When I Grow Up

When the Journey Is the Goal

As life seems to spiral out of control, I am trying to slow down and enjoy the moments. Too often, we set our sights on a goal: achieving something, going somewhere, and neglect to appreciate what it takes to get there.

In recent months, I have taken a number of long trips visiting colleges. Being the passenger, I have had more opportunity to notice the surroundings and take note of whether there were any points along the way that would be worth stopping at should we have a future occasion to travel the same path again. In each case, I noticed some points of interest and hoped we would have a reason to be there again. In all likelihood, though, we will probably drive right on through each time.

Too often, the goal becomes so much the focus that nothing else is seen. In looking ahead to our destination, we put blinders on and miss out on what is in between. We are in a rush to get there. But what do we miss out on in the meantime? Each year, the world becomes a smaller place; the distance from New Jersey to California is now a small one. However, there is a lot of wonderful stuff between New Jersey and California. Should we miss out on all of it just because we can make the trip quickly?

In some cases, the rush is necessary. We have appointments or other timely commitments. But what about downtime? Do we even know what that is anymore? I have seen a commercial recently where children are berating adults for not taking vacation time. Though I cannot tell you what this is advertising, the sentiment is a powerful one. We need to take time, and more of it needs to be unplanned.

I have fond memories from my childhood of getting into the family car and driving, destination unknown. We would seek out the smallest roads, the small, squiggly lines on the road map, and got excited when we found one that was not on the map at all. We made it through most of a summer doing this almost weekly and discovered some wonderful restaurants, arcades, parks and even a small fair (which had added excitement when the power went out!). The journey WAS the destination. We had no plan, no agenda; we were just out for a ride. (Of course this was in the day of 88 cent a gallon gas.)

It was a simpler time. There were fewer distractions. Fewer billboards, fewer cars on the road, no technology in the car. On long rides, we amused ourselves playing word games, waving at truck drivers on the highway, or took a nap. We may have had a book, or paper and pencils (for playing hangman and building boxes), but for the most part, we saw the scenery and enjoyed time together.

We have become accustomed to life zooming past. Schedules are full. Having family members going in opposite directions and/or being double-booked is not an infrequent occurrence. We have gotten to the point that it is slowing down that takes effort, and planning.

Many people focus on where they want to be, not where they are. Take hiking. Some people set a goal: “I am going to hike 10 miles today” and then do it: hike ten miles, often at a fast pace, then celebrate the accomplishment (perhaps through an exercise app on social media). When I go hiking, I prefer to set a goal to work toward. Whether I actually reach it is not relevant (unless of course it means I would be sleeping on the trail if I didn’t). I hike for the experience. I want to see, smell, hear and feel my surroundings. I want to experience all that nature is offering. Reaching the end is sometimes a disappointment, because it means the journey is over.

I want to extend that idea to the rest of my life. I want to slow down. See and smell the roses, and the mountain laurel. Check out the roadside attractions. Follow paths to see where they lead. Explore state parks. Someday maybe take a cross-country road trip. Meet people. Talk to them. Share experiences. Try new things. Slow down, and just be.