Celebrate Progress and Not Success

   July 09, 2015     9810 views

By Ruth Ng

I have a habit of reading in the toilet. Last night, my husband handed me our financial planner’s end-of-the-year kind of greeting letter to read as I sat on the white throne. Gabriel, our planner, wrote briefly about his belief in “celebrating progress and not success”.

I confess I do not have a very good track record of handing up “success stories” to my director when the headquarters or sponsoring church require them for publications in their quarterly newsletters. I dread writing them.

Success stories? I have little. Progress stories, quite a handful. But be warned, it is not all rosy and happily-ever-after type of stories. What do I consider progress then?

Progress, is when a single mother struggling with mental illness starts to be compliant to her medication and suffers from less panic attacks and better able to attend and attune herself to her children’s developmental needs. Progress is when a family managed to clear some debts. Progress is when a former addict starts to develop some awareness of her children’s needs and attempts to meet them. Progress is when an uninvolved father decides to engage me in a conversation or two when I visit their home. Progress is a little girl telling me that she is relieved when I tell her it is not her fault for revealing an abuse from a family member.

And I truly share in all of their joy and progress they make. My heart does a little dance and I celebrate with them, telling them how encouraged I am to be part of it. I very much would love to share them with my funders/ stakeholders too.

The thing is, by the time my progress stories get onto the newsletters for publication, I would receive a call from the single mother about her entering into a state of crisis and falters in her care for her child. I would receive a note that the father who has alcohol issues had chalked up one new debt in the last month, negating some of the progress made in their financial situation.

By the time a reader picks up the newsletter, I might have to call in child protection services should the mother place the child at major risk if her stay-in boyfriend starts to inject himself with heroine before the children, even if she had earlier on made progress in her understanding of what her children needs.

And well, by the time the reader puts down the newsletter, the little girl in the children’s home still has a long way ahead of her, fraught with trauma and hurdles to cross.

It has always been challenging for me to pen down the “successes” of an individual and family ridden with financial debts, alcoholism, violence, infidelity, loss and grief. How would success or progress look like to the general public, stakeholders and funders. I don’t know but I do know that such stories are a form of accountability to them and such publications are pertinent to our work. However, I personally would be a little more wary of writing “success stories”. I do not want to risk simplifying their disadvantaged and marginalised circumstances or paint a picture of them having arrived which is usually what “success” is associated with. And their circumstances, like you and I, are never stagnant.

On the contrary, the helping relationship with them would appear to be like some sort of dance. One day, we take 2 steps forward together. A few days later, we take 1 step back or maybe 3 even. It is a weird dance that surely does not look like “success”. We might even end up with knotted feet and hands. And we start all over again. Or, in some unfortunate situations, we terminate this dance all together. But, in every progress, I celebrate and sing with joy because in every one of their progress, they teach me about human resiliency. Their progress today, even if down the road they take 2 steps back from where we are, is humbling and worth celebrating. May He give me sufficient grace and compassion to keep celebrating the little progresses in the helping relationships I encounter next year.

Thank you, husband, for slipping Gabriel’s letter under the toilet door that night. It was a good reminder to celebrate progress and not success. Time to bring out some beer!!! :)


Ruth is a senior social worker at Covenant Family Service Centre. This personal Facebook post, written in December 2013, is reposted with permission.


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