Do You Feel Like It’s 2 Steps Back for Every Step Forward?

Is there such a thing as negative progress?

Image for post
Making progress is sometimes like running up stairs. Photo by Ev on Unsplash

I’ve been looking at my stats on Medium and there’s only one conclusion.

I suck as a writer.

I’m not making any excuses. I wrote a story. After editing it, I think it’s not too bad. The idea for the article is good, and it should get some attention from readers. I’m pretty sure I’ll make a few dollars. It might even go viral.

Instead, I checked my stats in a couple of days and see readers viewed my story 10 times, read it 2 reads, and it made me 3 cents. I tell myself that the story is fresh, so it’s too early to expect results.

Reality check. I check my stats in a few days. The story is a dud. I don’t bother getting out a calculator to see what I’m making per hour for my writing the article. What I’m earning from writing is pennies, not dollars.

I enjoy reading stories by people who make thousands of dollars a month. Some make good money after writing for a few months or a year. I don’t know their backstory. It could be they are already successful writers. They could have been blogging for a decade. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t care about their history, but I am happy for them. Their story gives me hope.

At this point in my writing career, success or failure is irrelevant. I’ve been at this writing gig for 4 months. That’s a couple of weeks short of a college semester.

I’ve met no freshman halfway through their first year of college who complained they weren’t making $10,000 a month. They complain, but it isn’t about making money. They fuss about their tuition, the cost of books, and having to work nights and on weekends.

No matter what you want in life, getting it is expensive either in time or money and probably in both. I’m working on writing, but it’s the same for any skill. Whether you’re in college, trade school, or starting a business, you’re going to suck at first. And people don’t pay people who aren’t good at what they do. That’s why first-year medical school students don’t do brain surgery and drive Lambos.

Not at first, anyway.

Learning to write, own a business, or be a physician is a process of progress through failure. It would be nice if someone could do it for us, but that isn’t possible. That’s why I don’t care how other people are doing. Their success belongs to them. It results from a lot of hard work by them, and most of it done behind the scenes. But their success, no matter how much I study them, won’t make me successful.

The things that will bring me success are a lot of failures, hard work, dogged determination, and a healthy dose of luck.

Everyone starts with negative progress.

Here’s an example. After leaving college, I got a job as a dental lab technician trainee. My first job was making dental castings. It’s a simple entry-level task. An impression of a person’s teeth would come to the lab. I would mix some plaster and pour it into the impression to make a casting for the journeymen dental techs. They would then use the casting to make a prosthetic.

Easy peasy. Except I wasn’t just bad at pouring castings. I was horrible. The plaster would set up too fast, and the castings would have bubbles. My casting came back not sometimes, but every time, and I had to redo them. I hated it. Week after week, I fought with pouring a good casting. I watched the journeymen pour castings. They made it looked easy. But it seemed impossible for me to do it.

One day, I figured it out. It felt like the heavens opened and the sun shined down on me. My confidence soared. I had mastered the simplest, easiest task in the lab, and it felt awesome.

The saying I’ve heard all my life is, “take three steps forward, and two steps back”. But that’s not where we start. We start by taking 2 steps back for every step forward.

So there is, in fact, such a thing as negative progress.

— — —

Did you ever have a job you didn’t think you would ever master?

Published in The Ascent, The Writing Cooperative, Illumination-curated, Writers’ Blokke.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store