There is a common and cliched saying, which goes something along the lines of “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” There have been multiple riffs on this, and I don’t mean to reinvent the wheel here, but I am interested in using a few different lenses that I’ve come across lately to evaluate the phrase. Over the past few months, with the start of the new year and so much change in my life I’ve been pondering the meaning of a journey, and over just the past few days I’ve encountered the following pieces of media that came together to form a kind of framework for thinking about one’s journey versus their eventual destination.
“I’ve reached the destination, but the horizon has moved.”
That quote is from Casper ter Kuile, one of the co-hosts of the popular podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. In the context of the episode, he is talking about how often when people set goals, they are doing so with the idea that once they accomplish whatever they have set out to do and reach the horizon they are seeking, they realize that what they are yearning for has shifted. When I heard this on the podcast it resonated with me such that I stopped where I was on the sidewalk and pulled off my gloves, freezing January night be damned, in order to type the quote in my notes app and take note of what episode I was listening to. (Season Six, Affirmation: The Unknowable Room (Book 6, Chapter 21)). The reason this resonated with me so much is that I’m constantly setting myself innumerable goals, and no matter how many of them I reach, they are never enough. Every time I complete a milestone and find myself in the shoes I had been eyeing for so long, I realize that now that I’m wearing them they don’t fit quite right. And I wonder if, as the song says, I will ever be satisfied? But the way Casper looks at it is to say that we need to not look at the horizon, and realize the beauty of the place where we are. And the thing is that where I am isn’t perfect, but it’s mine, and I need to learn how to grapple with that. This lesson is an important one that I am still learning, but I really appreciate the insight that I’ve been given from listening to this perspective.
“I don’t like all of these like… closing of loops […] It makes me uncomfortable when I feel like they’re like closing circles or like, you know, looping back to something and like tying it up nicely and like, don’t do that, I like to leave my stuff open so that we get another season or five, or ten…”
This quote comes from Season one of the podcast Who Watch: Time and Relative Blackness in Space (Episode 4: Knock Knock). Co-host Robyn Jordan is speaking about how season 10 of the ‘Doctor Who’ revival contains many call backs to the classic ‘Doctor Who’, and the idea that ‘Doctor Who’ might end and the journey might not continue is very upsetting. Listening to this episode gave me pause, because the possibility of ‘Doctor Who’ ending is, while something I have contemplated at length, not something that I can ever conceive of happening in reality. The whole point of the Doctor is that they are are continuous. They are constantly running around time and space, escaping by the skin of their teeth, always surviving in some form or another. There is always another monster, always another mystery. The Doctor’s story is all about the journey, with no true destination. To some the Doctor is a hero, and to others they are the worst of villains. Through it all, I have to say that if there is one thing that ‘Doctor Who’ has taught me it is that one has no control over how other people see them, and the one thing you can control is how you act while you are continuing along your journey and your path, and how you choose to walk it. And as long as that story needs to be told, I think ‘Doctor Who’ will continue.
All the same, I think that this quote calls to something more than just a television series. The fear of closing a loop, of ending something precious, is a real one for many people, including myself, and if we extrapolate it we may consider how there is sometimes a fear of ending one’s journey and approaching a destination. Some might call it a fear of death, but even if there is no dying, just a closing of a chapter of one’s life — be it the end of a TV show, or graduation from school, or being let go from a job — endings can be rather difficult things, especially when they are imposed upon us rather than things we choose for ourselves.
Every January I write myself two letters: one looking back at the year that was and one setting a series of goals for the year to come. […] They help me to reflect and also to try to make conscious choices about my life.
John Green, author, YouTuber, educator, and philanthropist, made a video earlier this year talking about beginnings and endings, where he discussed the two letters mentioned above. Specifically, he talked about how while he has written the letters for the past ten years, this year he is thinking about them a little differently by focusing on beginnings and endings — what he wants to begin, and what he wants to finish throughout 2020. At one point he wanders into saying that “every new beginning leads to some other beginning’s end,” which yes, is a Semisonic/Seneca quote as he notes in the video, but I’m not sure that it’s as much of a tailspin as he says it is, because I do think it’s important to think about how our beginnings are endings, and it gave me the idea to think about how our journeys can be seen as a series of destinations.
John also talks about making sure that goals are specific, measurable, and achievable, which is something that I personally struggle with, but is in fact one of the most important parts about seeking to change parts of one’s life. Having vague goals often leads to disappointment or false fulfillment, the second of which often leads to the first.
The most important thing he talked about, though, was that there were things that he didn’t just want to start or end, but continue. I think continuity and stability are integral to survival, and are equally important to one’s life as the continued fulfillment of goals. As Casper said in the podcast, we need to appreciate the beauty of where we are, and that means acknowledging the strength we draw from our current abilities as much as the things we are seeking to acquire and improve upon.
As someone who has been thinking a great deal about goal-setting and personal growth lately, these perspectives were helpful for setting me on a course that I think will see me well off for the coming year. I think that the combined ideas of cultivating endings & beginnings with appreciating the beauty of our current moment and continuing practices that have been beneficial in our lives are going to be essential for me. Not letting myself give into the fear of things ending will also be essential, as is the idea that things coming full circle doesn’t mean that they can’t find new ways to grow. Given that we’re only halfway through January and many people are also thinking about growth, change, and the potentiality of journeys, I hope that these perspectives also give others fruit for thought.