We won?t truly understand the journey until we?ve taken it? but let?s try.
Life is about the journey, not the destination. It?s a quote used for self-help, mindfulness, and as a pick-me-up if you don?t accomplish a goal; it?s been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson (among others); artists from Miley to Aerosmith have sung about it; it?s on every millennial Pinterest board titled ?Quotes To Live By.? Overused though it may be, when it comes down to it, it?s a simple platitude that many seekers of ?meaning? have found to be true.
Life is indeed about the journey. The funny thing ? the ultimate cosmic joke ? is that we won?t truly understand that until we?ve taken the journey. I know what you may be thinking, but this is not useless babble about ?living in the moment,? or hackneyed advice on ?enjoying the ride?? as long as we commit to identifying and defining the meaning contained within the phrase.
?I wish there was a way to know you?re in the good old days before you?ve actually left them.? ? Andy Bernard (Ed Helms), The Office
Search for the Holy Grail
There is a French poem by Cretien ? a mythical tale of a boy named Parsifal and his search for the Holy Grail. Our hero, Parsifal, sets out on a great quest, leaving his home and all he knows behind. Soon he comes to discover what it means to be an adult, to fall in love, to experience radical emotions, to take on enormous responsibility.
Rather quickly Parsifal finds himself at the Grail Castle and meets the King. He had been instructed by a mentor, Gournamond, to ask an important question when he found the Castle: ?Whom does the Grail serve?? Doing this would save the entire kingdom from poverty and despair and fulfill Parsifal of all he had ever hoped and dreamed. However, Parsifal fails to do this, leaves, and the Castle disappears.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can?t make him drink.
Knowing he has failed, Parsifal sets out to find the castle again. The journey is long, arduous, and takes many years. Along the way, he?s confronted by two people, The Hideous Damsel and The Hermit, both of whom berate him with a ?long list of his faults and failures.? His sense of Self is destroyed. Stripped of all external notions of what makes him a man, Parsifal must focus on what is within himself. Finally, after years of searching, The Hermit gives Parsifal directions back to the castle.
And then? the poem stops!
?There is no finish line.? ? Bill Bowerman
I learned of this story reading He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Robert A. Johnson, which I have discussed in further detail in another post. While the book, as the name suggests, is about masculine psychology, the parable pertains to everyone?s own journey.
The fact that there is no ending, Johnson says, is the point. The journey was the point all along. As he puts it: ?It is an unfinished story within us, full of power, and begs for further work. Truly, everyone is Parsifal and his journey is one?s own journey.?
The process is the reward
A while ago I listened to a Howard Stern interview with Jonah Hill. They were discussing topics that carried subliminal themes of validation ? such as taking notes on a film and why Jonah wanted to host SNL for a fifth time ? which prompted Hill to say this:
?The only reward is the process? The reward of filmmaking for me, of this film, would be to get to make another film because it?s what I love to do. And [that?s] something that actually is the truth, but it?s just hard to stick to because as human beings you?re like, ?Oh but I want this validation or I want that validation?? The process is the reward. That?s it.?
Hill also talked about having a young, validation-driven headspace when he had been nominated for two Oscars. So Howard asked, ?Do you fear you?d never be nominated again? Like now you?d really be in the moment, you?d be present?? And Jonah smartly replied, ?No because the point is by the time you get something like that, by the time you?re ready for it, that?s not the thing that makes you happy??
Here?s the metaphor: Jonah Hill is Parsifal. An Academy Award is the Holy Grail.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can?t? make the Academy vote for him? (ahh shit, they don?t all work).
Stop trying to be successful.
?You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.? ? Albert Camus
This was a post I did not long ago. In the article I concluded that the pursuit of success is, in and of itself, success. If anyone aspires to ?be successful? they?re missing the point.
This theme holds true in another article I wrote, We?re Not Nouns, We?re Verbs. In it I quoted Austin Kleon, and I will again in an expanded version: ?Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work. Let go of the thing that you?re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb).?
The point: DO. Or, more to the language of this article: Take the journey. The point is not about being successful or being an artist; it?s to put in the work, to play, to discover.
Do you set goals? Of course you do! But goals are not destinations. Goals are guideposts along the journey. Then again, we need to take the journey just to realize that the journey in and of itself was the ?destination? we were seeking in the first place. Makes perfect sense, right?
A subconscious commencement address
This post was triggered by a dream where I was delivering the commencement address at my alma mater. My subconscious is obviously impossible to quote verbatim; however, it was a surprisingly lucid speech, and upon waking I transcribed it, tweaked it, clarified it, and added to it what I thought necessary:
I suppose I?ve been invited here to give you some kind of advice, bestow some kind of wisdom; pass along some lessons that I?ve learned. But I think that would be a futile endeavor. Some of you may actually take a couple things I say to heart. Some of you may listen to my speech and think, ?Well, that was a fine speech,? and then mostly forget about it. Most of you will zone out ? or text your friends in another part of the auditorium about how everyone up here is dressed like a wizard, or simply try to remain upright as you sweat out last night?s drugs and alcohol.
Me imparting advice is futile, not because of your hangovers, but because advice is always realized through experience. Through doing. Although you will need guidance, and assistance, and mentorship (and I highly recommend you seek all those things), you need to figure life out on your own.
Suppose, as Baz Luhrmann suggested in his commencement address, I tell you to ?wear sunscreen.? It?s good advice, and you may even be inspired to wear sunscreen after leaving here today. However, you will inevitably go out and get burned to a crisp multiple times before you realize on your own that wearing sunscreen is always a good idea. As the old adage goes, ?You can lead a horse to water, but you can?t make him drink.?
That said, I have been commissioned to tell you something, so I will say this: This school taught me nothing. [Cue laughter, and an uncomfortable shuffling from the dais of professors behind me.] The only ?advice? I have comes in the form of an allegory, which will tell you everything you need to know about the uncertainty of life:
I graduated here with a business degree ? a major in Marketing and a minor in PR. I am now a writer and actor. Listen to the cringes from parents who, like mine, paid for this education. I found many of my business classes boring and useless. I was a solid B student, and almost nothing taught to me, of any practical value, has stuck in my memory. Instead of studying, I spent my time partying, fraternizing with an assortment of women, and binge watching Entourage. Then, after flailing around for a few years after college, still searching, unsure of what I wanted to do with my life? I went on to write a television show based on my college stories of partying and fraternizing with an assortment of women, sort of like Entourage (only without all the misogyny).*
Therefore, I look back at my time here and I don?t consider it a waste at all. Because, class of [whatever], as horribly clich as it may be? life is about the journey, not the destination. And you simply never know where the journey will take you.
*I should note that, while this is indeed true, in my dream this speech was given after the show had been picked up, become wildly successful, and I was a star among these graduating students. Fingers remain crossed.
Also, the part about not learning anything is a distortion of the truth ? but it makes a good story.
?Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh nevermind, you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.? ? Baz Luhrmann
I?m still in the first half of my life (you know? hopefully), so this isn?t coming from a false delusion of intellectual grandeur or any personal realization of enlightenment. This, frankly, is a compilation of other people?s discoveries ? discoveries that I have come to understand intellectually, but far from fully realizing in practice.
I?m still on the journey. If I had to guess, I?m somewhere around being berated with the ?long list of faults and failures? by The Hermit. (I?ve done my time with The Hideous Damsel? I have a Gorgeous Damsel now.)
And I can say I?ve committed myself to identifying and defining the meaning contained within the phrase, ?life is about the journey, not the destination.?
?Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.? ? Soren Kierkegaard
Although, now that I think about it? I?ve reached zero conclusions. We haven?t actually identified or defined anything?
Oh well, it was fun trying.