The Finish is Not The Point

It wasn’t until I read The Wisdom of Groundhog Day that something really huge and yet not so obvious was pointed out to me. It’s a flaw in my own mindset and I don’t know about other cultures, but I think people in our culture have this terrible habit that is responsible for making so many of us quite unhappy.

So often, we make our happiness conditional. We say: “I’ll be happy when…I get a promotion, I’m married, I get my degree, I buy a new car, I take my dream vacation.” This is a huge setup. Today it helps us explain why we might feel dissatisfied. Of course I feel bad, I am not as fit as I want to be and need to lose a few pounds. It may serve as a motivator to get those things done and even give us temporary happiness as we do that.

But it’s a bit of a trick and we don’t find out about this part until later: Someday we may very well reach that goal. And then what? In my case, the answer has been super simple. If I’ve been anticipating a bike tour, a trip, or a big event I feel great in the lead-up, amazing when it’s happening and then it’s over. It’s like the rug has been pulled completely out from under me. What is the point now? What am I supposed to be working on? What is there to look forward to? The clearest example of this is my last trip to India. It was a literal trip of a lifetime with so many wonderful things happening daily it vastly exceeded even the huge expectations I’d been building for the decades I planned it. And then it was over and I was back home and how will any experience in my life be so exciting and interesting?

See? A huge setup. But what’s the alternative?

The alternative is actually also illustrated in the same trip. I was not riding in Haryana getting excited about what fun I would have in Neemrana. I wasn’t sitting on my bike between Narnaul and Jhunjhunu thinking “It’s going to be so great when I get to see my friends in Jaipur.” I was busy living my life that day, appreciating the road in front of me, the conversations I was having, the feel of the sun on my skin and the taste of a cold drink when I was thirsty.

And so, that has been my project – perhaps the big project I suggested in my last entry. I’ve been learning to appreciate each day. As you can see from all of the recent entries, even in the midst of a pandemic, there’s lots to appreciate around me. If there’s one thing that the pandemic has shown me it’s that everything can change in the blink of an eye and that abstract idea of “live today as if it is your last” is maybe a little less abstract than we thought it was. So my focus is shifting from “How cool will it be when I board a plane in 8 months and do an awesome thing.” to “How can I do a good job on this work project.” or “What interesting thing am I going to cycle to today.”

At first, reading that book and thinking about that prospect I admit it sounded a bit disappointing. How can you possibly compare cycling around my home to cycling in a whole different country? How can you compare making a new dish to buying a cool new bicycle? But there’s something really important to bear in mind. First off, the “finish-line” mindset is a trap. Just as I often finish a 5K running race and think about someday doing a half marathon, the tendency is to finish a 1 week tour and think about the cooler two week tour and someday cycling around the world. But then what?

And something even more important. Very few people can buy a new car, get married, and get a promotion often enough to stay satisfied with that mindset. Meanwhile, life is sending us millions of small gifts every day. If we take a break from wishing we were trekking to Macchu Picchu, we will notice so many of them.

Over the past several entries you’ve been seeing lots of the joys that daily life has been sending my way. What have you been seeing in your daily life?

3 thoughts on “The Finish is Not The Point

  1. I got to see a mother turkey and five baby turkeys in our backyard. Wow. The Western consumer culture traps us into looking forward for happiness. A new car? A new house? etc. There is much joy in today and it’s free.

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