6 signs you’re making progress in life, even if it doesn’t feel like it

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I’ve always hated the expression “overnight success.”

It insinuates that people can become successful in an instant. They get a stroke of luck, and their life immediately changes for the better.

In reality, success involves tons of hard work and a few sacrifices for good measure.

Let’s say a video of yours goes viral on social media, and you’re suddenly inundated with new followers and requests for brand partnerships.

People talk about how lucky you are that your video blew up – but they fail to notice the videos that came before.

All the long hours you put in coming up with video concepts, filming, editing, promoting.

The doubt, the second-guessing, and the sweat.

You only look like an overnight success from the outside.

This applies to life as well. You want to grow, but it feels like you’re moving at a snail’s pace.

Guess what?

Crawling forward is better than standing still.

Here are 6 signs you’re making progress in life, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

The journey is just as important as the destination.

1) You’re not the same person you were a year ago

Something to remember when you feel “behind” in life: the only person you’re competing with is yourself.

The world moves at warp speed, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others and feeling as though you’re lagging behind.

This is especially true for your late 20s or early 30s when everyone becomes passionate about checking huge milestones off their bucket list.

Buying a home. Starting a family. Advancing their career.

If you somehow don’t do these things, you begin to wonder if you’re doing life wrong.

You’re not. Everyone moves at their own pace.

I’m in my mid-30s, and I haven’t purchased a home yet. I’m not dating anyone worth writing poems about. I’m happy with my career, but it’s not mind-blowing.

For a long time, I used to feel “less than” not only for not conquering those milestones but for not particularly wanting to.

Then, I realized that even though I don’t have anything to show for it, I’m making progress.

The catch? 

Said progress is mostly internal.

I used to be a people-pleaser and have little self-confidence. The more I worked on myself, however, the more self-assured I got.

I still struggle with those things, but less than even a couple of months ago.

In my eyes, that’s progress.

Are you the same person you were a year ago?

If the answer is no, you’re moving in the right direction.

2) You’re working toward a goal

Speaking of milestones – a clear sign you’re making progress in life, even if it doesn’t feel like it, is that you’re pursuing a goal.

While the end goal may seem distant, consistent effort toward your objective means progress.

Small, regular steps compound over time, leading to significant achievements.

Let’s say you want to run a marathon.

You don’t wake up one day and run it. You need to train.

You make a plan and stick to it. Get better with each running session.

Run through rain and snow and scorching sun and on bad days and when you would rather do literally anything else.

Then, you rejoice when marathon day arrives and all the preparation pays off.

From the outside, it won’t look like you’re making much progress during your training.

People will only realize how far you’ve come once you cross the finish line.

The mere act of setting a goal, whether it’s personal, professional, or a combination of both, signifies a forward-looking mindset.

Goals provide a sense of direction, purpose, and a roadmap for the future.

There are plenty of people out there who long for nothing.

Who lost their zest for life or hope that they can become a better version of themselves.

They’re complacent and numb. 

But not you.

And that’s worth celebrating.

3) You’re questioning yourself

Questioning yourself demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning.

It’s also a precursor to change.

More often than not, we spend the first couple decades of our life learning stuff and the next unlearning everything that is ingrained in ourselves but doesn’t match our values and beliefs anymore.

Our religion, class, culture, society as a whole – all influence us growing up.

We are put in boxes, and it’s up to us to break free.

Some people are comfortable in their box, which is perfectly fine.

But if you realize as an adult that what you’ve been taught for most of your life no longer serves you, you begin to question who you are and how you want to move forward.

It’s the spark that pushes you to overhaul your life and live more authentically.

Questioning yourself comes with several benefits:

  • It demonstrates a willingness to understand yourself on a deeper level
  • It shows that you’re open to new perspectives and adaptable to evolving circumstances
  • It signals a proactive approach to personal development
  • It remains a testament that you’re willing to challenge your assumptions and beliefs

A person who thinks they have all the answers is a person no longer interested in evolving.

I wouldn’t want to be that guy.

How about you?

4) You recently gave up on a dream

Progress doesn’t have to mean moving forward.

Sometimes, it’s taking a step back.

About a decade ago, I wanted to run a website focusing on the cultural events happening in my city.

I used to work as a local journalist. I loved promoting concerts, exhibitions, art movies, the likes.

I launched the website, and it got a decent amount of traffic. It was growing steadily.

After a few months, though, I realized that this wasn’t really what I wanted to do.

I was still passionate about underground art, but I was getting more interested in TV shows and pop culture in general.

Running the website started to feel like a chore.

Yet, it was still a dream of mine come true, so I was hesitant to shut it down. It felt like giving up. 

I procrastinated for months until I finally let it go.

Looking back, it was a smart move. Not long after, I started my freelance career, and I spent the next few years writing about TV and movies, gigs that brought a lot of joy into my life.

Every now and then, letting go of something, whether it be a past experience, a dream, a relationship, or a certain mindset, is essential for moving forward in life.

Giving up on a dream doesn’t mean moving backward.

It means making space for other things in your life, ones that might make you happier.

That sounds like progress in my book.

5) You’re making mistakes

You know who doesn’t make any mistakes?

Someone who isn’t even trying.

Making mistakes is a fundamental aspect of personal growth.

It signifies a willingness to exit your comfort zone and take risks.

The problem is that, as you make them, they feel like monumental failures.

They make you want to crawl under the covers and never get out of bed ever again.

They’re discouraging and frustrating and embarrassing.

They’re also a sign of progress.

Once you make a mistake, you’re closer to getting it right.

Mistakes encourage self-reflection. They’re opportunities for growth.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

6) You’re getting better at saying ‘no’

Speaking of your comfort zone, refusing to exit it isn’t always foolish.

On occasion, it’s the right thing to do.

It took me forever to understand the power of the word ‘no.’

When you say ‘no’ to things that don’t align with your goals and values, you remain open to the things that do.

So, if you’re getting better at handing out rejections, take it as a good sign. The practice:

  • Reflects a growing sense of clarity regarding your priorities and boundaries
  • Suggests you are more attuned to your own needs and aspirations
  • Signals that you understand your limits and are committed to protecting your time

Progress involves a refinement of priorities.

By declining activities or commitments that don’t align with your goals, you free up resources for endeavors that genuinely matter to you.

I mentioned that I used to be a people-pleaser.

I said many ‘yeses’ I didn’t mean, putting others first and allowing myself to become an afterthought.

I hung out with people I didn’t like because I didn’t want to make a scene. 

I took on more assignments than I could handle because I didn’t want my managers to think I wasn’t dedicated. 

I did favors for folks who only contacted me when they needed my help.

Now, I’m comfortable with the idea that some people don’t like me and I’m better at prioritizing self-care.

And it all started with one simple ‘no.’

Bottom line

Embrace the signs of progress, no matter how small.

Consistent effort can make you unrecognizable.

And when acquaintances will marvel at how you managed to mold yourself into someone new overnight?

You’ll know they simply weren’t paying attention.

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