We all have an image inside of us, a shiny self portrait of who we want to be and how we want to live. We use it to motivate us, and occasionally to shame us into activity. It is human nature to always strive for something bigger and better. We stare at the next ridge, pointing at it and proclaiming "there- that plateau right there is where I will put my roots. That is where I want to be." And when we reach it, we realize that instead of a beautiful view of everything we have overcome- we are staring at yet another mountain with another ridge that we desperately wish to climb to. We forget what's important along the way; it's like hiking through the woods with your head down- sure, you'll see the waterfall or the grand view at the end- but what did you miss on the trail up?
We all know the usual life questions, and I suspect we all have similar answers. We all strive for happiness, for success, for health, for fulfillment. We all have these end goals in mind. And yet we forget that the end is only an infinitesimal fraction of that journey. It is the steps and the struggles along the way that will define us, not the final reward.
To see things clearly sometimes you have to flip them on their head. Instead of staring at the shiny picture of the end goal with all of its glory and proclaiming 'I want that,' stop to look at the road that will lead you to the outcome. Stare long and hard at the daily grind, the drudgery, the pain- is that what you truly want? Every dream has a price, and we all have a limited amount of currency to spend in this world; are you willing to endure? Can you find joy on the difficult road ahead? If you can stare into the face of those struggles and still nod your head in agreement and say 'yes please,' then perhaps you have found your calling, my friend.
In our modern world we glorify everything; we put these goals up on pedestals and forget all of the hard work that goes into it. You see the girl with the high paying job as she struts around in her high heels- and you want that, you want to own that persona with every fiber of your being. And yet you didn't see her working until she fell asleep at her computer, going to the bathroom to cry after having to play tough love with an employee, feeling like a failure in other aspects of her life so that she could nurture this dream. You didn't see the sacrifice, the daily fight, the doubt, the frustration; you just saw the shiny picture at the end.
The journey is what will make you, not the destination- success is just a side effect of sweat and perseverance. It is a convergence of good luck and hard work. These things do not always come naturally; there are struggles that will leave you gasping and unsure. It's easy to want the medal at the end of the race- you can see yourself sprinting across the finish line and raising your arms in victory- but can you also picture the 4am runs before work, the blisters on the back of your heels, pushing your body until your lungs feel like they want to explode, putting one foot in front of the other when your brain is screaming at you to stop. Can you accept the daily reality of going out there and putting shoes to pavement in the scorching heat of the day and the drowning rain, foregoing that last happy hour because your long run is in the morning. If you can see that image and you still want it- all of it; then you have found your path.
It's up to you to decide what pain you are willing to endure. If you want to be a writer, then you have to be willing to sit down and work on a scene that isn't inspiring you while all of your friends are out doing something fun. You have to accept rejection letter after rejection letter, wear them like badges of honor. You have to be willing to do what it takes. You have to stare down at the hours of your day and be willing to throw every spare second at the dream in your head. The work will tear you down; it will make you feel weak before it helps guide you to your strength. Every step will be a struggle, every inch will be fought for with blood, sweat and tears.
So what you must ask yourself is this: is the pain worth it? Ignore that shiny picture at the end of the road- would you follow this path even without that beacon glowing down from its lofty perch? How much are you willing to endure? Because at the end of the day, it isn't accomplishing the final goal that will make you happy- it will be looking back at every hard fought step which brought you there.
I just finished my very first relay race. I have a medal sitting on my desk waiting for its place on my wall. When I look at it, the first thing that comes to my mind is not that moment I crossed the finish line. It isn't the second I got that reward put on neck. I see the first steps, the first sprint. I see the horrible sunburn I got because I was so nervous I forgot to put sunscreen on before my first leg. I feel the jitters as I waited for my turn. I see my team nodding off in the back of the van mid-conversation as we waited for our runners because there is just no time to sleep. I remember being on the verge of defeat wondering whether I could actually push myself enough to make it to that finish line. I remember the tears- some for frustration, others from excitement. I remember my lungs burning, my muscles aching, my throat parched- and turning up the volume on my music instead of stopping. I remember freezing at the exchange point, waking up in the hallway of a high school with a few hundred strangers. I remember running through the middle of the night and staring up at the stars. I remember the internal battle I waged when my brain told my body that I couldn't do it- and my spirit picked up the fight to push harder. I remember the struggle that gives my little medal meaning. It wasn't the destination that mattered in the end- it was how I got there. It's just like with my writing; my success will not be measured by a book deal- it's in every night I put pen to paper, every time I power up my laptop when I would much rather be watching Game of Thrones.
The success is such an infinitesimal fraction of the event; you must choose what you want based off of the journey, not the destination. The truth is that when all is said and done- you don't know if you'll make it to that finish line. You don't know if you will ever be the shiny perfect person in the picture you have in your head. So at the very least, pick a road you can enjoy being on. I may never be a published author, it's very possible my name will not be remembered with the greats. But at the end of the day it won't matter. Because I love every moment of what I'm doing. I love the daily grind, I would do it no matter what the outcome was. I would write even if I was the only one to ever read those words. That is my path; that is the pain I adore, that is the frustration I am will to endure. That's what it's all about- do what you love, don't suffer for a means to an end. Because if you hate every minute of it- even if you succeed, it will be tainted and bitter. The journey is what matters, not the destination.