Destinations and Journeys

The other day, I read this post by an online acquaintance, which reinforced the old-but-good maxim that it is not the destination that matters, but rather the journey. I agree with this, but in responding to the post, I had a few thoughts on it that I thought I'd get down and post here.

The Destination is not the Goal

So, you've likely heard some variation of this fortune-cookie-style wisdom before, that the journey is what matters, not where you're going. As I said above, I think this is mostly true and worth keeping in mind, since our psychology and society often push us into laser-focusing on the destination with remarkable tunnel vision. It's helpful to be reminded that "life moves pretty fast - if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it." Also, every single successful person you ever talk to will tell you that the experience of achieving what they were after was nowhere near as engaging and interesting as the pursuit. Also, paradoxically, if you start out overly focused on outcomes and end points, you might just miss out on developing what you need to develop to even reach them at all. Often, focusing on the process instead of the goal is how you get to the goal at all. But notice in all of these examples, we're still talking about goals and destinations, they're still assumed.

Destinations are Excuses for Journeys

Okay, so journeys = good and destinations = bad, right? We should just stop setting goals or having specific places to go, right? Well, maybe not so much. There's a difference between a journey and wandering - the destination. So, we have a bit of a paradox. We want to value destinations less than journeys, but we need destinations to have journeys. What I realized in responding to my friend's post is that destinations are excuses for journeys - necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for what we're looking for. I keep having this insight over and over again playing with my daughter - I'll get frustrated that she's being slow to take her turn on Candy Land, or that she gets distracted by a stick while kicking her soccer ball into a goal. On my better days, though, I'll catch myself and realize "oh, right, achieving the 'goal' of this activity isn't actually why we're doing this, it's so that she can have fun and spend time with me and learn things". Another helpful example for me is playing games. Within the game itself, sure, you're playing to win, but you're really playing the game to have fun with your friends, so you likely shouldn't act like a dick to try to win. So how do we recognize that we need destinations so that we'll take journeys, while not attaching too much importance to them?

How Do you Balance these?

I like to think about it as something similar to the advice to have "strong opinions, loosely held" that you'll run into in the startup world. It's helpful to have specific goals or destinations, maybe even ambitious ones, but not to focus on them so hard that you lose sight of what's around you on the way. One thing I think helps do this is to be suspicious of "efficiency", when that means "get to the outcome as fast as possible". Sure, sometimes efficiency is worthwhile, but only when it is compatible with whatever other goals or values the journey might be meant to support. If you purposely chose to take the scenic route for the sights and stops, it's foolish to speed once you get on it. If you asked your kid to help clean up so she learns to be helpful and responsible, then it's dumb to do things for her because she's slow about it. If you started a company to have freedom and autonomy, it's foolish to take a deal that puts you in someone else's pocket. So, to properly value the journey, we have to think about not where we're going, but why we chose that end point in the first place, and be ready to adjust along the way.

Author: Jeff Russell

Created: 2022-01-23 Sun 18:26