It’s Not Binary

Mike McGough
February 2021

He pictured himself as a middle-aged man, but he knew he was old.  He also believed that age was more a state of mind than a state of physical being.  He was active and busy.  He was fully engaged in his life.  Being on time was not a strength for him.  It wasn’t an intentional show of disrespect or disregard, nor was it a lack of concern for others. Instead, it was a result of being interested in almost everything and being easy distracted by almost anything that caught his eye or his grabbed his attention.  

On this particular day, he showed up at the restaurant early. He wasn’t sure how that happened, but it did.  He was waiting on some colleagues, so he took a table and ordered a cup of coffee. It was quiet at his table, and that was unusual for him in this setting.  When he and the guys gathered, there was no silence.  Eggs, bacon, and conversation were shared and consumed in plenty.  He once said about their breakfasts, “The chickens who provided the eggs were involved, the pigs who provided the bacon were totally committed, and he and his friends were somewhere in between, as happy and willing participants.”

On this day, two couples were seated at the table next to his.  The past year had been filled with more than its share of challenges, and as the year was drawing to a close, they lamented many of those challenges and shared how they had been affected.  The topic of resolutions came up, and each person took a turn to share that their resolutions for the year about to end had not been totally fulfilled.  A rather large weight loss goal that was not met, a plan to pay off all credit card debt that fell short, an objective to read one book each month, and a daily fitness routine that had not yet passed the twice-a-week mark were all mentioned and lamented as failures.  One of the ladies summed up the tone at their table best when she said, “I’m not even going to bother this year. I never totally fulfill my resolutions anyway; there’s no use wasting my time.”

Even though he wasn’t purposefully eavesdropping, he couldn’t help but hear them. He thought back about his resolutions for the past year.  His plan to redd up (He was from western Pennsylvania.) his shop, garages, and attic wasn’t finished.  His goal to lose 20 pounds was only half realized.  And his venture into social media had only made it to the blog level. For a brief time, he identified with the lady’s comment about resolutions being a waste of time, since they are seldom if ever totally realized.  

Then it dawned on him.  He had lost ten pounds.  He had gotten his shop redd up nicely, was about half done with the garage, and had at least started the attic. And finally, he was blogging, which he had never done before, and he was learning about podcasts.  “Okay,” he told himself, “that’s some real progress.”  

When his buddies showed up, they were, even though they covered their shock nicely, surprised to see him already there.  After an exchange of greetings and a quick round of catch-up, they began talking about the year that was ending and the year about to begin.  In time they began exchanging their plans, goals, and resolutions.  He openly shared that he hadn’t completed a single one of his resolutions from the year about to end.  At the same time, he noted some progress on each of them.  He shared that for the coming year, he was going to continue working on the resolutions he had set for the previous year.   He was going to build on his progress.  He wasn’t going to be disgruntled by his lack of total success, but he was instead going to be inspired by his progress.

Success is seldom measured meaningfully on a binary scale.  That includes resolutions and plans for a better life.  Attainment is not necessarily about crossing a particular finish line, achieving a certain benchmark, or finding total success.  Instead, it’s all about progress, development, advancement, and improvement, and none of those objectives can be truly gauged on a binary scale.  Success is not an either-or consideration.  

As you think about your resolutions for the coming year, don’t try to quantify them by the simple measures of complete failures or total successes.  Instead, qualify them based on your progress.  Also, don’t tie your resolutions to a rigid January 1st to December 31st time frame.  Rather, focus on progress over time.

In short, give yourself the time you need to work through your resolutions, and use your progress as your measure of success.