You've heard the old cliche, "It's the journey - not the destination - that matters."
Of course you've heard it: we're hammered over the head with this all the time. We know we need to enjoy the present, live in the moment, carpe diem, etc.
Do we actually practice it? Of course not.
Because it's really hard not to care about the destination.
We are socialized to have goals, to achieve something, to work towards an outcome: work a good job so you can retire comfortably, work out to have a body you love, meditate to manage your stress. Our motivation for doing most things is tied to its result.
And it's making us miserable.
Listen, I love goals. Setting and achieving goals make my world go 'round. The work I do with creative entrepreneurs is based on setting clear, ambitious objectives and creating strategies to achieve them.
But when our happiness relies on the outcome of our goals? That's when we get into trouble.
Let me tell you a story.
The problem with goals
A couple years ago, I signed up for a 10k race. I'm a runner and 10k wasn't a challenging distance, so I wanted to challenge myself on speed.
Normally when I run, I enjoy the scenery, or get lost in my thoughts, or focus on how my body feels.
Not this time.
The race began and I started running with one goal in mind: finish that race as quickly as I could. For 10 kilometers my only focus was the time on my watch and the finish line.
It was the worst race of my life. The entire time, I just wanted it to be over. I was literally wishing it away.
To make it worse, my time was mediocre, so when I finished, I was upset about it. I felt like the whole race was a waste of time and was mad at myself for not having achieved my goal.
When my husband asked me, "Well, did you at least enjoy running the race?" my answer was, "no."
This is the problem with focusing on the outcome of goals, rather than the process of achieving them. We just want the "journey" to be over with so we can reap the rewards of the "destination."
The problem is twofold
1) Even when we do reach our intended outcome, it never makes us as happy as we think it will.
2) If we don't achieve the outcome we want, we feel like the whole endeavor was a giant waste of time.
So much for "living in the present."
How to "enjoy the journey."
So how do you get past that? How do you learn to enjoy the journey, and not just the destination?
This calls for another story.
After the disastrous 10k (and several months of therapy, but that's another topic altogether), I ran a much longer trail race: 22 miles long, one mile elevation gain, five and a half hours of running/hiking.
But this time, I didn't look at my watch. I didn't think about the finish line.
Instead, I focused on why I signed up in the first place: being outside, using my body, feeling strong, running with a community of people who share my values.
Whenever there was a massive hill, instead of hating life, I reminded myself why it was important to me to challenge myself physically. When my knees started hurting, I would look around at the scenery and think about how lucky I was to be physically capable of doing something like this. When I really started feeling the fatigue after about 20 miles, I found another runner to keep pace with and we encouraged each other until the end.
My race time wasn't amazing that day, but that didn't matter. The outcome - finishing the race - was just an added bonus to what had been a wonderful experience.
And I'll tell you what: that race changed me.
For one, my race times are no longer as good as they used to be. I'm not quite as competitive and don't push myself the same way.
You might be thinking, "Wait a minute, if you stop focusing on the outcome, you don't achieve as much? That doesn't sound like a good thing."
My response to that? It depends on your priorities. Trading a fast race time for happiness was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
Enjoy the destination and the journey
All of this said, you shouldn't give up on having goals. Goals drive us forward, they help us evolve.
Keep your goals, just see if you can put less pressure on yourself to achieve them in such a specific way. Keep trying to evolve, just make sure the process of evolving brings you joy as well. And keep striving to achieve, just appreciate the experience of working towards your goals as much as you appreciate reaching them.
So that's my challenge to you
Think about something you are currently working towards: building a business, changing jobs, saving money, getting an MBA, losing weight.
And now think about what you are getting from the process of working towards your goal.
1. What are you experiencing ?
2. What are you learning ?
3. How are you evolving ?
Don't lose sight of the outcome, but see if you can find happiness and fulfillment through the journey itself.
Because that journey? It's called life.
Try to enjoy it.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Favor the Bold Communications. It has been modified and republished here with permission.