Journey Thinking & Destination Thinking

Journey Thinking & Destination Thinking

Contributor: Adrian Rutt

I truly think that there’s an inverse correlation between how much people say “it’s the journey, not the destination” and how often people live as though this were true or they actually believed what they were saying. In other words, people say “it’s the journey, not the destination” but every action, thought, and word out of their mouth seems to betray this overused cliche.

            Sometimes I wonder what the world would really look like if people truly believed this sentiment. To begin with, perhaps, there’d be a whole lot less anxiety, frustration, and throat-cutting. I don’t mean to say that the destination is pointless or irrelevant; it’s simply the idea that it shouldn’t be the overwhelming concern at every point in our lives. Especially since it is so easy to get caught in the spell of “getting there” or “just getting it over with.” Also known as “the grass is always greener problem.”

Paradoxes are what philosophers use when there’s a contradiction in thought and no logical way out of a situation. I find them helpful in explaining the attitudes we should take towards certain things in our lives. In this case, it isn’t that  either the journey should be the sole focus or the destination, but rather both at the same time. Hence the paradox. “I can’t focus on two seemingly different things at the same time… can I?”

Of course not, but you can live and act as if it’s possible. Just because something seems impossible doesn’t mean that there isn’t an extraordinary benefit in the attempt to achieve it. As I see it, though, most people are clearly in the “destination” camp of the equation. A strictly goal-oriented view seems to suck all the joy out of the journey! What we should aim to avoid are both extremes: destination-thinking sucks the joy out of life, while journey-thinking assures that you will wander aimlessly through life with no purpose or meaning. But, as you can see, there are pros and cons to both sides. One of which being that to those who only think in terms of destinations they tend to become paralyzed by detours that are out of their control. To the journey-thinker detours are just one more challenge, one more part of the story. They are more flexible.

Education, of all the things on this beautiful earth, is the purest example of this journey - destination split: while it is true that we receive a piece of paper for completing a certain amount of courses and that it helps us get jobs, that’s hardly the whole point. Sadly, universities and educational institutions do a poor job of communicating this. The minute we start to think of school and education in terms of being for something as opposed to good for itself is the same minute we value the destination over the journey. Hence why I think people say “it’s the journey..” but don’t really believe it. In philosophy circles - circles I inhabit frequently - this is the difference between intrinsic good and extrinsic goods. Intrinsic activities are good because we are simply doing them and want to do them well for the sake of doing them well; extrinsic activities we do to get something else out of them. I believe the latter type of activity and attitude overwhelmingly dominates our world at the moment.

            Again, I am not asking that we totally switch to view every activity in our world as intrinsically good; this world would be just as absurd and boring as a wholly extrinsically motivated one. What I am asking is that we strike a balance. The surprise, as some already know, is that when you refocus on the journey aspect - the intrinsic good of education - you, paradoxically, get more out of it. You end up putting more behind that piece of paper because getting that piece of paper wasn’t the only goal thus sailing through your endeavors doing the bare minimum. It is true that graduates who pursue pieces of paper simply to have it and graduates who pursue education and end up with a piece of paper are equals. But they are certainly not, as most out in the “real world” will tell you, equal in any other sense than that.

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