Life shouldn’t be a journey with a prescribed goal
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Life shouldn’t be a journey. Live life like you are already at your destination.
Let me tell you why this works.
Human lives are generally defined by the goals that a human chooses to pursue. For example, your first major goal is high school graduation, followed by college, maybe grad school, and then a successful job and a corresponding happy life. Simple. Each step is followed by a logical next step until a certain destination.
But what about after you have a successful job and a happy life, what then? For people in the developed world, lifespan is close to 80 years and the goal of a successful, prosperous job is supposed to be reached at about 30 years old. That’s a fifty-year buffer to live in contentment. But what most people find is that contentment is boring. Where’s the change, the progress? And then, around age 60-65, you leave that successful job, that landmark of life, and then its empty.
Now, consider this. That goal of a successful job - successful defined by a job that garners respect and money - isn’t always attainable. Sometimes your dream job doesn’t give you the monetary satisfaction you seek, or maybe it’s spiritually unsatisfying, or your family can’t afford the schooling to get you to become a successful whatever-you-want-to-be. Well, then what?
You can’t reach the prescribed goal, so you must find another path with another acceptable goal. But you must do it soon enough that people around you won’t worry and you can hold a respectable place in society at the proper time in your life. Watch out for competition, though. There’s plenty of disillusioned people searching for a new path and they are all seeking the same answers you are. And soon enough, the calm journey that life is supposed to be becomes a rat race, a hurry to a finish line with little true satisfaction once you cross it.
Now, think about it this way. Take away the end goal of a human life. Whatever it may be, becoming a teacher or traveling the world or becoming Canada’s best doctor. Now, you just have a path. There’s no need to run because you’re not going anywhere, but you can run if you choose. You can also skip, walk, amble, saunter, crab walk, whatever you feel. Without the end goal, your path has infinite opportunities, endless turns to take and a plethora of beautiful scenes to pass by. Practically, this means that a successful job with a happy family and white picket fence doesn’t have to be the end, it doesn’t even to be a step on your journey. What taking away the end goal does is that it makes every place along your path an end goal. Because you aren’t going anywhere, you are always where you need to be without the worry of needing to catch up to anyone or even beat your previous self.
I can see how this could be problematic. This is great for people in happy circumstances: food on the table, education, money and opportunity. But what about the people with mental illness, people living in poverty, people who aren’t sure there will be food on their table tomorrow? Isn’t their end goal obvious and even necessary? I’m not really sure my life experiences qualify me to answer this question, but I’ll take a guess anyway. End goals are often steeped in the societal norm or the status quo. They often prescribe to a specific formula and don’t allow much breathing room. For these people, their end goal is obvious, but hard to attain. For someone living in poverty, of course they want a job and food for their family, but there are obvious barriers to attaining these normal end goals.
Poverty is a vicious cycle and the traditional end goal path may not be attainable for someone in this cycle. If you take away the end goal, however, there is room for two important things: forgiveness and creativity. The forgiveness is key because it allows people to understand that just because they didn’t reach the prescribed destination, there’s nothing wrong with them and that they can still walk along their path to a better place. The creativity comes from taking away the formula part of the end goal. Now that there’s not one specific path, there’s so much more opportunity to solve the problems at hand. My friend suffered from depression and anxiety and to solve that, society suggests therapy. Therapy, however, didn’t work. What did was yoga. Yoga offered her a community and a release. It’s not something meant for most people, but it worked for her and straying off that original path allowed her to understand that it was okay that therapy just wasn’t her thing.
Life isn’t a journey. There’s too many dangers to that mindset. It implies a goal of ultimate satisfaction when the truth is life is too variable and complex and ambiguous to have a singular solution. Life’s variability requires an equally flexible solution and understanding that the solution is not an end goal, but a continuous walk down a path, creates much more opportunity than before. It is a mindset susceptible to vulnerability because it admits that you don’t know what will happen next, but, more importantly, it’s a mindset made for adaptability and with a life as unpredictable as ours, vulnerability is a small sacrifice to make for adaptability. So, don’t run to the finish line. Don’t run at all if that’s what you choose. Just keep walking down your path and feel satisfaction at every point.