Much of my life I’ve been haunted by one of Zeno’s paradoxes: the observation that before one reaches a destination, one must reach its halfway point, and before reaching the halfway point, reach another halfway point, and so on. To quote the wikipedia article (whence comes most of my knowledge of math and physics when it’s not coming from more learned friends or speculations over blaseball cosmology): “travel over any finite distance can be neither completed nor begun, and so all motion must be an illusion.”
This has the cadence of a hilarious joke. My internet-poisoned brain wants to translate this statement into an ADHD meme, or wry observations about marking papers, writing doctoral dissertations or novels. There is an emotional truth at odds with reality made delightful through the lens of Actual Mathematical Philosophy.
But as incredible as it may seem, people do complete projects; people do begin and also finish things (even novels, even dissertations), and “people” includes ourselves, whether or not we feel like we will ever reach a finish line. Even you, even me, even — maybe especially — during These Times.
Almost two weeks ago I decided that this, finally, would be the year I execute a single good form pull-up. I knew from past experience that it would be a ludicrously slow process, that it might take me two years of daily effort, that I would probably have to start 3-4 steps behind every online tutorial aimed at men and probably 1-2 steps behind online tutorials aimed at women. With help from three friends keeping each other accountable, we’re doing it; the first step is what’s called a “dead hang,” literally just hanging from the bar with our muscles activated, not trying to pull ourselves up, just trying as hard as possible not to let go. Once we can do this for 60 seconds, we can move on to the next small step.
I’m able to hang on now, in various grips, for 32 seconds; just over the halfway point. Despite Zeno, I got there. And I’m hanging on — as it were — to that truth, to that small daily ritual, to remind me that I can do this in all my other forms of work, in every other way that requires patience with myself, with other people, with the world. To know in my bones that doing a thing without finishing it counts, because I can’t finish it without doing it.
I’d love to know where you’re making progress in your lives — in what tiny, observable ways are you doing a big thing that won’t be complete for a long time? Let’s separate progress from success, from finish lines, and celebrate the endurance of doing the work.
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