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.


Midwife with a Knife said...

I used to be a destination person.... then I realized I was at the destination I'd had my sights on for a long time (becoming a doctor, ob, and then MFM).

I've done a bit of reflecting (sort of a result of my job search, and having to figure out what it is I really want to do with the rest of my life, which isn't so easy once you've accomplished the goal you've been working towards for ~20 years), and I think I've turned into a journey person.

Specifically, now for me, I think I just really want to enjoy the Journey, and get as much out of it I can. Self-centered, maybe (If helping people makes me feel good, does that make helping others self serving?), I think, but there it is.

Gerbil said...

I have always been a destination person, although now that I am a mom (the gerb is 7 weeks old today!) I've surprised myself by being more interested in the journey. I have to say, it's really liberating.

If you'd told me six months ago that I'd soon be considering intentionally postponing full-time work, licensure, etc., I'd ask you what you were smoking.

(Co)incidentally, I've been working on a post myself about journey vs. destination. It got a little delayed because the baby's been wanting attention every time I sit down to write it. Hm. I guess I'm not so much destination-oriented when it comes to blogging these days, either.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why Christians have it right. :) People of the world need more, seek more and are never fulfilled because you're only fulfilled by having spiritual peace through Christ. That's it. No other spiritual path works and no material object compares.

shraddha said...

I loved this blog of yours.
You seem like my mom, mom is a dentist and wanted me to be a destination person too.
Mom was little too destination oriented, she wanted me to go to certain occupation ( trying to be vague here).
I did.
Now enters my husband, very destination oriented.
Man with a midas touch, he has got almost every grant and award he has ever applied too( ok almost every).
And me...I have been busy...first with infertility treatments...then with premature just with 2 very busy two year old twins who take 'terrible twos' very literally.
So looks like I am about journey?
But hubby will kill me( yep!)...if i stop studing for these exams for my destination.
At 33, with twins, with hobby like blogging, scrap booking and volunteering.And being at a very happy, psychotherapy not needed place, destination seems difficult to strive for.
But I need to do it.
So dang it! I better stop typing here and study a little.
Hubby will be back from work in 45 minutes and first question he will ask is... how many MCQs did you solve today?

Also do check out my website! I added music in it!!!!!!!!!

Also I am interested in Psychiatry by marriage! no he does not abuse me...he likes the subject!!!
Just like you are red sox fan!! ( yeh! i googled you!!! sorry!!!!!!

Dinah said...

So, I didn't mean to imply that
'destination' people were all about career...though I realize that's the aspect of destination that I chose to write about.

Motherhood is a destination, and it turns many Journey people into Destination people. Gotta junior to piano lessons/ballet.

Running a marathon is a destination. For me, running a 10 minute mile was a destination and then I made it two and then I nearly died and now I'm happy to walk a block.

Cooking a good meal is a destination, mastering any skill or craft is a destination.

It's the issue of choosing a goal and following a path to it. You get there and you choose a new goal.

Journey people choose goals (sometimes unrealistic ones) and they swerve, take the long road, somehow don't make or take a much longer time than they'd planned, they don't know what the next step is or how to get there, but often they get an interesting ride, see somethings that those of us in the library (or on the treadmill or changing the diapers) didn't get to see, smell, feel, or experience. It's good stuff and it's bad stuff. It's often unexpected, often painful.

The more I practice psychotherapy, the more I learn that life should be about figuring out who you are and then maximizing on that, not trying to change who you are to meet the often random and ridiculous goals that society has set.

Congratulations, Gerbil! Babies have their own agendas, yours is out the window for a brief while (25 years or so), double for you, Psychiatry101. And thanks for the compliment.

MWAK-- You're a destination person. Illness always leaves people to reflect, but it doesn't change the essence of who they are.

Anonymous said...

Great post, you are on a roll.
( Make it a pumpernickel roll.) Gevalt.

pemdas said...

I used to be a destination person - get the high powered job, buy a house, have kids, and so on. But over time I have become a journey person. Just like you described, a few disappointments, a major change of paths, and a couple of tough breaks made me give pause to what I valued.

The deal was sealed by a 'too close for comfort' brush with death. After that, acquiring things no longer held the appeal it once did. Career was important but I was no longer motivated by the usual workplace rewards.

Life is now about being of service and making a difference. Work is now just a means to that end.

Rach said...

Great post Dinah. I think a lot of my coming terms with my own mental illness was coming to terms with the fact that my peers' destinations were not my own, and that I needed to be flexible with where and when and how my journey moved me.

I have come to view my illness as a trajectory. For the most part, I move on a straight path. When I have periods of acute illness, I consider it a ‘blip in the road’. At that point, my primary goal becomes finding a way to get back on track and readjust my trajectory. Using this paradigm has enabled me to keep a (mostly) positive view of the decisions I've made regarding my untraditional post-secondary life. I don't regret what I've done thus far - my journey's just slightly more bizarre than everyone else's.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I think I have been a destination person, but right now I'm out of destinations/goals. (got my undergraduate and graduate degrees, got licensed, got a dog, got married, got a house) I think maybe right now I'm trying to figure out how to be a journey person instead. This post was very timely for me.

Dr. Pink Freud said...

Oscar Wilde said, "Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not." Being human, our tendency is to view life with a large ration of subjective bias. As I believe the quote drives home, it is through the perception of unfairness, or perhaps perceived adversity, that most of us derive the motivation to turn the wheel in a different direction. Perhaps psychiatrists' greatest gifts are these:

1. That they allows people to see there is more than one direction or road to travel;
2. That they encourage people to look in your rear view mirror when it's helpful, and suggest you stop looking before you miss all the wonderful things ahead of you.

Catherine said...

I was always a destination person. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, how I wanted to do - I had it all planned. Then I goofed and suddenly I was unmarried and pregnant right out of high school. No big deal, just tweak the destination a little bit. I still went to college, graduated with a double-major and a high GPA and found a job teaching. Hmmm, but what should my next destination be? I know, grad school!

But this year I stopped to think about it. Here I am and I have been so focused on doing these other things in life, these "important" things, and when I finish grad school, what in the world will I have left to do? I could keep going further and further, but I no longer want to. It just doesn't seem as important any more.

So I decided to slow down on grad school so that it would give me time to actually enjoy the world around me. And you know what? I kind of like it that way. Now that life in general isn't so much of a destination, I am able to handle it better.

CanadaHolly said...

I think I am a journey person (think Drunkard's Walk) who always tried and failed to be a destination person.

The number of endeavors I have embarked on, and rapidly failed at or lost interest in, could fill quite a crowded book.

Currently I'm convinced it's the not-yet-diagnosed ADHD that kicked my feet out from under me in such a predictable pattern. I am in my 50s and mourn the books I could have written not because I couldn't write them, but because I have the skill and the ideas but not the persistence.

dx on the horizon, I hope, but how many of us journey people are members of the 4 to 5% of ADHD adults, 90% of whom are not diagnosed?

Mrs Cake

Anonymous said...

I'm a "destination" person who is happy with my achievements and accumulations though I am currently heading for yet another destination. I ENJOY working towards goals and achieving them, learning new things enroute. There is really a LOT of "journey" when you are headed for a destination if it's at all a difficult destination to get to.

That being said, my BF is much more a laid back, sniff-the-flowers journey type which provides great balance for me.

Awake and Dreaming said...

I've been thinking about this a bit. And I don't know. School was definitely a destination thing for me. now I have a degree, and my whole life ahead of me...

On the whole, I would say I'm a destination person though. It's why I have a hard time working out... I can't stand "going for a walk", I have to be going "somewhere". So I'll bike ride to and from work, but you'll never catch me just biking for the heck of it.

In other ways though, I'm a journey person. I'll wander along with summer, never caring about much of anything. It's really hard to know... I need to think more.

Roy said...

Great post and comments.
I'm with Still Dreaming. I can't tell which I am more of. I think both. Of course, it is not so black or white. To get to a destination, one must embark on a journey. And most journeys include a number of destinations.

I very much enjoy life as a journey, and don't get too hung up on whether I make my destination or not, and I see the destinations as simply way-points for my journey... but the important thing is to always be enjoying the journey. And the company along the way.

Rach said...

I think part of the problem of living in such a goal oriented society is that we're not encouraged to enjoy the journey because we're always rushing to the destination. Which is why when I started running, I rushed to run a marathon, as opposed to just looking around as I ran for hours at a ridiculously slow pace. It always seems to be about finishing, rather than just being.

Midwife with a Knife said...

dinah: How can you tell I'm a destination person? (just curious).

And... for the record, I don't think any illness has changed who I am. I'm just now at the point where I'm thinking, "OK, so that's done... now what is it that I want to do?" It's the first time I've had to figure that out, in this way, in a while. Maybe I'm a destination person in between destinations? Or, maybe now that I've actually gotten there, I'm going to wander around a bit and see what there is to see? (kinda like once you get to Disneyland, it's time to enjoy the rides). Or, maybe I'm torturing your metaphor a little bit too much. ;)

Sarebear said...

I haven't taken time to read any of the comments yet, and I'm behind on recent posts (sorry, hit hard by the prospect of a future of increasing pain and worn out body parts, to the point of replacements, and he did say that more parts, yes, plural, WILL go. This thing is aggressive).

Anyway, so as you say sometimes one is hit with a bad break or whatever.

(obviously it is natural and ok to be upset and take time to absorb the news and impact and heck some days I'm find and others I burst into tears; some days I joke about becoming the Bionic Woman . . . . a piece at a time . . ., or my OEM parts not being up to snuff so I'm being issued new ones, ha!)

Anyway, if one DID get what one always wanted, THEN what? . . . ?

That aside, I mean, one has to BE WITHIN the life one is IN, so it's not like I can sort of take myself out of this stuff that is so . . . . . intense and so recent (and had an ortho appt. today) - I mean, I can't seem to shut up about it recently, but geez basically being told I've gotten old NOW, and not just old but aggressively arthritically so, and it will worsen, and who knows how crippled I'll become . . . . anyway, it's hard to shut up. I'll try.

I s'pose I process through words alot. I do know I'm a word person, and I consider y'all friends, I'm not chatty with you cause you're shrinks.

Um. Kinda pertinent to the topic, but sorry to go on so much about the specifics. . . .. !!! I have to take time out to smell the spam frying.

That was a post from a couple years back when it all of a sudden hit me, that I DID have everything I had always wanted . . . . and how I felt about that . . . .

This is one thing about spam that'll not make you hit the delete button, lol!!! And it helps me through, too.

Anonymous said...

Basho closed up his house and set off on an aimless journey in the Edo Period in Japan. He published a travelogue/haiku collection called “The Records of a Weather Exposed Skeleton.”

“Following the example of the ancient priest who is said to have traveled thousands of miles caring naught for his provisions and attaining sheer ecstasy under the pure beams of the moon, I left my broken house on the River Sumida in the August of the first year of Jyokyo among the wails of the autumn wind.

Determined to fall
A weather-exposed skeleton
I cannot help the sore wind
Blowing through my heart.”

Even if you're a destination person, you have to admit that you love Basho a little bit!


Sarebear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shraddha said...

I had a request.Since my blog is kinda new and you were amongst first who visited , can you please revisit and critique it as I have modified the design of it.Please look at the link .."how this website was designed".I am hungry for input.

Anonymous said...

The "destination person" described in your post somewhat corresponds to the object relations concept of "The Destiny Drive" introduced by Christopher Bollas (1989). In the second chapter of his book "Forces of Destiny: Psychoanalysis and Human Idiom", Bollas discussed the differential experiences of "fate" and "destiny" within the dialectical context of an individual's true self and the objects one chooses to articulate their idiom. Perhaps a couple short quotes from Bollas might be more illustrative:

"The person who lives from this inner sense of destiny will have an intuitive knowledge of object choice based on the need to express the idiom of his true self, and will in turn have imaginary objects (futures) that are visions of potential use. Such objects, yet to be met, nonetheless collect interest, as the subject will explore objects related to this future object, and perhaps acquire a 'skill' that is meanwhile quite useful and eventually of further use in the time to come."


"In health the true self continuously establishes its idiom and the fashioning of a life is the work of a destiny drive, as our urge to elaborate our idiom partly results in our creation of personal effects" (personal effects = those objects with existential signatures".

I would strongly recommend reading the second chapter of his book in order to enjoy a much fuller treatment of this concept, and I believe that after doing so you will undoubtedly appreciate the theoretical utility and the clinical implications of the "destiny drive".