“There are no wrong roads to anywhere.” –Norman Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
I used a GPS navigator for the first time recently. After making a few wrong turns (despite the technology), I was amused and relieved to hear the navigator’s voice calmly providing the next step as if nothing had happened. She did not berate me for making a hasty judgment or whine about the fact that I’d just made the trip longer. She simply got her bearings and — knowing the destination — offered the best route forward from our current position. From her vantage point (multiple satellites orbiting above), it was just a small adjustment in the larger scheme. A different path to the same place.
As I drove, I wondered how I could apply that concept to my life. What if the destination represents a personal goal? Instead of panicking when my neat plans don’t fall into place, I could evaluate the new situation, factoring in the new variables, and devise the best way to reach the goal as quickly as possible. Channeling the calm, non-judgmental navigator lady, my mind would say… “Recalculating…Recalculating” and offer the next best option.
Hmm. Seems too simple. What stops me from doing this? Underneath any goal is an attempt to achieve a state of mind — like serenity, security, fulfillment, acceptance, love. This is the true destination. Often, the goals we set for ourselves won’t get us there; they are really expectations drawn from our upbringing, culture or personal experiences. Like a fixed location, we think that once we arrive, we can enjoy that state of mind permanently. If we step off the path or perceive a delay in getting there, our anxiety rises. We feel lost. We hold on to our goals tightly, even when they don’t make sense anymore — or never did.
For example, although the destination is the same, my 16-year-old GPS set to “love” would take me to a very different location than my 34-year-old GPS. Love might be connected to a person or place for a time, but ultimately it is not tied to anything in the same way forever. In order to reach the true destination, I have to be willing to reset my location, given my current coordinates. In other words, I must look more closely at the goals I’ve set for myself. Will achieving them really get me to the state of mind I seek? Or am I relying on old versions of myself, other people’s opinions and society’s expectations to guide my choices?
Although it is challenging to seek a destination that is constantly moving, acceptance of its changing nature reduces anxiety about the journey. It is exciting to think that my life is not laid out before me in a straight line, as it would be if I stubbornly refused to change my location. In my quest, I am guaranteed to see and experience things that are out of the realm of possibility now. On the other hand, in some cases, I only have to shift my thinking to realize I’ve already arrived.
Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson