The Agonizing Frustration of Trying to Make Daily Progress

Learning a foreign language is really weird: you can move to Mexico and study Spanish for 10 hours a day, but day-to-day you never feel like you’re making any progress.

And so you start to doubt yourself:

“Maybe I’m not good at learning new languages”

“Maybe Spanish is too hard for me”

“Should I go home?”

But you have good friends who convince you to keep at it and so every day you keep practicing and studying and doing the work.

And some 6 months later you meet another local for the 1st time, and when you tell them you’re from los estados unidos they act surprised and follow up with “oh, but are your parents Mexican?” because you speak Spanish so well that they honestly thought you were one of them.

You’re surprised because of course “you suck at Spanish” and every day still feels like a struggle and yet when you finally picked up head up from studying and looked around someone points out that you’re fluent.

This happened to me.

I imagine something similar for small businesses.

Every day is difficult. You get as much done as you can, but you always feel like you’re struggling and there’s far too many fires to put out.

At the end of every day you look at your half-completed checklist and wonder whether you even accomplished anything. Was the company getting better? It sure doesn’t feel like it…

“Maybe I’m not good at starting a business”

“Maybe this is too hard for me”

“Should I go do something else?”

But you do this long enough, day in day out, and suddenly you look up and you have 20 employees and millions in revenue and oh my god people even want to interview you on a stage in front of an audience now.

On what day precisely did you “make progress”? Was it on July 29th? Maybe that Saturday you did a bunch of extra work from home?

The point I’m supposed to make in this part of the narrative is that “no one sees the day-to-day grind of the company that’s worked for 10 years” which, okay fine, is also true.

But that’s only half of what’s interesting.

The far more useful perspective IMO is from the people inside the company: what did it feel like on a day-to-day basis all those years of working?

Daily progress is so slow that you do not feel it. And since anything worth doing takes a long time this presents a problem.

Every day you have to work without feeling like you’re moving the ball forward.1

And this isn’t just about work – it applies to every big part of life: good health, relationships, children.

So it’s important to remember that day-to-day progress is an act of faith.

It means working on something today having hope that your product/team/company or whatever will turn into something real in the future.2

It’s the consistency in exercising that faith that matters… and then many years later you can look up and realize how far you’ve come, and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

  1. Some people will start the next VC rocketship and grow crazy from day 1 and every day will feel like progress. Alas, that person will not be me or you, dear reader.

  2. That’s why if you’re at a really successful company this isn’t as big a deal; you already have evidence that your work will contribute to some larger outcome, so the leap of faith required to pump out your daily work is much smaller.