When I worked as a social worker, one of the programs our agency provided was a summer day camp for children who were, for various reasons, not be able to attend community centre programs. We went to the zoo one day and one of my favourite kids was acting particularly anxious. He was running ahead, pulling at my hand to hurry us along, and on the verge of tears if the group paused to look at an exhibit.
I told him we had all day and he didn’t have to worry about missing anything, but he was desperate to get to the next exhibit. As soon as we all arrived at the next exhibit, he was off and running again. He desperately wanted to see the wolves, but barely even glanced at them before he checked the map to see what was coming up.
We all tried to slow him down so he could enjoy the moment and soak it all in, but the excitement of everything that was offered at the zoo was overloading his system. When we passed the tigers, all the other children stopped at the fence and observed as the trainer feed the big cats. My student wasn’t even paying attention to what was happening right in front of him. He only wanted to know what was next, even though he’d been looking forward to seeing the tigers.
I eventually took the map away from him, but it didn’t slow him down. Every time we got somewhere, he just wanted to get to the next somewhere. At the end of the day, when the tour was finished, he cried because it was over. He cried a lot, and he wanted to go back to do it again.
People ask me all the time to help them achieve their goals. They set their personal, work, and financial goals and assume that when they reach them they will finally be happy. People also come in all the time wondering why after they achieved all their goals, they’re still not happy.
Achieving goals is not a bad thing. Challenging yourself with novel aspirations that are slightly outside your comfort zone is the best way to learn and grow. However, it’s not the achieving that creates the happiness; it’s the striving. If we aren’t paying attention during the journey, we miss the point.
If that’s the case, why is everyone trying to rush the process?
People rush up the path assuming that ultimate success and happiness can be found there. They ignore signs and avoid the other people along the path only to be told when they reach the peak, “Okay, it’s over”. The thing they feel at that point is regret that they didn’t take more time and pay more attention to all the things that happened along the way.
It’s true that everyone is on a slightly different path. Some are paved highways and some are muddy pothole filled back country foot trails. But we are all ultimately going to end up in the same place.
If we don’t like where we currently are, we can get on or off any given path at the next intersection or fork in the road. Find a road that makes you want to meander and enjoy the scenery. Nobody knows how long their particular journey to the top of the mountain is going to take, but whether it is destined to be short or long, we might as well slow down and enjoy the trip.