Don’t Lose the Plot

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I can’t imagine many people will not have heard (or used) this quote – or a variant of it – at some time in their lives.  It does seem fairly self-evident I guess.  People who set out on any journey, whether they get to where they imagined they would or not, do at least get the satisfaction of knowing that they tried. They have the opportunity of enjoying the thrill of the ride. They gain experience and learning from the venture. The challenge of the journey will often, in itself, be a major part of the reason for embarking on it.  Isn’t that obvious?
"It's A Long And Winding Road..."

Well, Intuitive though this may sound, it does not always appear that way when observing people’s behaviour. How many people are genuinely enjoying their journeys?I watched a documentary on TV this week, in which Ian Rankin (the famous and brilliant crime writer – check out his Rebus novels if you don’t know about him) keeps a video-diary of his thoughts, activity and progress while writing his latest novel.  He has a sketchy idea for the plot and how to start it off, and a vague notion of how the book should end, but has no idea how he will fill the 300 or so pages in between. For Rankin this was very much a process of discovery. It was as though he were chopping and beating a path through a jungle of intertwined ideas and potential pathways on behalf of his readers, preparing the way for them to follow on behind.  Like so many ventures in life, Rankin did not know exactly where his plot was going, and he agonized frequently until his ideas crystallized, his story was completed, and his novel sent off for publication. (Nine pages from the end of the first draft, he was still scribbling notes in the margins about alternative killers and endings). Rankin did not feel elation on completion – it was more like relief. In fact, he spoke about “being bored” with the story by the time he was putting the finishing touches to it, and, for him, completing it, and getting it out of the way, meant he could get started on his next venture, his next journey, and so the whole cycle would start again.

Reflecting on Rankin’s video-diary, it sounds like he neither appears to enjoy the journey (he regularly talks about being in fear, and agonises over whether the product will be good enough) nor the final destination.  Rankin has written at least one book a year for over 25 years, and has followed this same sort of cycle throughout this period.   He is extremely successful (though it did take him quite a few attempts before he was universally described as such), and he makes a very good living from it. However, it was very clear from looking through this window into his life, that he is not materialistic, and it is not the money that motivates him.  So what does?  What is driving him?

On deeper observation it is clear that the fear and challenges are vital to the process. Without them, the journey would be less memorable, less worthwhile. Overcoming the challenges provide moments of joy. It is in the fear and the periods of ‘blockage’ that the greatest learning occurs. The surge of blinding clarity that follows a period of confusion and ‘lack of ideas’ is massive reward in itself. The power of these moments is heightened by their irregularity, a sort of mental economy, where greater value is placed on these rare diamonds of lucidity.

When viewed like this, it is absolutely clear to me why Rankin was so keen to start on his next journey. He gets his kicks and rewards when deep inside the mental challenge of overcoming his story-line fears.  For him, it is most definitely not about the destination, it is about the journey.

This may not be how everyone would wish to live their life – even if they had the talent for writing that Ian Rankin does – but it does give us a clue about how people can and do find  their purpose and drive. It may not be found in the sunshine of the final destination but in the eddies and backwaters encountered along the way.

photo by tuexperto_com3

So, look for those backwaters, smell the roses along the way, enjoy the challenges, and yes, feel the fear.  These are all vital parts of the reasons and motivations for what we do, maybe even why we do them in the first place. Do not dream of saving all your joy for the one moment of crossing the line. It will be over in an instant (and you may even blink and miss it).

Coaching is a powerful and proven tool that can help people discover their purpose, values and motivation. Could you benefit from coaching, or do you know people who could?  If you want to find out more about how coaching can help you, simply send your details through the Contact Us page. I will be delighted to discuss further with you and see how we can work together.


10 thoughts on “Don’t Lose the Plot

  1. Thanks for a great piece of writing. I love your use of the Ian Rankin example.
    One of the best pieces of advice I got when doing my seemingly endless PhD was to celebrate along the way. So, I adopted a policy of celebrating even the finishing of a section, when the going was tough, and the whole process became much more manageable and enjoyable. The celebrations at the very end were nothing to those along the way in terms of their sweetness.

    Real food for thought here and most inspiring! Thank you.

    • That’s really kind of you to say. It seems so obvious but amazing how much we can forget to do it. I love the feel of your website. I’ll be checking in from time to time for an injection of your wisdom. Thank you.

  2. Hi Louis ~ as a newly minted sexagenarian, who describes himself as an 18 year old with 42 years experience, I am definitely of the view that it is about the journey … and celebrating the learning that occurs along the way.

    Like Jean, I also found the Rankin example valuable.

    I also took your implicit advice and visited Jean’s website too. I loved the feel and the content … in particular the photo of The Bay Cafe that declared, ” Smile, This is a doom and gloom free zone!”

    Thanks for a really thoughtful piece.

  3. A really great post Louis. It struck me that so many people describe happiness as an absence of negative feelings when what you have described is happiness as a result of having to deal with a challenge. A bit like the marathon runner, while getting to the end is important (and note that Rankin finishes all his novels!) the struggle is what counts. Ultimately that is life!

    • Yes – happiness is one of those elusive things that is tricky to define. I like the book on Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (and yes, I did need to go check his name and cut & paste it) …. for me it is the one piece of work that comes closest to encapsulating happiness. Thanks for your input.

  4. Louis, I agree with Socialbridge – it is always a pleasure to read your insightful articles which take you on a captivating journey.

    This is something that is smack at the heart of what The Chrysalis Group is about – and what I am about….realising our passion’s. It is great that you show sometimes this realisation comes sometimes with pain but ultimately with a pleasure – however obvious and and whatever level this may be at. Perhaps a good example is having children / being a parent!

    This, interestingly, is one of the very things that has been the most rewarding discovery for me in the creation process of The Chrysalis Group. The long hours, late nights, the vast scale of the enterprise I was trying to put together could easily have become something that, as a difficult journey, made me question (and ultimately abandon) the whole thing altogether.

    I had a light-bulb moment one day when I had been recovering from pneumonia and was frustrated that I could not give the time and attention I needed to the Group and this was impacting on the little time I had with my family. It was at this point that I remembered the core focus of the Group was about well-being and happiness alongside performance – I was busy working myself into an early grave and not enjoying what I was doing.

    It was then that everything changed – I actively thought to myself “I am going to start enjoying the journey”…and did. What I have found has been so fundamental about this is the shift in mindset to the sustainable long-term rather than a focus on a destructive short-termism (again, a key thing that the Group is focused on helping others achieve). In this way, this very understanding underpins some of the core business principles and practices that are needed in an organisation to achieve a sustainable balance between well-being and performance.

    There is always a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk and this was one of those ‘it happened to me’ experiences that I now much better understand the significance of not only in my business but in my personal experience of realising my passion through this.

    Hopefully this insightful and inspiring article will help others who are yet to walk this path in their own lives come to a new realisation that will transform their lives for the better.

    Thanks Louis.


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