It is good to have an end to journey toward; but is the journey that matters, in the end. —Ernest Hemingway
Looking back, I smile as I consider how fast I climbed the trail to the summit, impatiently passing slower hikers along the way. The point was the peak and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible. Descending from Angel’s Landing, I began to feel lightheaded. By the time I reached the end of the 2.5 mile descent, I realized that I might be in trouble. Though I had been drinking water along the way, I recognized the signs of dehydration. Determined to see more of the park, I started up another trail only to turn around. I was done. My pace, coupled with the heat and 5700 foot elevation conspired to put me down for the next 18 hours. And so disappeared any delusions of invulnerability.
Charging to the Next Summit
In many ways, the story above describes how we live our lives; charging to the next summit and blazing speed. It seems that the story is always about getting there. Quickly. We climb ladders seeking to “get to the top.” We fly to vacation spots to avoid the lengthy, and boring, drive. We cruise through our days to get to the evening, through our weeks to get to the week-end, and through our years to get to next year. With our children, we can’t wait until they sleep through the night, are able to go potty on their own, or we long for the unimaginable moment when they get their own cereal so we can sleep-in for a few more minutes on a Saturday. Finally we graduate to wishing for them to drive themselves to school, do their own laundry, and quickly find them gone; on their way to building their own life.
In our younger years, we want to get “older” so we can enjoy the perks of age. We want to jump past the building years of our career so we can enjoy the “legitimacy” of experience. Before we know it, we are suffering through the problems of “too much” experience and a world that doesn’t seem to recognize the value of all of those years of rushing through the tasks to reach professional maturity. We find job markets and options narrowing for “someone of experience.” In our startups, we want to double every year and sell as quickly as possible. Is retirement the goal? Do we really want to be done?
Sprint or Marathon?
In my high school and college days, I was a sprinter. Figuratively and literally. My focus was always about getting to the finish, quickly. I found that I was pretty good at it. Finishing. Quickly. But life should not be a sprint. Three untimely deaths this week, close to home, have reminded me of one thing: it all passes quickly enough without me trying to race through it.
Why are we in such a hurry to get to the end? Part of it is our need for immediate gratification. We want it all, right now. Watch how people interact with service professionals. We want it NOW. We want perfect service, perfect results, and perfect follow through, every time, all the time. From staff in a restaurant to staff in the hospital, we expect 5 star everything and we expect it to be there when we are ready for it. We want painless labors, flawless dining experiences, perfect repairs, fast traffic lights, and smarter drivers – and we want it all right now!
Work harder. Run faster. Get past the obstacles quickly. Remove any discomfort immediately. Get to the answer, resolution, deal, closing, repair, healing, and whatever else we want as quickly as possible. I feel a bit frazzled and fatigued just writing this. When I look back on my life, I frequently wonder: did I miss something? Looking at photos of moments past and straining to remember: was I present in that moment or just posing?
Formed Along the Way
We are formed along the way. Molded in little, painstaking, steps taken each and every moment. The journey defines us and holds many treasures. Even the painful elements hold hidden gifts. If we are willing to see them. Hard as we might try, there is no shortcut and our efforts to pass through quickly and untouched are doomed to fail. Perfection is the enemy. There is no perfect path, perfect result, or perfect person.
Before we beat ourselves up too much, it is important to remember that life is long, difficult, and messy; we will not play it perfectly. And that’s ok. However, the point of life is to live it and living it requires us to be as present in the moment as we possibly can be. We’ve got to shift from our sprinter’s mentality to the marathoner’s mentality. Better yet, let’s adopt Seth Godin’s concept of the “infinite game.” Winning the infinite game is not about finishing but about continuing to play. Pace yourself. Stop and smell the roses. Or as Jim Rohn says: wherever you are, BE there.
Start today. Wherever you are. Quit focusing on the destination and focus instead on the next step of your journey. It will be over soon enough.