The Student Side: Progress, Not Perfection

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I’d like to begin with a story that my pastor shared with me and my youth group some time ago.  

In Northeastern Greece, there is a place called Mount Athos. For over a thousand years it has and continues to be an Eastern Orthodox monastic community, housing almost two-thousand monks from all over Eastern Europe.  

When my pastor went to visit the mountain years ago as part of a pilgrimage, he learned of a monk who had lived there for sixty years. The monk was an infant during the height of World War II, and the family was frequently in danger of being found by the enemy. To keep him quiet, the family would give him ouzo, a very strong spirit, that kept him from crying but also made him a lifelong alcoholic.  

By the time he joined the monastery, the monk could not function unless he was constantly intoxicated. He was drinking six glasses of ouzo a day, which is about as strong as Everclear. Of course, this wasn’t compatible with the lifestyle of the monks but rather than leave, he swore he would stop.  

Each year, the monk reduced the number of glasses he would drink a day by one-half. And twelve years later, he had given up drinking entirely. An alcoholic from birth, he did something no one thought possible and didn’t care how long it took, only that he never stopped trying.  

Any real and meaningful change in our lives requires time. Change is only apparent through time, but for it to be permanent, it requires both diligence and self-forgiveness on our part. This, of course, conflicts with the way of the world today. 

We live in a world of instant gratification. We want visible, tangible and permanent results as quickly as possible. The wonders of technology have made this the case for many things: overnight shipping, instant access, priority delivery and the list goes on. Who can blame us for thinking that the same affordable convenience should apply to self-betterment? Many people make a living trying to convince others that this is the case with crash diets and miracle pills.

Unfortunately, this is not the way of the world.  

All too often, whenever we try to affect real and positive change in our lives, even if we keep up with whatever regiment we’ve adopted, we become discouraged once we grow impatient with not seeing results. Instead, we should seek and value progress, however small, and treat missteps as journey markers. If we let a single misstep invalidate a clean streak, then there’s really no point in trying since failure is inevitable.  

Even the thought of never doing something again, or doing something every single day, is paralyzing, especially if it’s something difficult. We hear so much about “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There’s so much pressure to plan years and years into the future.

While there’s certainly a time and place for careful preparation, you can’t really take that same approach with personal growth because you’re always changing. How you think, how you feel and what you want to change every minute of every day cannot be pinned down to follow such a rigid plan– not all at once. 

Instead, shrink your future. Don’t plan for a year, a month, a week or even tomorrow. Just plan for one today. Do everything in your power to make today better than yesterday and forget about tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, do it all again.  

When you keep things fixed on the present, even the loftiest, most unattainable goal becomes not only possible but inevitable, as long as you remain focused.  

No one is perfect, and no one gets it right the first time. But that’s no excuse to stop trying. Seek progress, not perfection. No matter who you are, what you’re trying to accomplish or what resources you have at your disposal, you have the power to keep trying. You only fail once you give up.

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