Life's a Journey - Don't just fixate on the destination
I remember when I started work. It was the tail-end of the nineties. I was fresh from university and brimming with enthusiasm and self-belief. The world economy was booming, the dot-com revolution was looming and it felt an exciting time to be starting my career.
I’d studied a business and IT degree course and graduated with honours. I’d been clueless in my teens about what I wanted to be when I grew up. By lucky chance I chose the course that I did, and graduated as the millennium bug was looming menacingly on the near horizon and jobs in IT were plentiful.
At the time, corporations were queueing up to employ graduates like myself. I evaluated offers from companies like Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corporation and felt like Tom Cruise’s character in the movie ‘The Firm’; I was being courted for success, and I liked it.
I chose a job as a consultant with Oracle, and while still unsure deep-down that I had found my vocation, I believed I could do whatever was required of me as long as the money was good. And it was (relatively speaking).
Roll forwards 5 years and things had changed, not necessarily for the better.
The demands of adulthood
I was now a young father, living with my girlfriend who would become my wife, then ex-wife. I’d been laid-off by Oracle, but bounced back into another, better paid job. With a family to support I’d was more reliant on the money than ever. I was also living like a poster-child for the consumerist lifestyle. My expenditure was growing out of proportion to my income and I was gradually, unwittingly getting caught in the money-trap.
By now I resented my job, feeling trapped into having to do it, rather than like I was doing it by choice. It also lacked significance, meaning and creativity, factors that I’ve come to recognise are more important to me than I dared admit to myself when I was younger.
I now scratch my creative itch through writing and get meaning and fulfilment from those who occasionally seem to find help through my writing. I still work in IT consultancy as I’m still reliant on the money (20 years later and with a blended family of six of us). I’ve made my peace with the work, accepting it as an inherent part of my life rather than merely suffering on a daily basis for the financial rewards. Sometimes I really enjoy it too, which I've learned makes a lot of difference.
Reflecting on my career to date, if it’s taught me one thing, it’s the importance of loving the process in life, not thinking that the results alone are all that matter. The outcomes we crave from our efforts may be powerful motivators, but it matters little how greatly you think they’ll improve your life if you hate every minute of working towards them.
When I first contemplated the world of work, I saw it as a means to an end with that end being money, and lots of it. At some level I probably aspired to a happy, stable and fulfilled existence but I equated those things as coming as side-effects from the money, from the result of my endeavours rather than from the endeavours themselves.
We’re counselled as kids of the importance of loving our work, usually by the generations ahead of us who’ve known first-hand the joy of doing meaningful, rewarding work or the drudgery of being trapped in a job that is hated, tedious and demoralising. With the usual cynicism and impetuousness of youth, that advice is usually rejected, or at best taken with a pinch of scepticism.
A career is a long time
Many later learn, as I have that those who went before us were entirely right. A career is a long time. Most will work for forty years or more, exchanging around half of their waking time during that period, for money. It makes far more sense that-that time should be passed enjoying it, not resenting it?
I can think of far more friends and acquaintances who dislike or, at best abide their work rather than really loving it. Many, like me, chose their vocations based on the results they thought they’d get from the work, the money, the conditions, the opportunities or status and yet things haven’t worked out as they’d imagined.
They’re now trapped in those jobs, either through being caught in the money trap, or out of fear for a loss of that status, the time that retraining would require or out of the sunk-cost of having trained and reached their current position. It’d be too much to contemplate throwing away and starting afresh.
If they’d selected their work based on what they’d be doing, upon the process they’d be part of rather than the prize they’d receive for doing it, I wonder how many would feel slightly happier and more accomplished?
Since starting work I’ve learned that the same principle applies in many of the roles that I fulfil in life too.
Don't just 'get through' life
It’s impossible to achieve a desired outcome and enjoy a reasonable quality of life if I’m not suitably committed to the process and at peace with what it requires, no matter what the goal.
The ends do not always justify the means, even if I get exactly what I had hoped I would.
It’s not possible to feel accomplished, appreciated and fulfilled in work if you’re merely suffering the day-to-day for the money or the prestige. Financial reward doesn’t offset for work that is boring, lacking in meaning or performed under unpleasant conditions. If you don’t love the process as well as the prize, at best you will suffer your work, living for the pay-checks and for the weekend.
It’s not possible to be in a loving, mutually supportive and tranquil relationship if you aren’t committed to putting in the work and are merely in it for what you can get from the other person. Being with someone out of desire, attraction, dependence or neediness won’t bring about a loving and equitable relationship. At best the relationship will function as a crutch, a patch or a temporary-fix, yielding occasional happiness but without bringing enduring fulfilment.
It’s not possible to live a consistently healthy and active life if you aren’t committed to and accepting of the need to make healthy choices about how you live, eat and move on a daily basis. If exercise is undertaken begrudgingly, as a punishment or as a penance to offset indulgences, then it will never feel easy or natural. At best you’ll suffer the workouts, feel deprived by eating healthily, and your results will quickly be lost in a relapse to your old ways. You’ve got to love the process or the results will be fleeting and quickly lost.
A happy parent makes happy kids (and vice-versa)
One of the most significant places that I’ve also noticed this has been in my role as a parent.
When my marriage failed, the prize that I envisaged was to be able to devote myself to raising two happy kids. I believed I could do whatever it took as long as my kids were contented. I convinced myself I could suffer any hardship, deprivation or adversity as long as the kids needs were met. My needs didn’t matter.
I lost sight of the fact that being a parent isn’t merely a job of work where you deliver an end result. Even when they leave home, there is no end to the job of parenting.
“Suffering for your kids’ sake is like trying to hurt someone happy. Take responsibility for your own happiness as a gift to your children.”
Being a parent is a long-haul process, an ever-changing set of demands that evolve over the years. There are moments of joy and happiness, and times of extreme crushing sadness and frustration. In between these, there are times of boredom and tedium.
Taking the rough with the smooth
To live solely in anticipation of the good times, the rewards and results, refusing to embrace the realities of the process is to resign oneself to a lot of time spent suffering, resenting and indignantly resisting the role. It’s also guaranteed to reduce the chances of the happy times emerging as a result.
The equation is usually pretty simple:
- A happy parent tends to raise happy children.
- A happy working environment tends to result in happy workers.
- Happy workers tend to result in happy customers.
- Happy individuals make a happy couple.
The relationship is indisputable in my view. It’s impossible to strive for the results in any role if we’re not first and foremost committed to following the process required to deliver them. That commitment needs to be made willingly and wholeheartedly if we’re to truly embrace the process and put in the work that needs to be done to deliver the results.
The effects of committing to the process are double-edged; we’re far likelier to get the results that we desire (and deserve). We’re also far likelier to enjoy ourselves and endure in doing what needs to be done to achieve those results, and to hang onto them for the long-term.
Commit to the process, don’t just be seduced by the results. Think about the destination, sure, but don't forget to the enjoy the journey too.