Big Change is a Work in Progress

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“Always remember that the future comes one day at a time.” ~Dean Acheson

Many of the most passionate people are also the least patient. Who can blame them? History paints a picture of big moments. Where a single act spurred an avalanche of change. An entire country created by the acts of a tireless general. An entire civil rights movement spurred by the defiance of one brave woman.  Example after example of monumental change, by one individual at a key moment in history. Upon closer inspection however,  for real change to occur one must recognize that it is not the dramatic acts of valor that lead to success, but a series of well-planned, coordinated actions that occur over the course of months, years, or sometimes even decades.

This is especially true in our professional lives. An average day in the life of a professional involves a number of seemingly insignificant activities and tasks. Be it the creation of pesky training programs to for future advocates of a non-profits work on a cause or the meticulous work of stripping rust and old paint from a bridge needing a face lift, there are a number of activities that while may seem unimportant at the time, are vital to making any last change. The training program is a necessary element to build the groundswell needed to make progress on any issue based advocacy. In order to improve the integrity of the bridge it is vitally important the rust and old paint be removed so that a new layer of protection can be applied. These outcomes are helpful to remember when works seems to be going nowhere.

As many of us are discouraged by the incremental steps it takes to succeed at work, it’s no wonder there is so much impatience in our political discourse. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 he inherited the worst economy in decades. Yet after only a couple of years there were many individuals claiming his presidency had failed. This was despite the steady progress the economy was beginning to make, the gains in healthcare accessibility not thought possible in the 8 years prior, and the elimination of the highly discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy. Fortunately, enough people were willing to give him a chance in 2012 despite this impatience. The biggest problem with the public policy debate however, has less to do with the support of our politicians and more to do with the impatience of the populace to see lasting change.

Something it would be beneficial for people to realize, especially for those on the extreme ends of the spectrum, is political victory and progress takes baby steps. For example, when Social Security was first imagined and passed under Franklin D. Roosevelt it was a shade of what it is today. Furthermore, it was not the most popular of proposals. Thanks to the work of many individuals working together throughout history is has become a program many seniors and other disadvantaged groups rely on to live better, longer lives. The same can be said about today’s policy objectives. Be it expanding healthcare access for all, or moving our country to a sustainable, secure energy future. It important that we allow our elected officials and leaders the time to make these changes and continue to do our part to make these changes possible. One action at a time.

No matter what aspect of life you are looking to make progress in, whether it be your more localized professional life or the larger societal picture, recognizing the slow and steady, incremental nature of life is key. These steps are filled with details and careful planning that many of us forget about when we get fired up and ready to go. Even the most epic of plots involve numerous unexciting elements (e.g. the construction of a lightsaber or a massive orc army). While not every action will inevitably lead to something greater, there is always the possibility. Therefore, we must not allow our impatience to get the best of us, but rather put our energy into building to the great moments that history will ultimately remember.

 

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