Revel in the Journey or Skip the Trip

Getting there should be at least half the fun.

Posted Mar 24, 2020

I first met Tony back in the late 1960s when he was in my psychology class at the City University of New York. Because I taught a large lecture class of more than 300, I didn't get a chance to know many of the students on an individual basis.

Tony was the exception. He would come up to see me during my office hours and ask me about course assignments and testing procedures. Mostly, however, he talked to me about writing books. He knew I was a published author, and he wanted to "pick my brain" about job opportunities for professional writers.

"Making a living as a full-time author is somewhere between difficult and next-to-impossible," I cautioned him. "You usually need some other type of job to support you while you do writing on the side."

That didn't satisfy Tony. "I want a career in writing," he assured me. "My goal is to have the number-one book on the New York Times bestseller list someday."

"Well, at least you don't think small," I chuckled. "But let me warn you: There are only a few best-selling authors out there... less than one percent of the profession. The rest of the people who make writing a full-time career end up scratching just to make ends meet. For them, writing is not glamorous or lucrative... just a lot of hard work, frequent rejections, and infrequent paychecks."

My warnings fell on deaf ears. "I know it will be a challenge," Tony conceded, "but it's what I want to do."

Tony and I lost touch with each other after he graduated, and I left New York to seek warmer winters in Florida. Every once in a while, I would think of him when I read the book review section of my local newspaper. I wondered whether he ever pursued the writing life or decided to give it up for more financially rewarding pursuits.

Then, in the late 1990s, I had a chance encounter with Tony during one of my visits to New York City. He happened to be attending a convention at the hotel where I was staying and was seated across from me at lunch. It had been 30 years since I had last seen him, and had it not been for a name tag he was wearing, I wouldn't have recognized him. He had put on some weight since our last encounter, and his hairline had retreated to the edge of baldness.

After recovering from the surprise of our unexpected reunion, Tony and I set about filling each other in on what had been happening in our lives since we last met.

"What about your plans to be a full-time writer?" I inquired. "Did you stick with your plans?"

"Yes," Tony assured me. "It's been over a quarter-century now." He paused and looked at me for a moment. "You were right about the profession, though."

"How...?"

"It hasn't been easy from a financial standpoint," he admitted. "It's been a struggle to keep ahead of the bills since day one."

I gave a sympathetic nod. "You're not alone, that I can assure you."

"I keep hoping for that one big book to put me over the top."

I studied the expression on Tony's face. I could discern neither hope nor resignation. "Tell me," I asked, "how do you feel about writing now; I mean, after all this time—all your effort—and still no number-one best-seller."

Tony gave me a wistful look. "I always thought I'd reach my goal of having that best-seller... but truthfully, I don't see that happening anymore. Don't get me wrong," he hastily added, "I'm not about to stop trying, but at this late date, I'm realistic enough to figure if it hasn't happened in a quarter-century, it's probably not going to happen in the next 25 years either—even if I live that long."

"You still seem committed—even enthusiastic—about writing, though," I noted, impressed by Tony's description of how he worked at his craft day after day even as his goal of being a best-selling author became increasingly unlikely.

"That's the beauty of it, you see," he confided. Tony took the napkin that was next to his plate and unfolded it. "Imagine that this is a blank piece of paper."

"OK," I agreed.

"Every day, I go into my study and face a blank piece of paper. My challenge is to fill that paper with my own words, something meaningful. It's me against the empty page. I'm in control of my own destiny. If I don't achieve my objective, well, there's no one to blame but myself. If I do create something of value, then I'm the one who deserves and receives the credit. The bottom line is I've always loved writing—the challenge of filling that empty page. That's the one constant that has stayed with me throughout my writing career, and that's the reason I've spent a lifetime doing it. Writing is my passion. I have to do it. Sure, I'd like that number-one best-seller, but it is of secondary importance to the act of writing itself. Writing is what gives me joy and meaning in my life. If I ever do achieve my goal of a number one best-seller, well, that would just be frosting on the cake."

I congratulated Tony on his perseverance and encouraged him to stay the course.

After speaking with Tony, I not only felt a  sense of joy, I also felt an overwhelming sense of relief  for my one-time student because I knew he had discovered a great truth when it comes to living joyously and loving your time on this Earth:

Revel in the journey or skip the trip!

Certainly, the achievement of Tony's original goal—a number-one best-seller—would have made him happy, but (and this is critical) because his main love in life was the act of writing, it was not necessary to achieve the goal to satisfy (or justify) a lifetime pursuing it. His decades of work would not be wasted if he didn't get that best-seller because it was the journey (the act of writing), not the destination (the best-seller) that gave meaning and worth to what he did with his life and why he did it.

What We Can Learn From Tony's Life:

For those people who define their success or failure in life purely on the basis of whether they achieve or fail to achieve their goal(s), who think only in terms of the destination and not the journey—a harsh reality often awaits. And it is this: Many individuals who set long-term goals for themselves will spend a lifetime pursuing them without success. And where will that leave them? With an overwhelming sense of failure and belief that a large portion of their life has been wasted.

That is why you should never pursue an objective or goal in life if your only satisfaction will come in achieving that objective or goal. Instead, your goal or objective, rather than being the main reason you undertake an activity, should be a kind of "bonus" or "additional benefit" that comes from participating in an activity that you enjoying pursuing for its own sake.

Life holds no guarantees, no iron-clad promises of success in the activities you undertake. But if you enjoy what you are doing—if you revel in the journey—you will end up loving the time you spend pursuing your goals, even if the travel toward that goal doesn't take you as far as you had originally hoped.

Revel in the journey or skip the trip! If you find yourself in a job where you celebrate "Hump Night" every week, it's time to recalibrate your life's trajectory and embark on a new journey where the day-by-day tasks of your life give you satisfaction, even joy. Achieve that objective, and the destination will take care of itself.