The Progress You Can’t See

Five journals next to each other, dated from June 2021 to September 2022.

It’s my birthday, and I have (unwisely?) been thinking about progress.

Despite appearances, I consider myself an ambitious person. Not in a monetary sense, I have no aspiration for wealth. I don’t even think people should be allowed to get rich. Power isn’t something I seek for myself, either. And fame is very much not for me, thank you.

But there is quite a lot I’d like to do with my life. There are books I want to write. Plays I’d love to see put to stage. I’d like to help others realise their own creative visions. I hope to teach in some capacity in the future, whether as a career or something on the side. And whilst I used to be certain I’d never marry or have kids, I’ve since warmed to the idea of both.

In this year’s birthday poem, I looked back at the past 12 months and found cause for pride. However, with my vision for the future clearer, it’s easy to recount the past year with a little sorrow, too.

Milestones I hoped to hit were missed. There were opportunities I squandered. And outwardly, my life looks a little too much like how it did last year… and the year before that… and the year before that.

The question is: how do you measure the progress you cannot see?

One benefit to daily journaling is that I can track how my thoughts change over time. I get to look back at the hopelessness I felt last October and contrast it with more hopeful entries penned recently. There’s physical evidence of my ideas evolving. I can see how I’ve re-interpreted different situations and found clarity. I can re-read how I fought harmful misconceptions I had about myself and others.

There’s been quite a lot of despair, too. The state of the world is grim. Fascism is on the rise. Forty-degree heatwaves hit Britain much earlier than climate scientists predicted. The war in Ukraine continues. The cost-of-living crisis is going to wreck the lives of millions and will potentially be fatal for many. I could list paragraphs of this year’s awful events and still barely scratch the surface. Regrettably, I fear I’ve come to love the world a little less.

But in contrast, this year I learnt to love myself a little more.

I can’t help but think back to my 12-year-old self. Friendless and joyless, he spent every lunchtime in the school library. It was his only reprieve from the relentless bullying that followed him from lesson to lesson. The idea that my life could look like how it does right now would bemuse him.

Although I’ve lost a little of the certainty my younger self had in his abilities, I am undeniably much happier about life and more content within myself. 

There are not sufficient words I could write to illustrate how fortunate I am to now have such good friends. And despite some of this year’s low points, I’ve had the privilege of celebrating many milestones reached by people I love dearly.

Vulnerability has always been a struggle for me. Whilst I am a very open person, I’ve often turned insecurities and trauma into jokes that I’ve allowed others to pummel me with. But this year, I’ve gotten better at letting people in without resorting to clownery. I’m learning to be kinder to myself, and I’m letting other people show me some kindness, too. And I’ve been very fortunate to receive more compliments this year than I know how to take.

Sometimes, progress isn’t some momentous event you can point to. This year, for me, progress is writing almost every day, even if it’s just a page in my journal. Progress is learning new skills, finding a job I enjoy and getting a clearer idea of what is meaningful to me. Progress is knowing I can look in the mirror a little longer than I used to.