Journey to the Goal

As a goal-oriented person, I had to work through a lot of experience and mistakes to learn the importance of the beginning and middle parts of the journey, not just the end. In my (foolish) youth, I set myself various goals and aimed for them as directly as I knew how.

I was always in a hurry, too, because I felt that every day I was still enroute to my goal was worse, maybe even wasted, compared with the day I would actually achieve what I wanted. But even so, I treated most of the goals I achieved as mere “stopovers” on my way toward whatever goal was next.

As a result, I was always striving and rarely savoring, almost completely missing out on a lot of value I mistakenly left neglected in my wake, and I wound up accomplishing far less than I could have.

Eventually, however, I came to recognize the following:

The Journey is Part of the Goal

John Lennon, of the Beatles, made famous the idea that “Life is what happens while we’re busy making plans.” It’s a smart idea.

It encapsulates the valuable notion that the journey is part of the goal, offering serendipitous opportunities not only to experience, grow, and enjoy, but also to find short cuts to the goal, better tools for achievement and productivity, and perhaps even more satisfying goals to aim for.

Because I paid way too much attention only to shortening the route to my goal, I devalued and sometimes even ignored my journey. I failed to absorb many of the immediate experiences, benefits, efforts, pleasures, and intermediate victories of making that progress, which include things like:

  • The people I met and spent time with,
  • The places I went,
  • The skills I accumulated,
  • The information I gathered, and
  • The lessons I learned.

Because I was too focused solely on my goals, I glossed over countless moments that could have turned out extremely beneficial. Now they’re gone forever.

Flexibility Is Important

Homer Simpson, intent on finding a peanut, famously failed at first to appreciate the value and benefits of what he found instead: a $20 bill, which could buy many peanuts. But he was flexible enough to quickly appreciate this new and better pathway to his goal.

In real life, the same kind of flexibility is an important trait to cultivate.

This is because your path through the world is strewn with many twists, turns, pitfalls, and other surprises. When you’re too narrowly focused on your goal and your planned route to get there, you can easily fail to see unexpected developments that can:

  • Slow you down,
  • Speed you up,
  • End your journey,
  • Offer a better route, or even
  • Offer a better goal.

Flexibility – a willingness to observe, to explore, to experiment, and to make changes – is the trait that keeps you open to new perceptions, ideas, possibilities, resources, and opportunities that can potentially make your journey a better one.

Preparation Pays Off

While it’s important to be able to think on your feet, react quickly to changing circumstances, and improvise, it’s even better to prepare so well for what’s coming – and also for the possibilities of what else might be coming – that you encounter far less need for quick reactions and last-minute improvisations.

For example, I once owned a sports car that repeatedly broke down in a wide variety of unexpected ways. I learned that, whenever the car stranded me and required an unusual or hard-to-find replacement part, it was more effective and productive to buy two of them: one to install immediately to effect the repair, and one to carry in the car so I wouldn’t get stranded that same way again.

At this point, preparation is part of my nature. In many contexts beyond sports cars, I’m more productive now than I was then because I routinely look for potential problems to avoid and opportunities to seize.

Preparation turns out to be an extremely useful strategy that helps you take steps in advance so you’re ready to capitalize on or mitigate a variety of contingencies, if and when they arise.

Preparation makes your journey better two great ways:

  • Practically, because you’re ready to remain effective and productive, regardless of what comes your way, and also
  • Emotionally, because you’re feeling more comfortable about your readiness to remain productive under many different scenarios.

Leeway Is Important

Leeway, sometimes called “margin for error,” refers to added space, time, or resources that leave you with more than the minimum necessary for success.

Without leeway, anything that goes wrong can easily cause you to run short or run late or run into an obstacle. However, when your strategy for preparation includes giving yourself extra leeway, most minor setbacks, delays, or problems will no longer grow into a single point of failure that prevents you from reaching your goal.

You add leeway to your preparation efforts when you:

  • Leave early to get to an appointment,
  • Acquire more than the minimum you’ll need,
  • Aim to avoid an obstacle by more than seems necessary,
  • Start work on a task, project, or goal sooner than the plan calls for,

and so forth.

In most situations, it’s almost impossible to achieve your goal in the simplest, most straightforward way. Most often, you’ll encounter something unexpected, because you can’t possibly know “what the (metaphorical) tide will bring in” during the next year, month, week, day, or even minute.

So while it’s effective to set goals and strive to achieve them, it’s even more productive to take notice – and take as much advantage as possible – of the journey to your goals. Why? Because your journey turns out to be a significant part of the protein in the sandwich of productivity and success that feeds your work and your life.

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