Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Journey Versus The Destination

In psychotherapy, people often talk about how they are disappointed with their station in life. By any given age, they should have had more toys, done more stuff, accomplished more More. Some people feel this way because the course of their life has varied a bit from what they'd mapped out-- maybe they didn't make it through college, maybe the love of their life disappointed them, maybe a bad break derailed them. Maybe they didn't like what they started out to do and changed paths a bunch of times in search of something more interesting.

I've taken to saying to these people (and I say it a lot) "For some people life is about the journey, for others it's about the destination. For you, it's about the journey." So what if someone hits 25 or 30 or 90 and they haven't finished college or they haven't finished law school or they aren't well up that longed-for (and often miserable) corporate ladder. If you aren't there, if you don't have the car/house/whatever you thought you'd have, it's disappointing and it causes a lot of preoccupation. I'll point out, however, that many people objectively have all the things one "should" have by whatever age, in the world's eye they have every measure of "success" and yet they still strive, still feel disappointed. There's always more money to be made, more toys to be had, another promotion that should have been gotten, more grants, more publications, the vacation home: a story of failure.

Why do we do this? Why are we always measuring ourselves and why have we set it so that some people are deemed failures (by themselves, by others). It's good if you can support yourself financially, it's good to be happy, enjoy the journey.

If my teenagers read this they would deem me the world's biggest hypocrite. They would be right. I am a destination person: I wrote my eighth grade career report on becoming a psychiatrist (I think I was going to do research at Duke running rats through mazes, but hey...). I went through college in three and a half years, went straight to medical school then residency, was a mom by 30, and I've encouraged (the older one would say "pushed") my kids to do well in school and strive. I struggle with a teenage boy who values television and video games and sees my life as a rat race. Last year he told me his "goal" was to win three-quarters of his on-line games. Oh, he's on the same trip (I think), off to college in the fall, but he'd rather not let anyone know.

So two more comments on journeys versus destinations:
One on the college application process---
oy! The kid filled in one application that had 5 essays: they included asking what professor he wanted to do research with, and "write page 217 of your 300 page autobiography." All the colleges asked what he had to add to ...diversity, life, whatever. It seemed like a lot of clarity, focus, accomplishment and form was wanted from a 16 year old boy. The college application process is a destination thing.

Second: yes, I really did write about wanting to be a psychiatrist when I was 13. Why? Yeah, why? I'd never met a psychiatrist, no one in my family is a doctor (much less a shrink), and I'd never met anyone with a mental illness. If anyone figures it out, please call me.

So: my take on it: Clink is a destination person, even if she does stop to smell the mushrooms. Roy is also mostly a destination person, but within the path, he swerves around a bit.