The Joy Is in the Journey

By Stephen T. Messenger

June 15, 2021

The other day I was talking to the gym trainer about personal goals. While I was focused on conquering and achieving them, Devin was more interested in working on them.  He said, “The joy is in the journey.” This made me pause. While I agree with the theory, it made me wonder if I really believed it.    

We live in a very forward-thinking culture. The Stock Market, one of America’s icons, is a great study in the difference between achieving goals and working towards them. You can never “win the market.” The goal is simply to make more money and see how far you can go. Every day, stocks will either rise or fall, and you’ll either increase your total investment or lose assets. But no matter how many years you invest, the dollar goals keep shifting as your portfolio changes. If you make more, you want more.

John Maxwell, leadership author and speaker, tells a great story about how he became an expert in his field. He heard that if you spend one hour every day working on a topic, you’ll be an expert in five years. He began working for an hour each day and, after months of practice, Maxwell began growing impatient for the end of five years to proclaim himself an expert.

After a few years, he suddenly realized how much knowledge and understanding he had accumulated. Maxwell was so fixated on the end goal, he failed to see how far he had already come and learned. His entire mindset changed from wanting to be an expert in five years to asking himself “how far can I go with this?” The joy is in the journey.

The fictional Forrest Gump ran across the country at least four times. He had no end goal or final destination in mind. When he reached the Pacific Ocean on the first pass, he said, “since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going.” When asked why he was running, he replied, “I just felt like running.” The joy is in the journey.

I know how easy it is to work for a promotion. The military has adopted an “up or out” culture. Service members need to get promoted, or they’re no longer in the military after being passed over a certain number of times. This subconsciously forces people into focusing on promotions instead of truly enjoying the leadership position they currently occupy.

I personally could do a much better job of living in the present. The kids will be out of the house before I know it. We’ll probably move with the military again and miss seeing local attractions in our current location. I’m taking some college credits and could enjoy the subject matter more than looking to finish the class. And I know my body is only getting older—what do I want to do before I settle into a rocking chair? Carpe diem is a rallying cry for us all.

Setting audacious goals is important. Perhaps what’s more important is enjoying the pursuit of these goals and the ride itself. One of my twenty goals this year was a physical accomplishment I started training for in January. When I met it a few weeks back, the achievement was, well, rather anticlimactic. I told Devin about my accomplishment at the gym, and that’s when he dropped his wisdom on me—the joy is in the journey. He was right. Looking back, I spent quality time with my daughter, saw steady results, and enjoyed the work to get there.

Life is hard at times, but you can choose to either enjoy it or suffer through it. As a leader in your field, you have to enjoy the ride. I once was told, when someone asks me what my favorite job is, the correct answer is always, “This one.” True or not, it’s important to speak that into existence. Whether it’s a goal in your family, work, physical, financial, or any other domain in your life, sometimes the most important thing is not the destination, but the journey.

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