“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?
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.
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).
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