When life kicks you in the balls: The false expectation of constant progress

Computer games teach us that the more time we spend on something, the better we get, the more toys we have, the further we progress. Games are like this because this is what we want, this is what we expect from life.

When we were children we always progressed. We learned to crawl and to walk, to talk and later to read, write and do math. As we got older we were expected to get better at all these things.
As young adults we move away from home, we start making more money, get careers, have intimate relationships with people outside our family. (hopefully)
At this point we have been progressing all our lives. Always keeping what we have and moving beyond, adding new toys, extra skills and more developed relationships.  We expect this progression to last forever.

It doesn’t. 

Suddenly we lose a job and have to take a step down in our career. Suddenly a relationship ends and we have to go back to dating idiots. Suddenly a market crash wipes out our savings and takes away the nice new car. (And God forbid…the XBOX)
We all know these things can happen, and yet we don’t expect them to happen to us.
And when they do, we become upset. With life and with ourselves.

How can we be taking a step back? We are supposed to be progressing. Everyone else is.
The time it takes to recover feels like wasted time.
You started smoking again? You stopped exercising? You feel like you just wasted all that hard work.

It feels great to progress, to get a promotion, to get married, to run a one-minute mile; and this is why games offer constant progression. They are an idealized version of life. This is what we would expect if life was perfect. And we get really annoyed when it isn’t.

Life is rarely perfect. Or rather, life rarely meets our expectation for what we want it to be.

We need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes we regress. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place we have been before. Sometimes we lose the cool toys we had worked hard to acquire.
This can be painful. And that’s fine.

I could make big statements here about how we should learn to live in the moment, enjoy things while they last and embrace the concept of impermanence.
And while all that is true, knowing it won’t prevent the pain of the loss, the frustration of regression.

What we really need to do is to accept the pain. Accept the frustration. There’s no sense in kicking ourselves when we are down. Rational or not, we do have the expectation of constant progression. And when we are reminded that this isn’t a realistic expectation, it hurts. But that’s fine.

It’s supposed to hurt.


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