Life: a journey or a destination?

There’s all sorts of facile advice floating around out there about what the purpose of life is and I don’t mean to deride it. I think almost every cliche contains a grain of truth, but sometimes we can go deeper. Here’s is a paradox I’m a little concerned about.

People often say that life is a journey, and that the journey is what matters. This seems right to be me, but a little mistaken. It’s not really the journey, because you could have a great journey by accident just as much as you could end up in a good position in life by accident. The point of the phrase “life is a journey” is to get people not to focus on the place they end up, but it would be just as mistaken to just focus on all the places you go or do not go. The point of “life is a journey” is to try to get someone to pay attention to the fact that a good life is one lived within certain boundaries or a certain conception of oneself. The idea is that if one lives with equanimity, honesty, and integrity (a very complicated word that stands in so well for the idea I want here without really moving any closer to understanding), then the results are not important. The way of living is what matters.

Ok fine.

But here’s a problem, which is that a journey only takes on its significance in relation to an end goal. Imagine someone whose being asked about what he wants to do in life. In response to questions about what he’s going to do, he just says “it doesn’t matter what I do, cause the journey is what matters.” But that’s the point, the journey only matters when you HAVE A GOAL. The journey comes about as a valuable side effect to trying to get some place you think is worth going. Without a goal, you’re just wandering. If you think that life is a highway, and you want to ride it all night long, you’re just joyriding, not road-tripping (that’s my cliche, pop-culture, cutesy attempt to be funny for this post. Take heed, there is truth to my witticism).

So, the point I want to make is that you should be careful of when you say to someone that life is a journey, because it is a journey, but you shouldn’t SAY THAT. You have to try to help people think of it as not a journey to treat it at least partially as an opportunity to get somewhere. That’s why the advice to live life in the mode of a journeyer conflicts (kind of) with another expression, which is “do what you love.” In the latter phrase, the advice IS to find an end goal and pursue it. When these two things come together: an end goal that one treats as important, and the journey to get to that goal, then you’ve got something.

On it’s own though, you risk deceiving people by telling them that life is a journey, because for the journeyness to be valuable, people have to think its not present or not overridingly important. It’s like how if you want to get someone to like you, you shouldn’t try to get them to like you. There are millions of examples…


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