the real progress

As we invest our time and resources in learning the tenets of philosophy and in our personal development, striving to become our ideal best self, we often question ourselves: How do I know if I’m making progress in this journey?

Seneca contemplated on this subject as he was writing his famous letters. How do you know if you’re getting better? How do you actually know if any of this is working? He found his answer in the teachings of Hecato, one of his favorite philosophers, and came up with an excellent way to measure his progress: “What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.”

Most of us think that when we live in a perfect house, have perfect relationships and friendships, get a perfect job, achieve a perfect body and mind, or sleep perfectly, we’ve made significant progress in our lives. We think success is about getting richer, becoming famous and handling all our obstacles and problems like a pro. There’s nothing wrong with these things but the right metric thats serves us best is something simple, grounded and more earnest — if we’re becoming a better friend of ourselves. Instead of seeking extrinsic perfection, it’s best to make intrinsic progress.

Seneca further points out, “A person who is a friend to themselves is an aid to all mankind.” This is very true. An individual who has a good friendship with themselves is comfortable in their own skin. They are kind, compassionate and empathetic. They don’t need external validation, and are not inclined to bring someone down to feel better about themselves. They can spend time alone by themselves quietly without any fuss. And most importantly, they are givers, not takers, and uplifters, not critics.

Let these questions be your compass: Are you becoming nicer to yourself? Are you accepting your flawsomeness? Are you practicing good self-care? If yes, then that means you’re making progress, and you’re on the right path.