The Truth About Progress (And How Sometimes It Takes Failing To Make It)

Erik Stine
Erik Stine

I have a German shepherd named Penny. She is two years old, high maintenance, incredibly loving, and slightly neurotic.

Her favorite thing in the world is to play in the creek. She runs over rocks and splashes through the stream, galloping into the deepest parts, swimming and doggy paddling to her heart’s delight.

Despite all this, she is terrified of swimming pools. She’s spent all summer running around the edge, desperately wanting to get in and swim, but not being brave enough to take the plunge.

One day, I decided enough was enough. My husband and I picked her up and plopped her in the shallow end of the pool. She panicked. She started clawing at the sides of the pool and clawing at me and thrashing and howling like her life was ending. It was all very dramatic.

A week later, we went back to the pool, and my husband carried her in. Again, panic. More clawing, howling, and thrashing. It was still quite dramatic, although slightly less so.

We went back again. This time we picked her up, and she swam away like an old pro, like she had been doing it all her life. We showed her where the steps were, and she got in and out of the pool like she had done it a hundred times. There was no clawing, no howling, no thrashing, no dramatics.

It wasn’t working, until it did. There was chaos, until there wasn’t.

In that moment, I learned that sometimes failure is just part of the process. We couldn’t have gotten to the old pro phase until we went through the howling and clawing and thrashing phase. It felt like failure- it certainly looked like failure. But it wasn’t. It was just Step One.

Life’s funny like that. Progress doesn’t always look like progress. Lessons don’t always feel valuable. Things get fuzzy and complicated and intense, and you never know when you are about to have your breakthrough. You just have to keep the faith and try over and over again. You have to keep moving forward.

That’s how change is supposed to work- slowly and tediously.  Brick by brick. Bird by bird. Little by little. And then, like magic, something clicks, and all the sudden, you’re doing it. You’ve made it. You’ve arrived.

A failed project sparks an innovative idea. A broken heart leads to the love of your life. A fight with your mother teaches you about forgiveness.

It’s all connected. Our failures are our foundation. They’re the seeds, the bricks, the roots. They are what sustain us. They are what nurture us. They are how we grow.

Life only makes sense in hindsight. The things we go through? We’ll never understand how they will impact us. We’ll never see the point. You can’t when you’re in it. But in some random way, they make us better. They prepare us. They make us ready.

Progress is not always in a straight line.

Sometimes, failure is part of the package.

Sometimes, hitting rock bottom is the only thing that can propel us to move forward.

Sometimes, we have to howl and thrash and claw at the threads of life until we’re suddenly brave enough to swim. TC mark

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