“The future isn’t a reality—it’s a projection.” — Dan Sullivan
When we think about “the future” of our business or our marketing, we’re not considering real events. We’re imagining what might happen.
No matter how skilled we may be at marketing, our vision of the future is quite literally a figment of our imagination.
And yet we often judge ourselves against that imagined standard. That fiction.
We measure where we are against where we’ve imagined we should be, and we find ourselves lacking.
Maybe our recent marketing efforts haven’t worked exactly as we’d hoped. Or perhaps things aren’t moving as fast as we’d expected them to. We have an idea in our head of what we want, but we haven’t gotten it yet.
And it’s frustrating.
But we can’t make progress toward something that doesn’t exist.
As Sullivan and his co-author Dr. Benjamin Hardy put it in The Gap and the Gain, “Ideals are like a horizon in the desert. No matter how many steps you take forward, the horizon continues to move out of reach.”
And that can lead to discouragement and disappointment. It can make us want to give up on our marketing, or simply farm it out to someone else just to take it off our plate.
Because no matter how much progress we make, our ideal is still somewhere off in the distance. And so we’re never satisfied and we never celebrate, because it feels like we haven’t accomplished anything significant—there’s always more to do.
But that’s a symptom of poor measurement, not poor effort.
As Sullivan counsels, we’re measuring the wrong way. We shouldn’t be measuring forward, toward a future that doesn’t exist anywhere but in our minds.
We should be measuring backward. Measuring where we are against where we started.
Where we are today, and where we were days or years before—that’s reality. That’s the truth. That’s what we have to be proud of and to celebrate.
Goals are checkpoints on our way to what we want, but they aren’t the end—because they exist in the future. And the future isn’t real and it’s largely out of our hands.
All we control are our own actions, our daily efforts. And our attitude.
So more than enormous plans, audacious goals, and imagined futures, we need reality and we need real progress. As my life and business partner Leah Sanford always says, “When you can’t see the goal, set a pace.”
Marketing is not a sprint and it’s not a marathon. It’s a lifestyle that demands consistency and regularity, and constant adjustment and refinement. It’s never done and there is no end, there’s only better.
So we need to set ourselves a pace we can sustain, and we need to measure our progress, not against where we wish to go, but against where we’ve been and where we started.
Our marketing work mustn’t be destination-driven, it must be process-driven. It must be one step at a time, governed by principles and strategy.
And strategy is the structure to work efficiently, not an all-or-nothing ambition.
Of course, dreams are helpful, they fuel our energy and motivation to keep going. But we can’t hold ourselves to an imaginary picture.
We have to measure ourselves against the reality of our progress, the reality of our journey, and the reality of our daily efforts.
Because when we take steady, consistent action, guided by principles and pace, we eventually get what we want. But it’s never exactly how we imagined it.
Nothing ever is.
We aren’t psychics or prophets, we’re mammals scratching and scraping our way toward the horizon. So when we get there, it’s going to look different than we’d thought. That’s life, that’s reality.
Successful marketers, though, don’t worry and obsess over how far away they are from the horizon—because the horizon keeps moving. They just keep charging forward, constantly marvelling at how far they’ve come.
Because the real danger isn’t failing, it’s stopping.
So if you know what you want, but you’re feeling discouraged or disappointed that your marketing hasn’t gotten you there yet, change your focus. Look back on where you’ve been, and where you started.
Chart the course you’ve taken, and consider how far you’ve come.
Identify what worked, what helped, what got you here. Focus on the principles you can derive from that success, and keep moving forward.
Because we won’t get what we want by measuring ourselves against an idealized, imagined version of the future.
We’ll only get it by measuring ourselves against our efforts and our progress.
By taking things day-by-day, step-by-step.
Because our progress is reality.
The future isn’t.
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