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032 - On Continuous Improvement - Moral Letters for Modern Times

The steady progress we make by never stopping is a gift that compounds. Step by step, you pull away, and the crowd can never catch you.
Brown reeds in front of smooth lake - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

I have asked after you to your colleagues, about your activities, priorities, and problems. You are well served to assume I am told of all that you do, or even better that I am perched upon your shoulder seeing what you do. And do you know what is the best news I have received? It is that there is no news of you. If you can avoid the need to trumpet both your triumphs and your tragedies, you are firmly on the right path.

I am confident that you are aimed in the right direction, Deuteros, and that you will not be easily swayed. But though you are Gulliver traveling among Lilliputians, remember that their thread-like ropes can still entangle you, and enough of them can bring you down. You will have sand cast in your eyes in the guise of sparkling baubles. You will have marbles strewn under your feet in the form of false yardsticks of success. And you will be slowly poisoned by the vices of luxury living, until you have lost your taste for simple things.

Though you may be slowed from time to time, cast off these shackles, and above all be sure you do not stop. The steady progress we make by never stopping is a gift that compounds. Step by step, you pull away, and the crowd can never catch you. Picture yourself as Kobayashi Issa’s snail, making your way up Mount Fuji: “But slowly, slowly!” There is no need to hurry, for though you make progress at a crawl, in a short while you will be beyond where others can reach you even with the mightiest leap.

I am continuously impressed by how far I have come in my journey by taking what seems to be the slightest of steps. When I am about my business seriously, time passes and I do not note it. Only later do I look up in surprise and see the baggage I have left behind on the distant horizon. Tomorrow it will be gone from view entirely.

I would spare you speedy progress as much as I would the setbacks and falls. For if you have not undertaken the time and effort to understand why you travel, you cannot appreciate the destination. And considering the ultimate destination that awaits us all, no one should be eager to rush towards it. Only by approaching life with deliberation and care will you be prepared to live it, rather than just observe it. I do not care how slowly you progress, so long as you are moving in the right direction. Once you have slowed to the point that you are truly living, it will not matter when your time stops.

Be well.

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