Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Journey or The Destination?

A friend's son graduated from high school recently, and she blogged about the speech he gave at the graduation ceremony. He quoted from an essay his father had told him about. The essay is called The Station and is by Robert J. Hastings. You can read it in full here.

Hastings's essay, which first appeared in Ann Landers's column in May of 1981, suggests that we spent way too much time focused on where we're going instead of the journey to get there. He likens life to a train ride where we sit in the passenger car, oblivious to everything whizzing by outside and we focus only on our destination. He even goes so far as to say there isn't really a "station" in our lives. There's no finish line. We only have the road we travel and we often miss the real joy in life because we're so intent on that non-existant "station," which he calls "a dream that constantly outdistances us."

He writes, "We think that on a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. There will be bands playing, and flags waving. And once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true. So many wishes will be fulfilled and so many pieces of our lives finally will be fit together. How restlessly we pace the aisles… waiting, waiting, waiting, for the station."

When I first began writing, I had no destination in mind. I just wrote. Then I learned about the "station" and set it in my sights, with various scenic points along the way, such as submitting, perhaps getting an agent, finaling in a prestigious contest, winning a contest, getting "The Call" and the list goes on.

In life we have these scenic points too -- finish high school, then finish college, get a good job, marry, have a family, raise the kids and get them out on their own, retire comfortably and that list goes on too.

And all during the time we spend focused on those, we often miss the little things -- the quiet moments snuggled on the sofa with a toddler, the rainbow after a thunderstorm, the first fireflies of summer, the bird nesting in the backyard tree, the quiet of a January snowstorm.

And if we don't get "The Call" or win the contest or get the big promotion, what then? Have we failed? Everyone tells us to be goal oriented, and that's a good thing. We need goals or we wander around aimlessly. You can't hit a target if you don't know what or where it is. But are there limits?

Right now the journey seems rather like this maze of train tracks and the destination... well, I'm not sure what it is anymore. The magazines I wrote for are folding one by one. The online class I was scheduled to teach over the next two weeks has been cancelled due to lack of enrollees. I'm sure the economy played a part in that along with the very precarious nature of the magazines.

Looking back, perhaps I put too much effort into those magazines and not enough into book-length fiction. But I had a good thing going and my sales over the past few years paid my way to the RWA conference. OTOH, with the magazines in flux, maybe lots of folks will just stop submitting to them and it'll be easier to sell to the remaining two.

Or perhaps I should stop worrying about selling anything and get back to the joy of writing I had when I first started.

What about you? Have you missed the sights along the way because you were too focused on the destination?


robertsonreads said...

No, I have tried to enjoy the sights along the way. I guess that is why I don't have a great paying job, but I do enjoy what I do, the people that I work for and such. I know there are a lot of people who make more money but are not definitely not as content as I am. It's always a balancing act.

Yesterday while watching a movie at my sister's home, my nephew (7) laid down next to my legs and was content to do just that and I just rubbed his back. I try to see things through his eyes and get the wonder all over again.

Stephanie Jones said...

PM, GREAT blog! I have always been "station" oriented. Even as a young child I was always about reaching my goal or having a winning score.

As I have gotten older I find that I am a little be more capable of slowing down to at least acknowledge the journey. I also find that I am able to enjoy achieving a certain station more than in the past. I can revel in success rather than simply marking that off my list of life and moving on to the next goal.

catslady said...

Great blog. It reminds me that I was told over and over and over - don't have kids until you can afford it. Well, how many of us can ever say that. I waited 15 years before realizing that wasn't good advice lol. I had my two girls and am sorry I didn't start sooner but at least I didn't wait for that particular "station."

PM's Mother said...

Are we there yet?

Angel said...

I, too, have always been very station oriented. I'm trying, really hard, to become more about the journey. Not easy, but the scenery is pretty along the way. :)


Cheryl said...

I have always been goal oriented - the job, get it done, move on. But, in my "old" age I have learned to stop and smell the roses. I realized recently that life was going on without me. I needed to join in and live! So that is what I am doing. It doesn't mean you can't have goals, just don't let them HAVE you.

PM this was a very thought-provoking post. I enjoyed it!!!