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February 4th, 2019
Most all of us have had the singular experience of being totally engrossed in a book or a movie or even watching a theatrical play and realizing with a kind of dread that the experience is about to end. We can even crave for such experiences to linger longer, and so we might put down the book for a restless amount of time. Of course such a strategy is unavailable for a movie or a play.
We might for a moment juxtapose this with the destination vacation where the journey of getting to the destination is generally the worst part. Everyone looks forward to the destination and simply endures the journey to get to the destination. The journey of a book, movie or play could not be more antithetical to the destination vacation.
This is the difference between a journey-centric view of any goal or experience and a destination-centric view.
The journey-centric approach carries a much higher probability of enjoyment, accomplishment and a far more efficient mode of learning than the destination-centric approach.
Just think for a moment of an experience we do not have often enough: when we begin to explore a new skill, or medium and find that we love it so much that we do not look at the process as some kind of laborious learning as in school, but instead find that we can’t wait to get back to it. It’s as if we are playing. With the unselfconscious abandon of a child. Interest and curiosity guide our mindset as opposed to the all-to-often-encountered drudgery of memorization and rote activity under duress of new bullshit job or educational program.
We can see the destination-centric mode of thinking reflected in many of the institutions through which we try to operate in society. Corporations tempt prospective employees not only with a sense of security in pay and benefits but also with the potential to systematically rise through a well-defined structural hierarchy. The myth goes that if one simply works hard, then one will rise like cream to the top – the destination as it were. This lure works despite the increasing competition as one rises and the often superficial reasons why people get promoted. (A harmless example is the correlation found between a person’s height and their high position in a corporation.)
Government carries the same structural lure, with the corporation’s CEO being analogous to the President or Prime Minister. It’s quite impossible to imagine any senator or representative being completely devoid of fantasies of rising to the top position of power. And yet the probability of such happening is severely limited by time and availability, despite all the other countless unknown factors that determine such promotions.
Education is perhaps most entrenched with regard to the destination-centric mode of thinking. Rising high in any given discipline of the educational world seems more probable and perhaps it is because there is a ceiling that everyone in the education system can theoretically reach together. The highest position in the education system is not a university bureaucrat, but that of a famous and well published professor. At first glance this seems to be less destination-centric than the governmental or corporate path because the chances of actually reaching the destination are higher due to a wider berth of positions at the top. But such a conclusion itself is destination-centric. If we compare the journey of the corporate, governmental and the educational, none of them are as clear cut and well defined as the educational path. The process of becoming a professor is incredibly well-defined as opposed to the path to becoming a CEO or becoming some singularly high-ranking government official. Ironically, the institution of education requires the least amount of practical creativity in order to rise to a high and well-respected position. And yet, wouldn’t we want the educational system to be well-tuned for generating creative and innovative individuals? Perhaps this takes a step towards explaining why such incredibly successful and innovative people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk dropped out of such systems.
Enough planned travelling will bestow the realization upon the traveler that the best trips have no destination. Travelling is a verb. Destination is a noun. Even in this simple difference we can glimpse the mistake. We are unwise to aim for something so concrete. We are best to feel our way forward on the fly in order to have an experience that is fulfilling.
In order to feel our way forward on the journey of life, we must balance a keenly defined sense of discomfort with priorities that bring us a sense of joy and fulfillment.
Most destination vacations are taken out of a kind of desperation to escape one’s circumstance, either due to the drudgery of some bullshit job, or the drudgery of a routine life that does not provide enough emotional sustenance. Destination vacations are falsely seen as a breath of fresh air, when in reality, such a view is a reflection of mistakes propagating in the direction and activities of regular life.
The pessimistic view of the movement of life is that life is work and work is routine and the combination is a kind of hell that we must endure.
The optimistic view is that life still requires work and work requires a kind of routine, but the definition and interpretation of those words are far more liberating: Imagine for a moment the dancer having the discipline to practice everyday, or the writer to write everyday or the painter to draw everyday, or the coder to build everyday. All such skills require a working routine and practice in order to maintain, advance and produce. The continual practice of such skills is likewise uncomfortable but the difference is that at the end of such days, the process of such practice also produces a satisfying sense of fulfillment and that the day was well spent.
The key difference between these two interpretations of work and routine is that one produces new content or experience by exploring the unknown, and the other does not. This concept is more fully explored in Episode 145 entitled Why Are Games Fun? Both the creative life and the life resigned to the drudgery of an uninteresting job both require uncomfortable rules and routine, but they engage with the unknown in totally different ways. One explores the unknown, the other is generally a strategy for avoiding it.
The difference is reflected once more here with the journey-centric view vs. the destination-centric view.
It’s clear, whether with travelling or choosing a direction in life, we are better to cast off any idea of a concrete destination or station and feel our way forward based on the present circumstances. The traditional lures might seem like comforting targets to aim for, but what is the point if we do not feel fulfilled in the process of getting there?
While the destination-centric mindset may have been more applicable in the past, it will continue to be of decreasing help as we move forward. Technological innovation will only make tomorrow more uncertain with regards to our potential place and function. Whereas in the past the idea of tomorrow may have seemed like a reliable and fixed given, it is quickly freeing itself from that ossification, stretching as it were, and we had best start looking at tomorrow as a kind of dance partner, one that changes as we do, responds as we act, and can enable us to enjoy – if we so choose - the process of exploring the greatest unknown, one with no destination: the future.