You See Your Life as a Car Ride When Really It’s a Road Trip

Auriane Alix
We live and dream backward.
Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash

What if I told you that you’re not the master of your life? That you don’t choose the destination, but only the steps you take each day? And that you would focus on the latter rather than the former if you knew what the consequences of this perpetual quest were? Because a destination is a mirage. An illusion to push you to fill the void that separates you from it.

This is how you find yourself postponing, scheduling your happiness.

Have you ever thought things like: “I will be really happy when I have this or that”? I did:

I’ll be fulfilled when I’ve written and published a book. I will be happier when I have a toned and muscular body. I’ll be fine when I’ve put so much money aside. I just have to do 2 or 3 years of this work that doesn’t fulfill me and then I’ll be free.

What was I doing? Patting myself on the back, encouraging myself to hang on a little, burying myself in this or that form of work, so that it could lead to a “better”.

It’s like depriving yourself all your life so that one day you can buy a villa with a gorgeous swimming pool. Except that, when the day finally comes, you will discover that you no longer want a villa. Or that you’re already dead.

Let’s move on to our road trip topic

“It’s not the destination. It’s the journey” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

After this dramatic introduction, let’s return to our initial topic. Do you remember the title? It was just me who said that we see our life as a car journey when really it’s a road trip. Let me explain.

Car ride = going from point A to point B

Let’s say it’s your first day of a holiday. You are planning to go to the coast where you have rented a nice little flat with a dreamy view of the sea. The sand is white, the town is cute and the bakery has golden crust croissants that spread their smell to the street. Yes, you have chosen France as your destination. Congratulations on this good choice.

You fill the car with suitcases, don’t forget your camera, before you slip behind the wheel. You program the GPS: you want to go from point A, here, to point B, the destination. The GPS indicates 9 hours of driving time. You press the “validate” button, start the engine, and follow the instructions. In fact, it doesn’t matter which road you take, as long as you get to your destination as quickly as possible.

You are looking straight ahead. You’re focused on the goal.

The destination is the purpose.

Road trip = going from point A to… a point somewhere, maybe

Here, the road has definite importance. You don’t want to cross endless highways. Instead, you want beautiful roads that wind between the mountains or along the coast. It doesn’t matter if they are longer. Longer for what, by the way? There is no destination.

You want to be able to stop for picnics in beautiful and secluded places, choose this or that city to stop in and spend a few days… In a word, enjoy.

You have an approximate destination in mind, but it’s still unclear. That could very well change. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a vague direction, so you know you’re not lost if one morning you don’t know where to go next.

The journey is the purpose.

Life is supposed to be like a road trip

We live our lives backward. You choose a destination because it’s easier: you know what you have to do, so you do it. Your days are intended to get you to your destination. Except that this journey never takes you where you want to go, or it does at the cost of your happiness because either your desire for the destination changes along the way or you reach it and realize that it’s not what you wanted.

Because the only way to reach a destination you like is by following a road you like.

On top of that, it is hard, if not impossible, to choose a destination. How can you project yourself so far ahead, years ahead, when sometimes it takes us less than a month to change? How can you sacrifice so many days, weeks, months, years, for such an uncertain destination?

Seeing your life as a car ride is the best way to miss out on your life.

Successful people didn’t plan it

“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real me’, and when you have found that attitude, follow it.” — William James

What do you want to become? A famous writer? A filmmaker? A rich entrepreneur?

How did you decide you wanted to be this or that? You’ve certainly seen it in someone you admire, and you’ve decided that you want this for your life too. But there is one huge difference between you and that person: whichever person you picked, they have never said to themselves, “I want to be this or that”. Instead, they just went after what they loved. What really triggered a spark in their chest and aroused their curiosity.

I read a passage that says the same thing in the book “Busy” by Tony Crabbe. Here is the excerpt:

“The best way to achieve something is often indirectly. […] Research shows they we might be better off trying to achieve success indirectly. So focus on the process of building your capability and expertise and success will follow. Whatever external gain or achievement you are striving for, it won’t make you as happy as you think. So commit to what you value most ; don’t sacrifice it in the belief that the end goal will be worth it.”

What is your ultimate goal to happen to them by accident? It was a coincidence. A combination of circumstances. They ended up here, after having worked hard enough on what they liked to do in the first place. It was curiosity, and passion that brought them here.

Let “success” find you

“If you are struggling to figure out where you are headed in life or what you are passionnate about, pay attention to activities, ideas, and areas where you love the process, not just the result or the outcome” — Amelia Boone, in “Tribe of Mentors” by Tim Ferriss

Time is your most precious resource. It won’t come back. You may find yourself chasing one false goal after another, thinking “I’ll enjoy it when I succeed”, and you’ll end up not enjoying anything and dying.

Let go of the pressure to find what you want to do with your life. Instead, do what Sam Harris recommends, and simply find a profitable and interesting use for your time for the next three to five years. How do you do that? By taking a walk and a deep look inside yourself to see what arouses your curiosity.

Choose something you really want to do and invest your time in it. Find something you like about the process. That’s how you will find your way in life.

I once read a quote from author Annie Dillard that shaped my way of thinking forever. She wrote, “The way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives”. It couldn’t be truer. At the end of the day, our life is what we are doing right now. Not ten years from now.

Let’s enjoy the days. Enjoy the work. Enjoy the journey. Leave the end open and be curious about where it will take you. Focus on what you like to do rather than what you want to be.

It’s fine, even necessary, to have a specific destination in mind from time to time. But the car ride should be short. A few days of concentrated driving, and no more.

Final Thoughts

You don’t decide where you want to go. You decide the steps you take, and the destination chooses you. The destination is a coincidence. A combination of circumstances. What you have under control are the steps you choose to take. Nothing more.

So let go of the pressure to find your big life goal and reach it. Don’t sacrifice your precious time for something so far away. Instead, invest it in something you enjoy. Don’t get bored waiting for a better future. Enjoy every moment, every day, and that’s how great and beautiful things will happen.

This is where your success lies.

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