Zigzags, Progress, and Quiet Success

TL;DR: Sometimes, “aiming high” can unintentionally set you up to fail.  Setting the bar low and hitting it consistently can help you achieve more at a more realistic pace, and one you can sustain.

Background context:
Mass media and social media show the extremes because that gets the most attention. On one platform, bad news makes the news. On the other, you get highlight reels and pictures from the lives of friends, family, and the people you follow.  In both cases, you get the edited, minute versions of events, and miss the things that happen off-screen or behind-the-scenes. You only get the parts of the story they want you to see, not the whole picture.

The effect of regularly seeing highlight — or lowlight, as  in the case of the news — reels creates a false impressions of how things are, and how things ‘should’ be. In the case of doing business, for example, you’re pushed to be on your top game all the time, and to do so you have to follow a certain formula, follow a set of actions, or go for the ‘right’ kind of exposure to succeed. Anything else wouldn’t be worth the effort, and also beneath you. Go big or go home.

And if you don’t make it big, it’s all on you — because “if these people did it, you should be able to.” Highlight reels, right? That’s why it can be so unnecessarily pressure-filled to work towards your goals. Comparison is too easy. There’s tons of how-to’s and guides on sale to show you the way to greatness — you have no excuse to fail (Hah!)  Plus, if the nebulous ‘They’ did it, why can’t you? And when you can’t, the failures wears at you even  more.

Have you ever thought that instead of flying high, you could go low and slow, and still accomplish what you want to do?

Some things to keep in mind:

  • No plan survives contact with reality. There is never a perfect plan that can’t be turned into good guidelines instead.
  • We can’t plan to cover every eventuality. That way leads to paralysis.
  • Progress doesn’t always happen in a straight line. Experience, observation, and analysis can show you that.


Life is not like school.
What’s the opposite of linear progression? One step forward, three steps to the side? We start out as students, and when our grades are good enough, we get promoted, and so on. Once out of educational institutions though, it’s a free for all. Hopefully, your  formal education was enough to help you think for yourself, both critically and clearly, and foster self-awareness; You’ll need all the tools you can get to successfully navigate a world where you can make your own rules as to what success really means.

Personal analysis helps performance improve.
Look at your personal history: How did you do  things when you were just starting out?  What made you change the way you do some things, but not the others? What did you do so you wouldn’t make the same mistakes again?

If you’ve been paying attention, you’d notice commonalities and weak spots, and see how certain choices, more than others, helped you be more productive and opened your life up for more good choices.

Examine and explore your own history. Don’t sugar-coat things or use rose-colored glasses.  Ask yourself what your contribution was to the mistakes that you made, and the decisions that went awry. Being uninformed, or clueless can only  serve you when you’re a beginner. As you progressed, what revealed itself?

  • What are the mistakes that you keep repeating?
  • What are the problems that keep coming up?


Repeatability implies something happening over and over.  The same thing keeps popping up, that’s a pattern.  A regular or semi-regular occurence means it’s systemic — there is something in place contributing to this pattern, and you might be staring at it right in the eyes and not see it. To improve, you have to see it.

Any system is a structure that supports or holds in place the things in that structure. That support doesn’t even have to be good, it just has to be enough to hold the system in place while inertia and complacence kicks in.

You have a system underlying the way you work, the way you do things, and the way you go about your day.  Stay with me now:  what — in your system — is helping you commit these mistakes repeatedly? Here are just a few:

  • Assuming that if you follow certain steps, success is guaranteed.
  • Thinking that if ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ is) doesn’t work,  there must be something wrong with you, or that there’s a deficit on your end.


Go back to highlight reels and comparisons. Think about artificial, externally edited ‘reality’ presented by media. Think of the sinking feeling when you hit a wall and don’t measure up by the popular standards.

That’s why setting the bar low can help you make progress.  Steady like a turtle. Sure, it’s not sleek and sexy like the news and the TV shows make it out to be, but steady progress means solid gains over time.  Gains over time mean you can set low and hit low, readily. Easier, compared to all-out efforts which can exhaust you.  Remember non-linear progress. You don’t have to strain the system with a massive overhaul, which can be a shock to the system as well.

Getting better –at anything– requires consistent work. You don’t have to be a speedster, unless you are one.  Usain Bolt is a world-class sprinter, and even he trained years to be where he is and to be able to do what he can do with the body and the genetics he was born with.

Setting a low bar and hitting it regularly moves your life in a positive direction. Always. You want to improve your time-management skills,  or develop better products, or learn better ways to manage people, or get better at communicating clearly —  all of this takes work, and won’t develop overnight, or in the week after a seminar or a class. You put things in practice, you practice. And the more you practice,  paying attention to how you’re doing instead of how the world says you should be doing, the better you get. That’s something no soundbyte, newsclip, or picture can fully cover.

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