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Love the journey, not the destination

Once, a long time ago, I was told there are two kinds of writers. There are those who love writing—who delight in the craft of it, the mental and physical labor of putting words to paper or screen, to construct the narrative their heart yearns to share—because to them, that effort is no labor at all.

And then there are those who love having written—the dreamers, the thinkers, the ones who say for years that they’re working on a novel, with most of that time spent imagining the finished product and taking no tangible steps to get there. In short, they’re the ones who don’t actually write.

But this post isn’t about writing. It’s not about any one particular subject, or activity, or even logical context. It’s about healing from trauma, and the inner strength it takes to stick to the difficult path. It’s about mortality, and finding meaning in a nihilistic universe whose lifespan is just as finite as yours. It’s about life, the universe, and everything, and also nothing at all, because it’s about a frame of mind that can be applied to just about any situation to make it better or more bearable. It’s about enduring.

It’s about the journey.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.

When I was in 6th grade, sitting at my desk one October day in my free period, about to write the first sentence of the first chapter of the epic fantasy novel I had been planning for weeks now, that ancient proverb echoed throughout my mind. I knew the magnitude of the quest I was about to embark on was overwhelming—and I used that proverb to fight through the fear, the doubt, everything that otherwise would have stopped me—and then I wrote my story.

Yeah, I was a bit of a dramatic child.

But it was enough to get me started—enough to get me into motion, against all the laws of thermodynamics. As an adult, decades displaced from those formative memories, it’s a lot harder to get into that “just do it” mindset. 

I recently heard an analogy. Consider a person who has been in a terrible accident and has—at least for now—lost the ability to walk. They can regain the ability, but it will take hundreds, possibly thousands of hours of physical therapy to re-learn how to use those atrophied muscles and nerves. And all the while, the person is struggling with depression—wondering whether the therapy will even succeed, whether they’ll regain all (or any) of their lost abilities, wondering whether any of it is worth doing in the first place.

Maybe you’ve been there yourself. In a similar situation, framed on one side by an overwhelming task, and on the other side by a merely possible or probable reward.

Is it even worth it to go to law school, knowing I might not have what it takes to pass all my classes? Is it even worth it to join a dating app, knowing how unlikely it is I’ll find anything meaningful there? Is it even worth it to build my physical stamina, so that I can someday climb Mount Everest, even though I might never be able to afford the trip?

These situations are not all the same, obviously. There are practical responses as well as emotional ones. Maybe the person considering law school shouldn’t go, because maybe they know themself and their own limitations too well, and they’d rather spend that time building a more stable career foundation. But maybe the person who dreams of climbing Mount Everest should build their stamina regardless, because that stamina could be used for more local mountains (or more local sports teams, or whatever).

But then we come back to the first person, the one with a thousand hours of physical rehab ahead of them, and who can barely wiggle their toes right now. Should they go through with it? Should they not? What if they have PTSD flashbacks to the accident every time they try to walk, because they can’t think of the recovery process without also thinking of the trauma that made the recovery necessary?

These questions aren’t for me to answer; that’s up to the person themself, hopefully with the help of a good therapist and support system. But the fact remains: if they do want to be able to walk again, then they must go through the rehab process—even though it might not work. Which means, if they want to be able to walk again, they must become comfortable with the rehab process itself. Comfortable enough to tolerate it, at least. But more ideally, they could learn to love it in its own right, regardless of the unpromised rewards.


Process. Payoff. Input, output. Effort put in, reward come out.

Process is difficult. It goes against everything the universe stands for. An object at rest—a person doing nothing—decides to no longer be at rest, and to expend its energy to bring about some result.

And all too often, that end goal result is never actually attained.

The writer only finishes half of the novel. The business idea never makes it off paper. The mountain climber never comes close to Everest, because they lost interest in their local practice mountains—all their enthusiasm was for Everest itself.

There are two kinds of mountain climbers: those who love the journey, and those who love the destination.

It’s easy to get far in life if you love the journey. Loving the journey means you’ll intrinsically want to stick with it, because every step on that journey is its own reward. Maybe there’s some distant, abstract, actual reward—the law degree, the finished book, the highest summit—but those are years away. Decades away, sometimes.

Will your desire to reach that final summit really carry you for decades? Will your desire to write a book trilogy be enough to carry you through books 1 and 2? Sometimes, for some people, the answer is simply ‘yes.’ You know what you want, and you’re just going to buckle down and make it happen.

But I think most people aren’t like that. I think the mere existence of so many self-help books, motivational speakers, and so on is enough to prove that most people aren’t like that. Most people see a destination and think, “Yes, that! I want that! How do I make that happen for myself? Please help??” 

And naturally, the consequences can be disastrous. People going into a career they haven’t thought about the day-to-day workings of, realizing a week or a month into their first job that they actually don’t like the field at all. People committing years of their lives to a hobby they only force themselves to do once in a blue moon. Lives completely upended because people couldn’t be honest with themselves.

So much angst could be avoided if everyone occasionally looked back on their life and said, “I don’t like the journey I’ve been on. I should find a path I like more.”


Someday, the universe is going to end.

Okay, that’s a bit overdramatic. The universe is still going to be here forever, probably. But whether by Big Rip or Big Crunch or Big Freeze, eventually the universe will no longer be able to support life. And that’s ignoring the timeline for Earth itself being able to support life (just another 1.5 billion years)—so if humanity never leaves its home planet, it won’t even matter which way the universe itself becomes inhospitable.

Someday, the last remaining star in the sky will finish burning the last of its fuel, and the universe will never be bright again. Eons later, the last of the black holes will finish evaporating, and the only thing left for the rest of time will be cold stillness. You will die, Earth will die, the Sun will die, the universe will die.

Nothing lasts forever. Entropy takes its course.

Some people look at that impermanence of the universe and their conclusion is nihilism: if nothing lasts forever, then nothing matters. All monuments will crumble. All lessons learned will fade. Thus, the monuments weren’t worth building at all. The lessons weren’t worth learning at all. Nothing was worth anything, because the entire concept of ‘worth’ never meant anything.

I disagree with all of that.

The nihilists are right about just one thing: their equations of ‘meaning’ don’t balance. But where they look upon the imbalanced equations and conclude “meaning is impossible,” I look upon the equations and conclude “you’re using invalid equations.”

So what if you can’t build a permanent legacy that can never, ever be destroyed? So what if your children won’t live forever? Your parents won’t/didn’t either, and neither will you, and that doesn’t mean your life is/was/will ever have been worthless. It simply means that measuring it solely by the end state is a flawed concept. Don’t measure lives by their end state. If you have to measure a life at all, measure by its journey, not its destination.

We can choose to find meaning in the things we do, the people we know, the trials we persevere through. We can practice mindfulness, cherishing the present instead of just pining for the future.

Of course, we can still pine for the future. Having dreams is still good and important! But don’t just have dreams. Love the destination while loving the journey. Maybe that’s a sudden shift from my thesis so far, but to be fair, I’m still on the journey of understanding and synthesizing all these ideas. Maybe this addendum was obvious to you all along, but for me it apparently took an hour of philosophical rambling to get there.

Like, duh, of course thinking about the destination isn’t inherently bad. It should just be secondary to the journey itself. Loving the journey is a prerequisite. Loving the destination is a bonus. Or something like that.


So where am I going with all this? Nowhere exciting, really. I’m just working through a lot of ideas I’ve been thinking about lately, and I thought putting it in blogpost form might help. Did it help? Not especially, but I still enjoyed the process of writing it. Considering my overall point, I think I’ll count that as a win.

1 Comment

  1. joimassat

    This is a powerful, heavy, and thoughtful post.

    Some of the people who by all appearances “love the journey” are just playing through the pain…or the intermittent pain, or the boredom, or the hard marketing, or what-have-you. And for many of them, sure, when it’s all said and done they’ll go “that turned out so enjoyable that it was no labor at all,” they’re forgetting all the times it wore them out. Or it’s so far behind them that at least they can laugh about it now.

    I believe there’s got to be a gradient of people who love only the journey and people who love only the destination, and a spectrum of reasons varying project by project and person by person. You touch on this when you mention the different reasons why people might quit their big goals.

    I also feel compelled to note that I heard from somewhere-or-other that nihilism as it was originally conceived actually IS a lot like what you describe at the end: that because the universe is inherently meaningless, we humans must decide our own destinies and those destinies carry so much meaning and importance as a result. And another thing to take into account is our power to influence the lives of the now-living and future-living, and to make better what we can. It’s all temporary, but we can ease a burden here and there.

    What kind of love do we want to nurture, project by project and journey by journey? Do we need the love of an ideal parent, who might bear any burden and still show their child a smile? Or the love of a freewheeling hobbyist who takes pretty much everything in stride? I dunno. There’s a lot of options, and they’re not all The Grindset, and they shouldn’t all be The Grindset.

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