every peak, there’s been a valley. For every leap forward, there’s been a stumble backward—sometimes just an inch, and other times, what seems like miles.   The plan you envisioned, your growth, hasn’t been linear.  In fact, it has the zig zag of “two steps forward, one step back.”    

“Two steps forward, one step back” is usually a negative term to describe someone who is having trouble making progress.  I like to think of it as forward motion and a primary ingredient in the sauce of life. Forward motion propelling our bodies and minds to grow steadily toward the future we desire. It means progress, not perfection.  It means that instead of grumbling or feeling guilty about a misstep, you can still come out ahead by putting your head down and push forward.  Oswald Chambers, an early 20th century teacher/evangelist understood this motion when he said, “If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead.”  Two steps forward, one step back.

John Quincy Adams further captured the forward motion of growth when he said,   “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” Everything about stepping forward with patience and perseverance, in both the figurative and literal sense, offers positive implications.  No matter how many obstacles you run into, what matters is that you’re able to overcome each of them, one at a time.  Two steps forward, one step back.

But is this attitude realistic?  Of course it is!  It’s often in our struggles that we stretch and come to better understand ourselves. They’re part of the forward motion of the growth process—not a departure from it. We grow when we do our best to learn from and move beyond our challenges instead of obsessing over them and making ourselves feel stuck.  We grow when we put our challenges in the rear view mirror.

When we combine a positive future outlook with the obstacles of reality and the challenges these obstacles present, we become able to be more selective in the pursuit of our goals and confident in our growth.The peaks and valleys and leaps and stumbles become less daunting.  “Two steps forward, one step back” becomes a way to measure the non-linear nature of our growth.  A forward motion we all experience and one I would challenge you to embrace.

What will you do today to make this happen?

For more inspirational articles from Dan Sheedy, check out Performance Thinking with Dan Sheedy here.