The path is more important than the goal
There has been an important conversation happening with several clients over the past few months, where they were asking themselves certain questions around path & purpose, and having challenges getting answers to things like: what’s next? What’s it all about for me? What’s possible for me anyway? What should I aim for?
A few of them have also asked me to put out a note about this, and it’s thanks to you that I’m delighted to be able finally do that.
So to sum up how we resolved the challenges around these questions I’ve brought it in under one simple (and in some ways not so simple) topic:
The path is more important than the goal.
So what does that mean? Why would I say it is the case? And what can we do about it?
What does it mean?
To answer this I will attempt it through the perspective of some of the conversations I’ve just mentioned.
There’s a kind of anxiety taking hold with a lot of people at the moment – and that’s aside from the political, media and social media rage that’s happening globally, which is not what this note is about. The anxiety that I’m referring to is a kind of worry mixed with stress and/or indecision, which is creating a low-level, but consistent hum of uncertainty, anxiety and worry for people.
Many people are worried about the now, and the future; will I be good enough; are robots coming to get me; should I keep this business with the way the world is headed; I want to leave ‘X’ but everything is scary now; I have so many options – what should I do? Or, I have no options, what can I do… and on it goes.
Goals are talked up a lot in consulting, strategy and coaching and they are most certainly important. I want to be very clear about that – goals are important for sure. What I am saying here though is that your path is more important.
These days everything is moving fast, and in some areas the rate of speed is increasing which means that some areas are moving at exponential rates (for example, Biotechnology, 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, and the applications of all those plus others, to changing how we live, work and think.).
These changes will impact every single area of our lives over the next generation. We know this intellectually, plus we are also feeling it unconsciously, i.e. emotionally.
In previous generations we had time to adjust to the various revolutions (radical changes) that took place because they happened over several decades and generations. That is now changing.
First, the shift from hunter/gatherer to organised agriculture many centuries ago; then the industrial revolutions – first through innovations in mechanical production around the 1800s; then in the late 19th century through mass production, and then in the 1960s we had the radical changes brought about by better computerisation (which in itself has gone through many revolutions all the way to the internet). Which brings us to now – digital, social, virtual, machines, networks… it’s incredible.
In order to be able to handle what’s coming in terms of radical changes through technology and other systems (political, financial, corporate, and global), it is essential that now more than ever, we are able to keep ourselves centred, aware and on-mission.
It is increasingly more important today to know who we are and what we really want as a result of that. Otherwise the risk is in getting swept away with the radical changes that are taking place.
This risk could manifest itself in feeling lost, out of place, sad, angry, fearful, stressed, anxious, worried and so forth; and this gets compounded if we are aiming for goals that are not ‘us’.
If we pursue goals that we think we should pursue out of fear or to make others happy, it will be much more difficult to achieve them not to mention far less enjoyable.
Now more than ever, goals need to take a back seat to your path. And we are truly living in privileged times when we can even have such conversations to think in such a way – that “the path is more important than the goal”.
So what’s true?
If you’re not clear on who you genuinely are, i.e. your core nature, and what you genuinely enjoy to do; or if you are fearful and deferring to outside sources for what you ‘should’ be doing with your life or career or who you ‘should’ be; or if you haven’t truly owned what’s actually important to you and what truly brings you joy; then how can you possibly be sure that the goals you currently have in life or career are right for you? How can you be sure that they are you?
If you have an inexplicable and intangible knowing, a kind of continuous door-knocking inside you, that something is right for you or that something else is not right for you, yet you ignore the signals, then how are you managing to evaluate which goals are the right ones for you to be pursuing?
Why would I say this is the case?
If I look at the cup on my table in front of me, and imagine it could communicate. It would be very clear on why it’s here and what it is designed to do – i.e. to deliver a drink to me. I’m also very clear about it because there’s no confusion.
Obviously we know what the purposes are for the ‘things’ we have invented and created over the centuries in order to make life more convenient for ourselves, but most people ignore this when it comes to themselves: what is their real purpose for being here – what have they actually been designed to do.
We all know these answers deep down, but we often park it for a more convenient time, or we sometimes ignore it altogether.
The big clue is that it’s often revealed to us through what we are ‘inexplicably’ drawn towards.
The word ‘inexplicably’ is the essential word here.
All too often we use the more logical explainable methods to rationalise our secret fears, or our hidden guilt and shame, or even our unconscious deference to other people (or institutions or societies), to then rationalise why we are so smart in choosing our ‘acceptable’ goals, and also why we ‘should’ do X instead of Y.
However it’s actually a trap when you really consider it, and in its most extreme form (if we are not aware we are doing it), we just assume that whatever pain we’re going through has to be that way.
For example – if you love to be in nature, are you going to logically reason to yourself that that “it is a stupid thing to like, and therefore I should spend all my time in big cities”?
If you naturally love to work with people, are you going to rationally explain that “no, it’s important that I sit in front of a computer and code software for the next 20 years” because that’s where some journalist said the future is?
I hope not.
Why then do so many people ignore the ‘inexplicable’ affinities that they feel and know are there deep down, and instead of designing a life and career that aligns with who they actually are, they follow one set out by someone else?
The goals that you set for yourself, if it’s part of a path that is not true to who you actually are, and not true to what you are inexplicably drawn towards and joyful about, will be difficult to achieve and will not be as enjoyable along the way.
Nor is it as likely that you will be successful on that kind of path.
On the other hand, any goals that are aligned with your true nature – who you actually are and what you love to do – will be easier to achieve, not because they are easier goals (that’s a myth); but because the struggle you will need to go through to make it happen will be okay compared to the drive, purpose and inspiration you will feel on the path towards those goals.
What can we do about it?
One of the most powerful and empowering things you will ever do for yourself before you ever again set a goal is to align everything to a path that aligns with your true nature and the inexplicable affinities that you enjoy.
Ignore your fears and admit to yourself what your deep down path is. Just do that much first.
Write the path out first – not the goals.
Then once you have the path written down, look at where you currently are in relation to that path, and look for how can you use that and what you currently have, to make that path happen, or at least make it begin to happen.
Then you are in a very special position. You will be on your true path and any goal you set along that path will be right for you.
Some goals will be better than others and they all require considered thought for sure; however if you miss out on one, you haven’t failed because you’re on the only path that you can really be on and you will keep going.
So in answer to the question –
Which is more important – the journey or the destination?
There is only one simple and true answer: The journey is the destination and the destination is the journey
Make your journey = destination, and make your destination = journey.
Only when you are out of touch with who you are will you ever see the two as being separate.
When you are on track, (meaning when you are living and moving in a way that is true to who you are, true to your purpose and your unique design as a human being), you’ll feel fulfilled.
Will there be challenges – yes and sometimes huge ones.
Will there be self-doubt – yes from time to time.
Will there be naysayers – of course.
What’s more important to you though? Achieving goals that you think you’re expected to achieve because society expects it, or your parents expect it, or your peers expect it? Or fulfilling your potential and purpose for being here in the first place?
Focus on the path in the first instance and then the goals for that path.
And if you’re not sure yet what the path is – then simply set some goals that will introduce you to what your path is.
Think of it like going out in a boat, or for a drive. You pick a direction you’d like to travel in, your goals might change along the way, but at least you’re on the right path. And that right path might lead you to another path.
You don’t always have to see the end of the path when you set out. Just know the genuinely true direction for you and go that way and set goals in that direction.
Our paths are profound and our goals are simply indicators as to how well we’re mastering our own individual paths and ourselves.
We are all the exact same in that respect, yet no two of our paths can ever be the exact same.
Choose your path first, then play with some goals and above all, enjoy the journey.