Not long ago, I was waiting at the pharmacy when a woman walked up to the counter. She seemed a bit frazzled as she put down on the counter a 12-pack of ginger ale and a box of saltine crackers. After paying for her prescription, she picked up her things and went on her way. I noticed, though, that she forgot her soda. I turned around to stop her but she was already coming back up the aisle. She could see that I was going to say something to her so she smiled and commented that her mind was elsewhere at the moment.
When I finished in the store, I walked outside and met up with her again. She went on to explain that she was a little anxious because she was bringing her husband home from the hospital. He had been in a car accident and had broken his neck. She went on to say that he had saved his whole life for a fancy Corvette and his first time out in the car he was going too fast, lost control, and crashed.
This is a very extreme example of the point here but makes it just the same: do you spend your life reaching for a goal, only to find that it wasn’t the best thing for you or not exactly what you were expecting?
It is a common belief that once we set our sights on something, everything will be wonderful once we reach the summit. Yet, from my own experience, there are lots of reasons why this may not be true:
1. Along the way, life happens. We hopefully don’t become unconscious while reaching for our goal, but experience life. People, relationships, and events rewire our brains, often in subtle ways that we’re not even aware of, and what we once thought was important or wonderful, becomes less so when we get there.
2. Our goals change. Again, as we experience life, we discover our true passions and interests emerge and may not agree with what we originally believed. I spent over a decade working on my degree, thinking I would run a research lab. But I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do at all. The education is invaluable and something I am undoubtedly grateful for, but it’s not where my true passion lies.
3. Goals never end. As Nelson Mandela said: After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. Reaching a goal is a great accomplishment and something to be very proud of, but we don’t stop living when we get there and it doesn’t mean we should shift into neutral. As humans, I believe one of our main objectives is to continuously grow–as long as we are alive. Reaching a goal actually provides us with a stepping stone on which to begin our next climb.
4. We believe happiness lies in achieving the goal. How many of us have said, “When I get ______, I’ll be happy”? We postpone our happiness, thinking that we need to become “someone” or acquire “something” to be fulfilled. Through my own life, I’ve realized that this simple yet profound cliché is really is true: It’s the journey, not the destination, for a few reasons:
- Being happy and passionate during the journey makes it more likely that we will reach our goals. A positive attitude and gratitude for what we do have at any given moment are the keys to attracting more good things into our lives. While striving for something, this mindset will clear the way and allow us to accept and appreciate more of the same. Therefore, be patient and enjoy the ride.
- When we get there, our happiness won’t be temporary. It’s true that the new car, the bigger home, and the new job will give us happiness, but only for a short time. Our levels of happiness will return to their set points. If the dial was on lukewarm before reaching our goals, after a few days, weeks, or even months, we’ll naturally return there. But if we’re happy along the way, we’ll remain that way even after the novelty and excitement wear off.
- Think about the time spent on the road to achieving a goal. Often it can be many years. When we get there, we are likely not the same people we were when we began doing the work. Life during this journey has offered us a wealth of experiences, opportunities, choices, and lessons that influence the end result. The goal is really just a culmination of the journey and the better the journey, the better the destination. In other words, the destination may actually change along the way into something even better than originally planned for or imagined.
Whatever it is that you’re working, striving, or reaching for, consider it a beacon, guiding you in the right direction. It’s a reason to reach in the first place and something that creates focus. Honor each step along the way as vital to your success. And while you’re moving forward, enjoy and be thankful for the ride. When you get to the top, it may not look exactly as you imagined, and that may be a good thing. : )