Birthdays. Retirements. Weddings. New houses. New babies. New jobs. These are easy and worthy things to celebrate. We can find a greeting card telling us exactly what to say for each of these occasions. No one would think twice about making a big deal about any of these socially acceptable celebratory events. But what happens if none of these events are part of our current experience? What happens to those of us who seemingly have nothing to celebrate? And why do we only reserve our celebrations for big events?
The new year is still pretty fresh. I am still fighting the good fight with my resolutions (I mean, "great ideas") and working hard to stay consistent and motivated. And I really started thinking about why we have to wait so long to claim victory. Or why we have to wait for something really big to happen in order for Hallmark to print an overpriced card about it. I cleaned out a single drawer in my daughter's closet. It was a hot mess. Clothing, old Legos, craft projects. Big drawer, big mess. And it took 2 hours. But it's done. Is the whole house worthy of Marie Kondo's tidy little blessing? No. But am I closer than before? Heck yeah. I want to eat healthy and conquer all of those food demons that stalk me after 8pm. Halfway through January I can point to only one occasion when I let those little bastards win. Perfect score? No. Progress? Heck yeah. I only yelled at my son 5 times to practice piano. Usually it's ten - progress. I have a stack of books I want to read this year but I keep falling asleep when I settle in to read. I finally finished a large hardback book. Progress. Two pounds lost, 35 to go. Progress! One paying client, 4 to go. Progress! Six drawers organized, 28 to go. Progress. Imagine a life filled with celebrating the journey instead of agonizing about the distance to the goal. It looks like a lovely place to be.
I can hear the critics now. Celebrating progress is settling for less than what you were reaching for. But I don't think celebrating progress is settling. Celebrating progress is a necessary part of the process that helps keep us motivated along the longer path to the bigger goal. It doesn't mean we stop reaching, just that we congratulate ourselves for how far we have come. It's the ultimate assessment tool. I have made it this far but I still have this far to go, but good for me for getting this far.
Even as we approach the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, designated to honor and celebrate a life that changed the world, we really are celebrating progress. Not a mission accomplished. Not even close. Not a goal achieved or a mountain scaled, but progress toward something even better. I think a great way to honor MLK's sacrifices, and those of countless others, would be to celebrate that progress, while planning for the steps we must take to continue along a path for better things in years to come.
Why not do that with everything? Celebrate progress, acknowledge the gap between the reality and the desired outcome, and plan that next small step forward. Maybe the real tragedy of life is not failing to reach our goals but failing to support our efforts along the way. You've heard it before: Change takes time. Progress, on the other hand, builds with each and every move. It is within our reach. And we need to celebrate that. The overpriced Hallmark card is optional.