People who start out at 8 can make it to 10 in only 2 steps.
(And in real life, such people receive lots of attention for this.)
People who start at 6 can go to 10 in 4 steps (and get even more attention & accolades for this accomplishment).
But what about people starting out at zero?
If they push themselves to 4, they still appear below average and as long as they stay at 4, they will always be perceived as below average.
However, they accomplished the same number of steps as the 6 who made it to 10!
And they actually accomplished more than the 8!
So 4 steps is really good.
Yes, other people may not notice it, or they may notice and scoff, "Meh."
But Hashem notices AND grants you full credit for your efforts.
The problem is that depending on the person's starting point, most people will not see it as deserving of credit because on the scale of 0-10, not at all up to par.
So who is going to give these 0-to-4s chizuk & validation for accomplishing 4 steps?
Who's going to help them feel accomplished & hopeful rather than defective & hopeless?
Hashem's Calculations: When Average Equals Great
Getting to zero will take a LOT of effort.
If they make it to 2, that's amazing.
That's 7 steps.
Had they started out at 6 or 8, they'd be off the charts with 7 steps!
But no...they started out at minus-5.
And therein lies the rub.
Because no matter how hard they try, they'll always be viewed as substandard.
Even if they accomplish 10 steps (which would take a zero all the way to 10—a HUGE success story, BTW), the minus-5 will still only make it to Level 5...in other words: average.
Meaning, all that strain will only get them to "Meh."
Lots of people will still appear to be doing much better than them.
It's unlikely they'll get any validation from anyone for all their efforts & mesirut nefesh.
Having said all that, some people who have developed a more spiritual vision will see the hidden accomplishment of the former minus-5, and therefore can validate & encourage a former minus-5.
But mostly, the former minus-5s will not only not receive acknowledgement, but on the contrary, they'll receive criticism & an attitude of "That's it? Well, if that's the best you could do..."
(In addition to, of course, unfavorable comparisons to those who started out at a much higher starting point.)
But that's not how HASHEM sees such a person.
Even the Top Experts Can't Necessarily See What Hashem Sees
He also knows exactly how much we are able to accomplish.
And He knows exactly how much effort we exerted to achieve the impossible & reach what everyone else considers merely "Meh."
This is one of the reasons why it is SO important to connect with Hashem, to do whatever you can to feel His Love for you.
This is sometimes the only way to receive any validation.
Even ma'asu habonim hayata l'rosh pinah—the stone despised by the builders became the corner stone. (Tehillim 118:22)
The bonim, the builders, are the experts. They know which stones makes the best foundation for the Holiest Structure Ever: the Beit HaMikdash.
The stone initially despised by the experts is the exact stone that Hashem deems best for the foundation—the strongest part of the structure.
After a previous post on the despised stone of Tehillim, a knowledgeable reader wrote in with a chiddush that the despised person isn't necessarily one despised by society.
It could also be a person despised by himself.
Not poisonous self-hatred, but someone who gets fed up with his or her own bad habits and seeks to make a positive change.
This reader noted there is a type of self-disgust that can either lead to depression, or can catapult you to great heights.
(This is maybe like the rock-bottom some addicts need to hit before fighting against their addiction.)
If you're aware of the innate greatness of your neshamah, you can say, "How can someone like ME, with my potential and my innate holiness, continue to indulge in something like THAT?"
EVERY Step in the Right Direction COUNTS.
But tzaddikim will say, "How could we have overcome such a high mountain?"
Only Hashem really knows whether you're facing a mountain or a strand of hair.
So don't give up. You never really know what you're actually accomplishing.