Path over Destination: A Little Known Secret to Satisfying Life

We all know that we ought to “do what we love to do.” Yet, a common misunderstanding prevents us from actually implementing. This essay takes away the fluff and uncovers the essence, the real truth about what it is that gives us life.

In a hurry? Read the digest version.

Many of us live a dissatisfying life, because we don’t know how to live satisfyingly. We have a wrong idea about what makes life worthwhile.

We all know that the choice we make regarding our vocation or career has a great impact on this. Because we spend a lot of time doing it. Yet, a common misunderstanding keeps us from recognizing the right choice, an effective option that actually works in making our life satisfying.

Simply put, we have our eyes on the wrong elements: benefits and destinations.

Why Benefits and Destinations Are Not Essential

Many of us choose our vocations based on what benefits the activity offers. Well, it’s not limited to big things like vocations. We choose many other things with eyes exclusively on the benefits, from what social events to attend and which hobby we engage in.

Let’s look at some of the most common benefits people go after:

  • Money. Need we say more?
  • People. This one seems more justifiable. Some jobs and social events provide you opportunities to meet cool people.
  • “Benefits.” Like health insurance, paid holidays, etc.
  • Easiness. Choosing a job because you know it’s easy and you can do a good job without a lot of effort.
  • Status. Some choices offer prestige, from the brand name value of your employer to the literal prestige of your country club.
  • Perks. If you work at an airline, you may be able to travel for free, for example.
  • Opportunities. Some companies offer continuing education or training opportunities.

Similarly, destinations are the outcomes of your endeavor. They are the fruit of your labor, the accomplishment awaiting you at the end of the path. Is your objective in life to become a six-figure-earning blogger, or a world-renowned author? Do you go out with some friends because they are well-connected, possibly giving you job leads?

They all seem like very legitimate reasons to base your decisions on, don’t they? We make decisions with lasting consequences daily, based on benefits and destinations. We are looking at the pie and its sweet taste — but not necessarily the act of pie-making.

Why Benefits and Destinations Fail to Satisfy

Therein lies the pitfall. Benefits and destinations are fine if whatever you do is a short-term involvement. But if it’s a more long-term commitment, such as a job or a vocation, then deciding with basis primarily on those will confine you to an energy-draining life.

Why is that? Let’s look at the list above one more time. All the items, perhaps except easiness, actually are not directly related to the activity you’re choosing to engage in. They are like an accessory, an add-on designed to increase the value of the product you’re purchasing. If you buy this purse, then you’ll get a free matching handkerchief!

The objectives, too, are not necessarily tied to the act. If you’re buying a purse to look good and to have something to carry your stuff in, you can accomplish that with many devices. The outcome is not directly tied to the particular path.

The True Life-Giving Essence: The Path

That example should give away where I’m going here. To choose your activity based on the attachment or the outcome misses the whole point. The most important and effectively satisfying option is an activity where the activity itself is the reward. It’s because you spend far more time doing it, instead of enjoying the side benefit or the accomplishments.

Think about a hobby, for example. That’s a great example of something you do because you just love doing it. You don’t have your eyes on the benefits — they don’t have to make you money or win cool new friends or come with a free giftcard. You do it because you love doing it.

Most full-time job requires 40+ hours commitment. That is by far the biggest chunk of time out of your week — more than the hours you spend sleeping and anything else. You have far less time to enjoy shopping or the goods you bought using your pay or the time away from your job. It’s much more effective to have a job that’s enjoyable than to have benefits that are enjoyable. And don’t even think about the accomplishments you achieve as the result of your job. Jobs are always an unending series of milestones — you finish one project, and there’s always more waiting for you. How much time do you actually spend, enjoying the proud feeling of accomplishment? Probably much less than the hours you spent getting there.

My Personal Story

Here’s my personal example. From 2000 to 2006, my wife and I worked on building a cob cottage. We bought a piece of land outside of Austin, Texas, and set out to build a natural home that suited our values and lifestyle. We were very excited about our vision: Our home would be built relatively cheaply. We would be healthier, being free from all the artificial toxins that are typically present in modern-day housings. We would set a great example of how naturally we could live. We weren’t driven by the prospect of fame — we were genuinely interested in making an effective statement that would have impact on other people’s lives. There are many people who dream of building their own natural home, though few attempt it and fewer accomplishes it. Our success would be an inspiration to others and we would be able to help others pursue their dreams. We were very committed to our vision and we gave our all to the project.

However, we overlooked one crucial factor. I didn’t enjoy building. I bought into our cause and the vision but that still didn’t make me an appreciator of the act of building. Sure, I did learn to enjoy some portions of it. We became very fit, as building was physically demanding. But building, even when somewhat enjoyable, never was nor became a life-giving activity to me. It was an activity that I had to recover from by resting and engaging in other life-giving activities, so that I would be recharged enough to go back to it again.

My wife was much more into building, but because she had to spearhead every aspect of the project — as I was strictly a follower in this endeavor — she became quite burned out. Our vision became a burden. We went to great length to motivate and force us to continue the project, but we constantly fell behind our work schedule and we became increasingly overwhelmed. Finally, after 6 years, we made the decision to abandon the project, as my wife was pregnant with our second child and we were having emotional and physical problems. We started two cottages (the second one was straw-bale) and we finished neither of them. It was excruciatingly hard to let go of a house we built with our own hands, but quitting was the right decision at that point.

The Lesson Learned

What I learned from our costly mistake was that no matter how great and noble the intended outcome and the benefits it brings, if you don’t enjoy the path to get there, you’re throwing your life away without letting it fill you with satisfaction and joy. My memory of our building process is mostly of long hours of feeling exceedingly overwhelmed, punctured with occasional elation of accomplishments and major milestones. We met some very cool people and learned a lot. But yet, the act of building — which was what we spent all our time doing — wasn’t feeding us. We could have sustained ourselves if we had sufficient time doing other life-giving activities to offset the drain the building made on us. But we were young and our project was too big to allow for more balanced approach. We simply worked on it until we were so burned down that we fell apart.

This effect is even more profound on an activity like a full-time job. The majority of you reading this are working a job you don’t enjoy. You know how much you look forward to going home, to the weekend, to your hobby or your social life or whatever you do during your time off to feed your soul. Because your job sucks life out of you. It may offer you great pay and good company and abundant benefits, but still, the truth is that it is a life-sucking activity.

One time, my mentor (my college pastor) gave me this wisdom: all jobs demand your life. You need to choose a job that gives life back to you.

Having gone through the ordeal above, this truth rings out even clearer to me now. The element that can give you your life back is the love of the act. Not output, not objective, not benefits. Life is what happens when you’re engaged in that act. You owe it to yourself to choose an act where the act itself is your reward. This is the most essential and effective way to live a satisfying life.

Of course, all of you have heard of “doing what you love to do.” There isn’t any secret or hidden truth there — except, many of us still fail to actually do this. And you justify it by pointing fingers at the great benefits and the rosy destinations your career offers. Separate the path from the destination and the road-side attractions. And ask yourself, if there were no benefits and the destination was nothing to write home about, will you still enjoy the path?

And have the courage to choose the path only when the answer is yes.

I’m not saying milestones and accomplishments are irrelevant or unnecessary. The vision of the goal can give us focus and motivation to move forward in our path. But don’t confuse the worthiness of the vision with the reward of the process, the joy of being on the way. For example, if you’re considering getting into blogging business, don’t fix your eye on how you have the potential to make a 6-figure income, doing something that helps other people. Get in the blogging business if and only if you love writing and promoting, and you do them even if you’re making no income from it and nobody else reads your blog.

Conclusion: Fulfillment Lies on the Way

To sum up, we have discussed the essence of how to choose to do what you love to do. It’s a choice to engage in an act where the act itself is the reward, even if no other benefits came with it and it didn’t add up to a spectacular outcome. When you plan to go hiking, choose an enjoyable route over amazing destinations, and ignore the other route which gives you a better workout.

Incidentally, life seems to add an icing to the cake when you do pursue an act that you actually love. Good results and nice benefits tend to compound on a path that you enjoy. Instead of a job that sucks life and you having to refuel by using the benefits it offers (such as the high pay or generous paid leave), a job that gives you life will leave you energized and ready to tackle greater things, and all the benefits will remain with you, since they don’t need to be spent as much for recharging. Choosing an act that feeds back life truly creates a positive cycle, where good energy feeds off and create even greater outcomes.

Life is what happens when you’re on the way. Choose the way that give you life, and you’ll need nothing else. The path itself will sustain you and fill you with joy.

This article won the Top Post Award in The Twentieth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life.

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Career and Your Calling, Decision Making, Dissecting Problems, Happiness, Mission/Goal-Setting, Realizing Your Potential and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Path over Destination: A Little Known Secret to Satisfying Life

  1. Ari,

    Thats amazing!I didn’t mention I also run a small production studio in Brooklyn NYC. (been producing music since im 14, play guitar, play key’s well. i guess if you want to call it playing keys more like mashing them..lol) so if you ever have any questions or want to chat hit us up over at yinvsyang. I love music (art music go hand in hand) Been using everything from old cubase, to reason, to mpc AKai hardware, most recently we print to protools. Would love to chat about it.

    Christopher Perilli´s last blog post..Want to be Successful? Think Like A Cagefighter

  2. I agree sincerely. I worked on wall street for 10 years, before 9/11 attacks in NYC, I worked my entire time dreading each morning getting up and getting on the train. I hated being on a train in 90 degree weather with a suit and tie on. Couldn’t stand the long drawn out mundane day sitting directly in front of a clock. Watching it tick, tick, tick.

    9/11 attacks left me and many without jobs in the financial sector. Besides what was I doing in the financial sector? I was an artist since I was 5. This horrific time in many lives had some positive effects as any tragedy and the overcoming of it can. It permitted me to seek a career in graphic design, in which I succesfully run a thriving business along with a partner. There are still like any business some bumps in the road. But honestly my life is 100 times better doing something i love to do. There are times i just create “stuff” for no reason. So work isn’t really a job. Its probably why it also permits me to sit at a computer sometimes 15 hours straight into the wee hours moving an imagine millimeters left and right for 2 hours! 😉

    Awesome Post Ari! I really like the blog.

    Christopher Perilli´s last blog post..Want to be Successful? Think Like A Cagefighter

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hi Christopher!

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks for sharing your story — it’s inspiring to hear how you turned a tragic occasion into a positive turning point. I can totally relate to what you’re doing with your art — I can do the same thing with music. 😉 I spend hours programming drums to my songs, moving a beat a split second ahead or behind, listening over and over, seeing how it feels to me. 🙂

      I hope I’ll make the transition you made, soon. 🙂

      ari

  3. CG Walters says:

    Great work, Ari!
    I completely agree. There are three types of activity: 1) takes the life from you, (this one destroys body and spirit) 2) neither gives or takes life force (one can remain here for quite some time), 3) the one that gives more life force to you, with every task–with this one, a person can prosper.
    When our goal and our path are one, we have joy of the journey (enlightenment)
    Many blessings to you and all you hold dear,
    CG

    CG Walters’s last blog post..In the Wild or a Relationship, The Symptoms of Losing Your Bearings are the Same

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hi CG!

      Welcome to OBV! To add to your comment, I think all activities demand something from us. We have to invest a piece of ourselves into every action. But only some of the activities have the qualities that give back more than what we give it. So we need to keep an eye out for which activities are life-sucking and which are life-giving.

      Thanks for the comment! I look forward to getting to know you.

      ari

  4. Thanks for this reminder that fulfillment comes from enjoying the journey or path on the way to our destination. This is very important since sometimes we change our direction along the way, but if we enjoy the journey it won’t matter.

    Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D.’s last blog post..Why Pursuing Happiness Doesn’t Work

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hi Flora —

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks for checking out my post. Yes, one of the nice things about being journey-centric is that we remain flexible. Hanging on rigidly to any plan or goal can produce stress and anxiety. I need to be reminded of that constantly myself, as most of my anxiety comes from worrying whether the outcomes I desire are going to come true or not. It’s much more reliable to base my life on what I’m doing now, instead of somewhere in the future I don’t know I will have.

      Thanks for the visit — keep in touch!

      ari

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  9. Hi Ari

    I have found that the traditional way of goal-setting can be limiting for folks. I wrote a post about Meandering with Purpose (http://www.powerfull-living.biz/blog/2008/03/10/meander-with-purpose-instead-of-traditional-goal-setting/) from a book called Goal Free Living by Steve Shapiro, who was a recent guest on my radio show. The idea is to “use a compass not a map”.

    In this way you set a direction without becoming attached to each mapped out step and be open to things coming into your life that can lead you on a path that brings you more than you could have imagined and aligns with your direction. My life’s vision is in the next phase of expansion and beckoning me to things I haven’t yet actualized. It is a bit scary and very exhilarating!

    Cheers,
    Lorraine

    Lorraine Cohen’s last blog post..Life’s A Journey Not A Race Or An Event

  10. Nice post Ari

    I found myself nodding at so many points you made. So often people make choices to do or have things for the wrong reasons. Each morning I awaken to coach people to have spiritually fulfilling and prosperous lives. While it’s my business, it is also my soul purpose and all I want to do. Every important business decision goes through a series of questions including “Will it bring me joy? Is the decision in alignment with God’s vision for my life?” When I make choices from fear or pain, I’m rarely happy with the results.

    In fact I don’t really focus on goal-setting. I like focusing on my intentions, agreements, and promises as it relates to my vision. Might seem like semantics and it’s a different energy.

    Thanks for sharing

    Lorraine
    http://www.powerfull-living.biz/blog

    Lorraine Cohen’s last blog post..Life’s A Journey Not A Race Or An Event

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Lorraine,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think it’s interesting that you don’t really focus on goal-setting. I do wonder because you are already doing what you love to do? If you’re already living the life your heart desires, then maybe you don’t need to set goals, as goals tend to be about being some place other than where you are. I have to include myself in that statement — I have goals because I am aspiring and intending to change things in my life. But I let my goals crush me and suck joy out of the path, since all I see are the distance between here and there, and how far it seems, how overwhelmingly long the path appears.

      Actually, writing this blog has been very therapeutic for me. As I try to distill the principles which I know are right in my world, it also becomes easier to live them. Besides, I’m sending these messages out to the world now, I better live what I preach! 😉

      Thanks for the exchange, that was fun.

      ari

  11. Hi Ari,

    I really enjoyed your post and appreciate your sharing your story. I can’t agree with you more that the path is more important than the destination. We often look to the future or a “wow” moment to provide us with present fulfillment, but it’s really the “now” and how we spend the present that bring satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness to our lives.

    Thanks for the post!
    Best,
    Laurie

    Laurie | Express Yourself to Success’s last blog post..The Unsung Social Skill

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hi Laurie,

      Welcome to OBV! Yes, I think we misunderstand where the source of satisfaction is, or at least which source is more reliable. By assigning future achievements and goals as the primal provider of joy, we base our happiness on something ahead of us, and with all the talk about intention-manifestation, it still is less reliable and significant source compared to the process, the path to get there, which begins in the present and lasts all the way until you reach your milestone. And when you reach your milestone, you know what happens — you start moving toward the next! So learning to enjoy the path is a more reliable, fail-safe way to find joy and satisfaction in life.

      Looks like you have a great blog going there. I subscribed and look forward to reading your contributions to the world!

      ari

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