“It is not so much the perfect destination as the perfect path,” says Jonathan Mead, on Robert Jackson’s excellent podcast A Quiet Mind. Is Jonathan right? Do we spend too much time focusing on the end result, and not enough on the path we take to get there?
When I was raising money to go to drama school, I had a very specific goal: to raise £25,000. It was a huge feat of organisation to achieve that. And when I look back, what was more memorable, more meaningful? The moment when I realised I had actually raised all of the money? Or the journey that led to that moment?
It was the journey.
What I learned on that journey was inevitably greater than the moment that the goal was ‘achieved’.
During my fundraising, I had learned to become comfortable with asking for help. In doing so, I had created many opportunities for people to get together to share something. There was a great sense of community and support around me. I felt so blessed to have been helped by so many people. I learned to believe in myself. And I learned that others could believe in me, too.
However, I could not have begun this journey without a goal.
So what can we learn from this? Perhaps a goal is necessary, but can we focus on our goal, while paying full respect to our journey?
And what if our journey takes us somewhere else?
I left drama school before graduation. I was quite unhappy in my years there, even though previously, this had been the course I dreamed of.
Staying on for another unhappy year seemed unbearable. I had stopped enjoying myself and was really looking for an escape. It felt like stubbornly sticking to my goal of graduating would have caused me greater suffering.
When we should put our goals aside, and allow the journey to take us somewhere else?
My feelings about leaving drama school were misguided.
In reality, the goal and the journey are one and the same. In reality, we all want happiness and less suffering. When we want to feel a certain way, we look for a way to achieve it. This creates a goal; ultimately, a symbol of something we guess will bring us happiness.
Sometimes we convince ourselves that only our goal will bring us happiness. Sometimes we are disappointed that our goal did not bring us the happiness we expected.
When I decided I wanted to leave college, I recognised I was unhappy. I did not realise that I could have had a very happy journey, right at that moment. Instead I wanted to move away from external factors I felt made me unhappy.
Jonathan Mead says we should be “not moving away from things, but cultivating a present you want to experience.” The Sufi poets put it another way:
It is not about quenching your thirst. It is about developing a thirst so perfect that you never stop drinking.
It took me ten years of searching to find out that I could cultivate my own happiness.
So have a goal, by all means. But put it to the back of your mind. How do you want your present to be, right now?
Remember, the goal and the path are one. If what you seek is happiness, start to cultivate it now.