Last summer, we did a major overhaul of our backyard. We hired a crew to take out a wooden deck and play structure, replacing them with a decorative concrete patio with a fire pit and outdoor kitchen, a new walkway, and an in-ground hot tub. It was a big deal, requiring the workers to rebuild a red flagstone wall that spanned the whole width of the yard, destroy and re-sod the majority of the lawn, demo the old, dig pits for the new, and get it all into working and attractive order. Of course, like any project, it took longer than expected. I watched in dismay as our yard became a construction zone. We wanted more from our yard, but it had been decent and serviceable before, and for a large stretch of prime summer days, it was nothing more than a huge mess, full of muddy holes and scattered pieces of rock and wood…ugly and unusable for several weeks.
I remember thinking and saying to friends, “I wish I could just see the before and afters…not the whole gross mess in between.” It was hard for me to look out on the carnage of my yard and imagine the oasis of outdoor fun that would ultimately be there.
We live in a before-and-after-picture world. Who doesn’t like to see the photos of the people who lose 100 pounds? Why are makeover shows so popular? Going from frumpy to fashionable in 30 minutes is inspiring. From flabby to fit on one magazine spread…spectacular. When people win the lottery, it's fun to imagine what we would do if we were so lucky. I am not immune to this fascination. I love before and after pictures. I love stories of transformation. I love the side by side comparison of then versus now.
But this mentality--this overwhelming desire for quick transformation--has set up unrealistic expectations about what real change looks like. It undermines the hard work that goes into reaching worthy goals. It also ignores the continued hard work required to stay fit or rich or successful or happily married. Quick fixes, get rich quick schemes, overnight successes…we think we want that. But do we really? If the answer is yes, then we are focused on the wrong things.
As a life coach, I want my clients (heck...I want everyone) to accept and apply two major concepts. First of all, I want each of you to hold yourself to a high standard. Set big goals. Believe that you can do impressive, meaningful work. Start that business. Plan that trip. Go for that relationship. Run that marathon. Create your ideal life!
Secondly, I hope that you can find joy and satisfaction in the process. Whatever your goal is,
you will have setbacks. Life will not always go as planned. The saying "no pain, no gain" is popular for a reason. But there's another saying that goes, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Many circumstances are beyond our control, but the way we show up, keep trying, and enjoy the ride is completely up to us.
I like before-and-after pictures because they show progress. They show a goal set and reached. But I dislike them because they imply an end to a story...a met goal and a hard stop. In life, however, there is no such thing. An after picture is just one snap shot along the journey.
I remember looking out at my yard as the workers went about their tasks. One very meticulous and skillful guy was rebuilding our red flagstone wall. I watched as he carefully placed stones, checking each one for fit and balance with the other pieces. It turned out beautifully, and while it is not the first feature you notice, it spans the whole length of the yard and is one of the key elements that brings it all together. Observing the long, difficult process of hauling the stones, matching the pieces and cementing it together gave me an appreciation that I wouldn't have gotten from a simple before and after view.