When you’re meeting someone new and telling them about yourself, more often than not, you will tell them a summary of your tangible accomplishments: where you went to high school/college, your job title, what organizations you are or have been involved in or maybe passions you have a tangible example of (like a sweater you knitted or a game you finished developing).
When you’re reflecting on your life thus far, of course, these same things come up, but so do the smaller experiences that have culminated in these achievements.
Those smaller moments that make up the vast majority of your life experiences, from the late nights you spent doing homework to that time your best friend called you at 4 a.m. after a nasty breakup, are what you really end up thinking about — all of the small, messy moments that forced you to be hardworking, resilient or even just be a good friend without time to prepare for it, as you would for a more significant event like a huge project you’re prepared to present or when you have set plans with a friend.
These small moments that test us cumulatively over time are what really push us towards improvement, not the grand displays of progress that we would identify to show our development to others. A triumph can never be worth more than the sum of the work that has gone into achieving it, as it is the moments that go into building a skill that really count, not the show of the skill at the end.
When you think about what makes a good engineer, certain qualities stand out above the rest: hardworking, strong problem-solving skills, strong math capabilities, teamwork and a mindset that pushes for progress. The unifying trait of all of these qualities is they must be proved over time, because they cannot really be displayed or proved through one quick performance.
They are qualities that are only properly displayed after long periods of working towards some kind of goal or project. When you think about what makes a good friend, the same type of qualities stands out: reliable, emotionally supportive, caring and genuine. Once again, none of these are qualities that someone displays only in a special showcase of friendship, these are qualities that reveal themselves to be true over many hours of time spent together.
These qualities may be exemplified in extreme circumstances, such as being there for someone at an inconveniently timed emergency, but they are really proved through time as a good friend.
Whether you aspire to be a good friend, a good engineer, a good artist or any other thing that you might want to be, the time you spend working towards that goal is the most important part of the pursuit.
There is no special defining moment when you suddenly become a good friend or successful engineer, these larger goals are effectively a sum of your overall pursuits toward them. Every single time you fail and decide to keep going, every time you feel ready to give up but you don’t, every time you almost ignore that text from your friend but you end up responding, every extra practice problem you choose to do, every time you do something small that pushes you towards your goals, that time is never really wasted. All of those times are actually pushing you toward where you aspire to be.
The next time you feel like you aren’t good enough at something because you don’t have “real proof” of it but it’s a goal that you’re actively pursuing day in and day out, remember the work you’re doing really does count.