In the last couple of weeks, I have spoken with many friends about the concept of happiness as it pertains to life’s pursuits, which has forced me to give thought to my past experiences and the reasons why happiness eluded me for so long in my life. The following is the sum of my thoughts.
Life is not about destinations. Or perhaps I should argue that a happy or satisfying life cannot be about destinations, because destinations are temporary at best and completely illusory in truth.
We have been taught that it is important to set goals, to aim for a destination, and to a limited extent, I agree. Where I struggle, however, is in the assumption, the programming that suggests the goal will bring happiness, that at your destination, you can rest.
For most of us, this sets up a couple of problems.
If we do not succeed in achieving our goal or reaching our destination, then not only have we failed, but more insidiously, we see ourselves as failures.
But even in those situations where we achieve our goal, arrive at our destination, we are faced with the daunting and disheartening revelation of “Now what?”
For despite the momentary glow of success, we cannot rest. We must seek the next goal, identify the next destination. And the cycle repeats, ensuring that for all but the rarest of us, we will fail, we are failures.
Part of the challenge is that for many people, the idea of a goal or destination presupposes that we are not sufficient in the now, that our lives are incomplete and would somehow be better over there.
We don’t make enough money. We are alone. We have not achieved the heights for which we are destined. We—as we are today—are not good enough.
It is good to push boundaries. It is good to strive.
And while those two statements may sound contradictory to the questions I raise above, to what I have decried, I don’t think they are.
Pushing. Striving. These are actions, not endpoints. And that makes all the difference in the world.
A goal or a destination, a predetermined endpoint, is fine, but only in so far as it gets you moving in a direction. After that, it is meaningless.
Life is in the movement. It is in the process. It is in the journey, regardless of where that journey takes you.
Destinations and goals give us opportunities to shift the direction of that journey, but they are not the point of or the reason for the journey.
We are like photons in the universe of our lives. Without movement, a photon has no mass. When we cease to move, we cease to exist.
It is our movement that gives us life, and our interactions during that journey that gives that life meaning.
Feel free to set a direction, but be prepared for and welcome the changes that come along the way, for it is in that journey that we will truly live and ultimately find happiness.
An example from my life:
Early in my writing career, I worked for a magazine in Washington, DC. Every year, my boss and I would set goals for the next 12 months; e.g., 3 features, 10 department articles, 20 short pieces. And being a little Type A, I would accomplish my benchmark within 3 months. At the end of the 12 months, I might have tripled or quadrupled the expected output.
I would demand a promotion, and I would be told no…there were apparently other factors not included in my annual goals before I could be promoted. This pissed me off.
But surprisingly, even when I received the promotion, it was not enough. I needed the next one. I set the goals and again, felt held back despite achieving the goals.
And very quickly, the job I loved, the job I practically ran toward every morning in anticipation, became a leaden weight. I ceased to write for the love of writing. I was miserable.
In hindsight, I can see now how much I learned on that job—not the least of which was “office politics”—but at the time, all I could see was failure. It was the journey that helped shaped the man I am today, not the endpoints. I might have been happier had I realized that then.
The following video is a rather clever summation of my thoughts. Thanks to my friend Agah for pointing me to it!
Friends and family hate walking up hills with me. I have no idea how they feel about the flat regions, but definitely the hills they hate. And it’s not that they are out of shape. To the contrary, I am the excessively shaped one…and I’m lazy.
Thus, when I reach the bottom of a hill, I want to get the climb over with as quickly as possible…I power my way up the hill, leaving them to trot along or simply do their own thing and catch up with me.
But the biggest challenge, once they catch up, is that they then have to wait for me to recover from my exertion. In my zeal to get to the top, I completely ignore the fact that the trip is not over once I reach the top…I leave nothing in my tank for the rest of the trip.
I’ve done the same whenever I’ve decided to change my shape with exercise or diet. I start out incredibly aggressively…not holds barred. And for a week or two, my goals are not only met, they are surpassed. I am incredible. I am a GOD! I am also exhausted and sore…and I slowly stop my program.
And as if this behaviour wasn’t already annoying enough, I find I also have a tendency to take the same attitude in my writing.
Prepare my work area. Cogitate on what I want to do. Research. Procrastinate. And then, WRITE LIKE THERE IS NO TOMORROW BECAUSE I REALLY WANT TO GET THIS DONE THIS WEEK OR AT LEAST GET AS FAR AS I CAN GET BECAUSE NEXT WEEK…
At the end of the process, whether it is a hundred pages of a novel, another feature article for a magazine, an outline and beat sheet for a new screenplay, I am exhausted and my brain hurts. The creative wheels come off (or wobble severely), and I lay up for a couple of days accomplishing nothing, except possibly another thousand games of Solitaire.
My ultimate goal is still way over there. Whether it is within sight or not, I can’t do anything about it because I am doubled over with my hands resting on my knees wondering why my (creative) lungs have shrivelled to the size of grapes.
I can drive a car by flooring the accelerator for 30 seconds and then releasing it until the car crawls to a stop, only to repeat the cycle again and again. I can. But the car will like it about as much as the other drivers and police. And whether due to a destroyed transmission or arrest, I will lose the car.
As I reminded myself on Twitter this past week, I am not writing a novel today. Rather, I am writing a scene, a paragraph, a sentence. But I am writing.
The top of the hill is not my destination, but rather is a way-station along the journey, a landmark I will pass. And for all I know—because despite my best efforts, omniscience has not yet occurred—the hill may be the most interesting and/or important part of the journey. The upward grade itself may hold the answer to the whole damned project
So here’s to my best efforts to ease into the next hill and enjoy the scenery along the way. I’ll reach my destination eventually and who knows, I might actually enjoy the trip (or at least, not drop of a coronary).
(Images are property of owners and used here with no destination in sight.)
With a pretty steady acceleration of about 9.8 m/s2 and a consistent headwind coming from below, I am happy to report that my free fall through the universe remains largely unchanged from my last check-in.
The ground remains nowhere in sight although recent episodes of blue-shifting suggest it is down there somewhere. Otherwise, the view continues to be spectacular, if a tad blurry.
The best movie metaphor I can offer for my journey thus far is a mashup between Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is as though I combined Indiana’s leap from the lion’s head over the yawning chasm with Dave’s journey into the monolith to find it full of stars. (My journey’s been full of actors, some of whom will one day be stars.)
When I stepped off the cliff in May 2012, I could not see the bottom. That there was even a bottom to be seen was pure conjecture. In some respects, that may have made it easier to step off. Ironically, not seeing what awaited me was less frightening.
As I fall—which I don’t see as a negative expression—I have come to realize that I care less and less about my potential destination. Instead, I am enjoying the freedom of soaring in whatever direction takes my fancy (falling is just soaring on a downward bias).
And in my journey, I am meeting an endless array of interesting people. Some are also soaring, while others are flailing in resistance. And still others have convinced themselves they are stable and stationary. Whatever floats their sense of well-being.
The forecast for tomorrow is a continued breeze with periodic pockets of turbulence in a sea of exhilaration. Can’t wait.