Back in the bad old days I used to make my living door-hanging plastic bags with attached cards asking for used clothes donations. Every week-day I and a few other co-workers at the Alliance of American Veterans would pile into a van and head out to some suburb. We’d then spend the rest of the day walking around neighborhoods, hanging bags, avoiding dogs, trying to stay dry in the rain and trying to stay cool in the sun.

Every day was basically the same routine. The job was a go-nowhere job and it wasn’t as if any of us hoped to get promoted. (There was nothing to get promoted to.)

Still, there were better days and worse days, depending mostly on the weather. If it was cloudy but not rainy, that was perfect. Summer was OK until it got to be too hot. Winters in the Northwest could be really difficult. I remember a lot of soggy shoes. A couple of times we even went out in the snow, which was pretty funny because a few of the workers were Mexican and I don’t think they’d ever seen snow before.

Anyway, the point here is that the job was a flat line. It wasn’t taking me anywhere, either up or down. But around that flat line there were daily or even hourly ups and downs, because the weather out here in the Pacific Northwest can often change pretty quickly.

Now maybe you’ve never had a go-nowhere job. But at some point in your life, there must have been a period of time, and maybe it was positive, like summer vacation, where you really weren’t going anywhere. You were just kind of on a plateau. But never-the-less, one day was a little better or a little worse than another.

OK, the same daily and hourly ups and downs happen when you are making progress. There is an upward trend, but you have better and worse moments around that trend. These better or worse moments mean that, on any particular day, you might be doing worse than you were months or even years ago.

Whether you are trying to get your financial life in order, recover from addiction, build a successful business, overcome mental illness, become a better parent, or do anything else worthwhile, there is the same issue. Progress is never a simple straight line. When you look back you can see the trend, but from day to day you experience all the variation around that trend.

As a financial adviser I constantly remind my clients to ignore the day-to-day volatility of the world’s markets. Stocks go up and down every day, but for a long-term investor what should matter are the long term returns. There is an important lesson here that applies to every part of life.

One day is not a trend. It’s just a day. One experience does not define you. It’s just an experience. Look at where you are now compared to where you used to be 6 months or 6 years ago. Are you making progress?