Have you ever considered the possibility that reaching your goals won’t make you happy? That achievement and accomplishment won’t satisfy you? Do you ever get a sneaking suspicion that you are cheating yourself out of your own happiness? Like you’re missing something important. I’ve felt this way most of my life, but I believe I found a piece of the puzzle and I want to share it with you. Let me give you a clue…
Accomplishment isn’t what you really want. It’s a hoax.
You’ve probably heard someone say life is a journey not a destination. A worthless platitude, right? But I had an experience yesterday that seemed to give the idea freshness.
Why do children see things so clearly? A respected programmer once told me it was easier to teach a child Object Oriented Programming concepts than to teach a 20-year veteran. I didn’t think much of his comment at the time, but after the last 4 years with my son, I am certain he was right. Children see things as they are, not how social conditioning demands that we see them. If each adult could see the world through the eyes of a child for a day, it would shake the foundations of civilization. But our society doesn’t value the thoughts and opinions of children. Our society views them as destructive little monsters that we need to hammer into shape.
As I wrote in “Are video games bad for kids?” – my 4-year-old son is obsessed with Spyro 1&2 for the PS1. He has completed both games, finding every gem, beating every boss, and discovering every secret. He knows every corner of every map, the strengths and weaknesses of every opponent, and conquers the obstacles with a speed and precision I never imagined he possessed.
After working at it for a week, he finished Spyro 1. He collected 14,000 gems, dozens of eggs, 80 dragons, defeated hundreds of bad guys, and solved multiple puzzles. As he was reflecting on his accomplishment he said, “Dad, you know, I don’t like that part. You know, the part when it plays the movie and the music and the words (credits). The fun part is doing all the stuff in the different lands. Getting the gems and dragons is the fun part. Not the end. I don’t like the end.”
A light went off – pow! This is what people mean when they remind you to live in the present. Enjoy it now because now is all you have. When the end comes, it’ll be too late.
Let me give you a better example.
In Minnesota, boys ice hockey is God. They start out around 5 or 6 years old and the ultimate goal is winning the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. Minnesota ice hockey is like Texas football, it means everything to some towns. Each season thousands of boys begin playing hockey but only 20 boys will win the championship game.
At the end of the championship game, when the clock expires or someone scores in overtime, the winning team erupts in celebration falling all over each other on the ice while the losers sob crocodile tears about how close they came. But in that instant – from that split second before victory occurs to the fleeting emotional moments afterward – the ultimate goal passes from the future through the present and becomes history – never to be experienced again. The actual experience of winning only lasts a few seconds! After that, it’s just a memory.
For many of the boys, that moment is the culmination of 13 years of living and breathing ice hockey. What did the previous 13 years playing hockey have to do with that brief moment of victory? Everything – it was the essence of the victory. It was the real fun. But if you spent those years obsessed with the goal – living for the future – you missed all the fun. In this case winning the tournament is the end. Winning that final game is the peak, the pinnacle of success, and it ends there. Even Neal Broten who went on to win the NCAA Championship, the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal, and the Stanley Cup said those experiences paled in comparison to the Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament.
So what’s my point? My point is that the end result of your work or goal isn’t where you really want to be. Once you are there, it’s over. You really want to be where you are right now. That’s why once you reach a goal you always set a new one. Happiness does not lie in accomplishment; it lies in the act of accomplishing.
Do not think I am dismissing accomplishment and goal setting. I am not. I have spent most of my life fiercely competitive. Set goals, accomplish great things, but remember the fun part is happening right now – right this minute as you work to achieve your goals. If you wait to have fun until after you reach your goals, you will have missed the point because it will be over… gone… poof… and you’ll be standing there asking… what will ever make me happy?