When progress isn’t linear

A graph.

Heart breaking, truly but maybe it’s for the better.

We view progress as something sequential – you must start small and then build your way to success. Don’t worry about hiccups along the way because there are no hiccups. We view progress as something linear, but it isn’t. 

We have likened it to aging, something that perpetually goes up and never goes down but that is a juvenile perception to have of progress and dare I say, an unhealthy one too. But why do we do it anyway?

For one, I believe the messages we’re conveyed surrounding progress has been hyper-inspiring but lacking in transparency. We always see the before and afters but rarely the in-betweens, yet that is when progress is at its realest. 

Let’s turn to social media for a second where success stories are constantly watered down to three simple steps of I want something, I tried to get it, I succeeded. The girl with bad skin tries a product and she miraculously wakes up with clear skin the next day. The man with a dad bod goes to the gym and comes back with six packs and a gun show of an arm a week later. 

But the truth is – though not impossible – their successes do not always come easily, yet we never speak of the stumbles we face along the way. We are not incentivised to do so as we’ve been accustomed to viewing failures as something embarrassing or unworthy of mention. 

So, the myth that progress is linear is solidified.

As scary as it seems, I’ll be the first to admit that my journey through university hasn’t been linear – far from it, actually. I had my rude awakening early on when I got my grades back for my first-year law subjects and it wasn’t up to my expectations, triggering my four-year long stint with imposter syndrome. Sure, I’ve made it to final year but that was not without a few ebbs and downs and hiccups. I’ll spare you the details, but I will tell you that in retrospect, these dips in progress haven’t been too bad for my personal growth.

It’s like skin adapting to the heat of a steaming hot shower – not only does it become bearable, but you learn to embrace it. 

Upon reflection, I’ve realised that my motivation levels actually go up when I’m met with failure. Of course, I feel like latibulating when I’m first confronted with it but then I quickly pick myself up and am driven to improve whatever it was I failed at. 

I remember when I failed my first law school assignment – it was agonising and I dealt it with heaps of tears but thanks to my tutor who told me not to give up and instead use that failure as a means to motivate myself to do better in the subject, I ended up sealing a distinction for it. 

Progress isn’t linear and perhaps it shouldn’t be. Without the humbling effect of failure, we risk being too comfortable in our journey, thus restricting our drive to improve ourselves or whatever it is we’re doing. Humans are inherently inquisitive, so when we’re met with a failure, we tend to question why that happened and how we can do better. 

Without this chain of behaviours, we would be progressing but hardly improving. Where's the good in that?

Sure, I feel like unleashing a guttural scream ala those female rage audios on TikTok whenever I don’t do well at something – that’s only natural – but I have to remember that experiencing the down part in the ‘ups and downs’ is inherent and inevitable. What separates it from being something good or something bad depends on my perception of it.

Tagged in What messes with your head, failure, study stress, international student, Student life, studying, unilife