When you consider "progressing" as a rider, what comes to mind?
For me, it used to be about grinding out miles, hoping to improve my fitness and allowing me to get from start to finish of the next cross country race as quickly as possible. Somewhere along the way, I realized that wasn't progress at all. Now don't get upset. I'm not saying you shouldn't race cross country or that racing sucks. If you enjoy it, keep doing it!
So what changed? The primary impetus was a switch to night shift several years ago. If you've not lived that lifestyle, you can't imagine how hard it is. Tired 24/7 and definitely no desire to grind out miles. But about the same time, I discovered some people such as James Wilson and Ryan Leech on the internet pushing skill development. Skills such as manuals, wheelies, track stands, bunny hops, jumps, skinnies and cornering technique. I evaluated my skill level and realized I was not very good at any of these.
So at the urging of James Wilson, I switched to flat pedals and committed to learning all of these skills. The transition to flats after years of clips was not easy. But as I got better, I discovered that flats are fun. And they gave me more confidence to try things without fear of being unable to unclip.
I have many friends that still race cross country. I'm often asked "why aren't you racing?" I don't miss the pressure of being told when to start and when to finish. If I ride a fun section of trail, I like turning around and riding that section several times. Many of my rides now include focused practice where I'll practice manuals for twenty minutes or do a short bunny hop session over a log at the edge of a trail. I'll stop and look at the trail and figure out a way to use some trail feature to gap a bunch of roots. Or, I'll show up at a Wednesday night race and ride wheelies up and down the road while the racers grind out the laps :)
To be clear, I'm not disavowing cross country racing entirely. I never like to say "never" so I'm certain you'll see me out there at some point. And when you use your superior fitness and climbing prowess to beat me handily, just know, I'm good with it!