by Martin Yip
‘Progress’ is one of those words like ‘peace’. Like peace, virtually everyone agrees that progress is desirable to have. Yet, like peace, there is no clear definition of what progress is, to the extent that many thoughts and actions may be justified on the grounds of a certain convenient definition of ‘progress’. As a result, what is reasonable to one may be repugnant to another.
One most typical example of this is GDP. GDP measures the value of output in an economy, and GDP growth is a major measure of a country’s progress. However, it is notably deficient as a measure of progress, even in the narrow sense of economic growth. For example, it does not measure the distribution of wealth in a country, nor does it account for the environmental damage inflicted by economic activity. More fundamentally, one could question why economic growth is good, or why its importance might trump other desirable goals for society, such as lower inequality, a social safety net, or the development of political rights.
If economic growth is debatable, personal growth is less so. There doesn’t seem to be any downsides to personal growth. Given its intuitive appeal, it is no wonder the self-help industry has been estimated to be worth millions of pounds in Britain. Advice on personal growth is abundant in the form of books, YouTube videos, newsletters, podcasts, and so on.
One might say that too ardent a pursuit of personal growth can be self-defeating. In the quest to ‘improve’ ourselves, we may lose ourselves in what has been branded ‘productivity porn’: procrastination in the form of consuming content about productivity. There is never a perfect time when we are ‘ready’ to do something or perfectly prepared to do something; it is always about taking a leap of faith and diving right in. And so, if we focus on sharpening the saw too much, we might forget that the saw was intended to saw wood, and a razor-sharp saw that does no sawing is hardly better than a blunter saw that is actually put into use.
Nonetheless, there is much to gain from sharpening the saw and unleashing your potential. Valentine’s Day has just passed; are you doing well romantically? How about your academic work? Fifth week blues is coming. And your physical and mental health? Reflecting on these questions is always useful. Identifying and confronting the suboptimal aspects of life is the first step to changing them – to making progress. Next, turn thought into action. What could you do to tackle these problems? Maybe you look at your phone too much; perhaps turn off push notifications? Maybe you don’t read enough; The Poor Print is highly accessible and it welcomes you with enthusiasm.
52 is not only the number of this issue, but also the number of weeks in a year. What sort of progress have you made in the past year? And what sort of progress would you like to make in the year ahead?