Perspectives, Pt. 3 - Destination < Journey

Perspectives is a series about just that - perspectives: how we view the world; how we process the information and events we experience in everyday life.

In order to self-correct we must first be self-aware enough to know what needs correcting. Self-awareness entails an objective view of how we personally think and operate, which leads to a greater empathy and understanding towards others with whom our views and perspectives differ.

The heart behind this series is to examine the power of perspective through blog posts, to help illustrate and open our eyes to the power perspective can bring. At some point, your perspective and mine will undoubtedly differ... and that’s the point. This is my take on it, what’s yours?

The story of Dan Eldon is one that recently captured my interest. He was born in England but moved to Nairobi, Kenya in 1977 when he was only 7. His mother, whom he followed closely, was a newspaper journalist who championed activists and other pioneers in the column she wrote. Dan quickly began to follow in his mother’s footsteps, beginning his own humanitarian work as an activist even at the young age of 14 - helping raise money to fund a little girl’s heart surgery.

As he continued to strive towards resolving conflict, solving problems, and alleviating pain, he increasingly placed himself in dangerous situations. Despite his youth, his unceasing belief in the ability to see and be the change in the world drove him (and those around him) to never settle. Ultimately, these travels led him to Somalia where he spent the last year of his life before being killed in conflict from a mistaken bomb dropped by US Military. (Read more about his story here)

Dan’s sister Amy was quoted saying that Dan “ran at life”, and his life definitely depicted that, seen now on the big-screen as a Netflix feature film - The Journey is the Destination. As his biography states: "Dan was a unique person who woke up everyday with the drive to make the world a little better before he went to sleep.” Speaking on the film depicting his life, “this film, an exuberant, yet moving tribute to him, will inspire viewers to live more fully, love more – and realize that in giving, they receive, and of course, that the Journey is truly the Destination.”

Dan’s story is inspiring and should move us to action, but what I want to focus in on was his life motto, the title of his story depicted on screen: “The Journey is the Destination”.

The Question

Here’s the question: what’s more important? The journey? Or the destination?

I would guess that most of us would agree that the journey is the probable answer, but do our lives and our actions really back up that belief? My guess is: that’s hardly the case.

So often our actions are directed by the praise of others. Affirmation is like gasoline, and we need affirmation to keep our tanks full and the engine running smoothly. Affirmation and others’ support are great things, in and of themselves. But too often we choose a path for the purpose of achieving the end goal of affirmation and support, rather than doing it because it is inherently worthy of doing.

Hence, the better question we should be asking ourselves is: what’s praised more? The journey? Or the destination?

This could almost be considered a rhetorical question in today’s society. In a culture of achievement, the destination of winning, of coming out on top, of self-made success, of being the figure-head, the el capitan - the destination is all we hear about, or more likely, see about.

The Fuel

There are many things that feed our collective praise of the destination.

For starters, social media has to be mentioned. The advent of social interconnectedness has created an abundance of one-upping each other in “destinations”. Virtually everything you see on social media displays some semblance of a destination. And really, any snapshot itself is a “destination” of sorts - capturing one moment in the constantly moving landscape of time. It is forever and always a destination-enforcer, and our ever-growing addiction to them is only feeding our praise given to destinations.

Another important fuel for valuing the destination is rewards. The journey is rarely rewarded, but the destination always comes with something to gain. New job title, more money, more opportunity, more responsibility, more exposure, more power, more respect, more envy, and on, and on. Society is naturally built on rewarding destinations over journeys, because that’s fair. While I’m definitely all-for rewarding the fruits of labor, my point is to show the repercussions of only rewarding one side of the equation.

The ultimate fuel - the premium-grade gasoline - for prioritizing destination above all else is: identity. Associating our identity with the destination we reach or achieve is the single greatest motivator for pursuing any destination. Who we are, what we’re known by, the titles we carry - these are the powerful motivators that shift all the weight of any activity towards the destination it is aimed at achieving.

But there are some problems with a destination-mindset…

The Downside

Destinations carry with them diminishing returns; the downside only increases with more weight that's put on them. Risk is best leveraged among diverse assets, so that you’re downside is protected in the case of a crisis. Emphasizing destinations is risky because you're feeding a cycle of novelty. Once you’ve reached one destination, it will never again have the reward that it did the first time you reached it. The novelty of the achievement fades with time and repetition.

Destinations are also like records. They say that records are made to be broken, and I would argue that destinations follow suit. Who can be the wealthiest man of all time, who can have the most followers, who can find the newest / coolest spot, who can be the first to start a new trend. Destinations always fade, soon to be gone with the wind.

The momentary nature of destinations should be enough to help us avoid over-emphasizing them… so why do we like them so much? Novelty is one of the largest contributing factors for sure, but so too are the stories that come from them. Getting to share about our experiences or achievements with others is something we all love. Not only that, but also the accomplishments themselves are a destination we long for. Being able to acquire and represent an achievement or accomplishment as a result of our work is a strongly desired pat-on-the-back for our personal pride.

In the simplest form, we desire the rewards of the destination. And that is it’s greatest downside.

A More Powerful Perspective

How can rewards be a downside?

To explain, let’s look at my favorite place on earth… the mountains!

Snowboarding is my true love, the thing that never gets old and always fills my soul with abundant joy.

Ever since the invention of the ski lift in 1936, skiing or snowboarding has become accessible to anyone and everyone. On a good day (with little traffic), ski lifts allow me to get in well over 20 runs! More than enough to exhaust all the energy in my legs and fill up my satisfaction level to the brim. But what if we didn’t have ski lifts? What if we had to hike up the entire mountain just to get in a single run - one ride down the mountain? I can fully assure you, that would be one of the most cherished runs of my entire life.

The point is this: the destination is created by the journey. The same ski run that I’ve been down 15-20 times when riding up the chairlift would suddenly transform into a mountain-top experience (pun-intended) if it were the only run I was able to take after spending 3-4 hours hiking up that same trail. While I’m incredibly thankful for chairlifts, I can only imagine how much more I would value the magical moments of descending the mountain on a board if I had to climb all the way up beforehand.

The more powerful perspective is this: without the journey, there would be no destination.

The beauty of any destination comes from what it takes to get there, because destinations always require some measure of sacrifice.

The desire for destinations comes from the presence of scarcity - the fact that not everyone can get there. Whether it be time, money, or effort, destinations always exact a high price to achieve them. The more effort we give to reach the destination, the more value we put in the destination itself. Yet, when we place all our marbles in the basket of destination, we are never satisfied or fulfilled by the very destination that we prized so highly.

The Real Reward

As I said before, rewards are a good thing, and being rewarded for reaching certain destinations is an amazing blessing. Destinations do carry with them real rewards that are great to achieve and experience. But, the real reward, the more rewarding reward, is the journey it took to get there. The journey is the reward that lasts.

While destinations carry with them amazing and awe-inspiring rewards externally, journeys bring with them a host of internal rewards that a price-tag can’t be placed on. The reward provided by every journey is tangible experience, life experience, the experience that builds and forms you as a person, helping connect you to the common experience of life as a human being. And at the end of the day, the real reward of the destination is the journey that got you there.

“You'll learn more from the process of pursuing excellence than from the products of achieving it.” - James Clear

So this is the goal, the habit we should all strive to instill, the perspective that I believe is most powerful to hold: the journey is what makes the destination the destination, it’s what makes the destination worth it. And, as a result, our priority, focus, and praise should be given to valuing and enjoying the journey just as much as (if not more than) the destination itself.

When we place and see value in the journey itself, we will be able to better endure the obstacles, hardships, and challenges inevitably faced along the way. Our goal should be to grow in awareness of all the benefits the journey provides, and to get better at reminding ourselves of that very truth, the truth that is often hard to see in the moment, the truth that the journey is really what life is all about.

This perspective is helpful in understanding and valuing the process - in enjoying the journey no matter how long or arduous or difficult it may be.

"The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination." - Carl Rogers

That’s my take on it, what’s yours?