Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Do You Value the Goal or the Process?

Yesterday, I read an article called, "The Most Important Question of Your Life." According to the author, you shouldn't ask yourself what you want out of life, but rather what you choose to suffer to achieve your goals. No goal worth achieving can be reached without effort, often requiring more effort than is apparent when someone first chooses to pursue a goal. There can be physical or psychological pain experienced over and over before someone succeeds. Even then, you may be required to put in effort to maintain your goal, whether that goal is staying at a healthy weight or keeping a relationship strong. I think the author makes some valid points, but I think there's more to reaching a goal than enduring pain and suffering. The bumps are part of the journey, and while it's always important to keep a goal in mind, one has to accept the journey, even learn to enjoy it, to reach the goal.

One of my favorite all-time books is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There's a passage in there where the author talks about trying to climb a mountain but giving up due to exhaustion. Physical strength and intellectual motivation weren't enough. To quote at length:

He didn't think he had been arrogant but thought he was undertaking the pilgrimage to broaden his experience, to gain understanding for himself. He was trying to use the mountain for his own purposes and the pilgrimage too. He regarded himself as the fixed entity, not the pilgrimage or the mountain, and thus wasn't ready for it. He speculated that the other pilgrims, the ones who reached the mountain, probably sensed the holiness of the mountain so intensely that each footstep was an act of devotion, an act of submission to this holiness. The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take....[The ego-climber] rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be further up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be "here." What he's looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn't want that because it is all around him. Every step's an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

In other words, if you want to write a book, earn a degree, or accomplish something, you have to value getting there as much as achieving the end goal. Of course, different people have different tolerances and so may therefore need to take different journeys. I don't enjoy running so would never set out to run a marathon. However, I do enjoy the process of researching stories, developing plots and characters, and putting in a day's work on a manuscript, so I can achieve my goal of writing a book. Someone else may be able to run a marathon but loathe having to sit at a computer and write all day.

  What do you think? Does success in reaching a goal depend on accepting setbacks along the way, recognizing the value of the journey, both, or something else? Do you think this could be part of the reason why so many books include a journey as part of reaching a goal? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

7 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If you don't value the journey, how can you value the goal? It has to be a bit of both.
Some goals don't have specific endpoints. I want to be the best guitarist I can be. I practice every day, getting better, and will do that until the day I die. It's a mountain I'll climb forever.
Good thing I take pleasure in the practicing!

Sandra Almazan said...

Sometimes once you reach one goal, others open up in front of you. My son wants to earn a black belt in tae-kwon-do. (Currently, he's a double yellow stripe.) The senior instructor always tells the class that earning a black belt takes time, that he doesn't just give them out, and that they don't test every time. The instructor himself is a 4th degree black belt and will test for 5th next year. I don't think the kids realize yet that even the masters never stop learning!

Crystal Collier said...

I think often we reach the summit of our goals and realize they don't fulfill us in the way we had hoped, so the joy is definitely in the journey--having something to look forward to or work toward.

Sandra Almazan said...

There's always another mountain to climb, Crystal. And yes, maybe if you have unrealistic expectations about your goal, you'll be disappointed when they don't come true.

Pat Dilloway said...

They say getting there is half the fun, though sometimes it is more so. I remember in the 90s my brother and I were looking for a certain CD that was impossible to find in the US. Anytime we went to a music shop somewhere we'd look for it. It wasn't so much the CD itself as the quest to find it. But then along came the Internet and we could just buy it from Amazon or wherever. Took the fun out of it because it was too easy then. It'd be like if Arthur were going to send the knights out to find the Holy Grail and then someone said, "Oh, wait, there it is. Never mind." So sometimes the quest is more fun than what you're after.

Then you have the whole Hierarchy of Needs. Like with writing I say, well, first I want to get published. Then if I get published I want to make money. And then if I make money I want respect. And if I get respect I want to win all the awards. And so on. Most people are never satisfied with where they are; they always want to move up. Donald Trump has tons of money and all that but that's not enough anymore so now he wants to be president. That's human nature.

Sandra Almazan said...

Good points, Pat!

Maria Zannini said...

I've always felt that the goal is for my ego, but the process is for my soul. I love working out the story.

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