The Problem With Progress

I think a part of the human design is that we are built to consistently strive to progress. To want something bigger, better, smarter. To be something bigger, and better, and smarter. The truth is, it’s all relative. To define what is “better” than your previous self is reliant on who you tell the world you are now.

If I were to ask, say, a social media influencer, what they defined as progress- they could be inclined to say “a million followers”. And if I were to ask them why they wanted million followers, I’d imagine they’d tell me that it would make them happy. But what then? Once they reach a million followers, then what? They set another goal and they strive for more success.

Making progress habitually makes you want more, resulting in either meeting your set goal and feeling pretty good about yourself, or not- and you label yourself as a failure. The other option is not wanting more; but that can feel like the equivalent of settling for mediocrity. Choosing to remain in a state where you are solely just existing is reserved for the retired or rich, or if you’re lucky enough, retired and rich. The way modern society is structured means we are never allowed to just be.

We are left in a cycle of gratification, quickly followed by waiting for the next best thing, to wanting more again and again. Humans are greedy. We want and want and want; to the point where we are constantly moving, yearning for some kind of new high- or new change. Before you know it we’ve spent our so-called “best years” trying to reach goal after goal, to get that job, to get those abs, to get that house, to reach a million followers. The fear of not having set goals, the ambiguity of not knowing what happens if all events in your life just fall kind of, well, stagnant- is so terrifying to people that they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.

Media, brands, the economy- consistently push us to feel that we are lacking; that we are overweight, underweight, the right weight but we could do with a flatter stomach. More muscular legs. Darker skin. Lighter skin. These are industries that profit in the billions directly off of our insecurities, our inadequacies. They inadvertently tell us that somehow if we buy their products, we’ll be happier- we’ll have made some headway to becoming the person we’ve always wanted to be- we’ll have made some progress.

Despite all of this, progress is not to be mistaken for an evil, or bad thing. If someone presented us the option to go return to a simpler time, maybe one with no electricity- would we agree to it?

The answer is probably not. Without the drive for progress, we collectively as a species would not have half of the commodities we continually take for granted. We as a species continue to try and make our own lives easier, or more fulfilling- whether that be for selfish reasons or in an attempt to genuinely try to make life better for all humans as a collective.

That said, here I am- creating a blog to use as a stepping stone to (hopefully) bigger and better things. This is my own little piece of personal progress.

How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests by the time they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011)

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