The Journey is the Reward
by Ken Goldstein
Tenth in a Series of Ten
Here are some phrases in various shapes and flavors that I hear much too often:
“If I just get through this test, it will be smooth sailing to the end of the semester.”
“If I just get this promotion, I will have the authority and title needed to do my job.”
“If I just get through the budget, the rest of the fiscal year will be a breeze.”
“If I just survive until my boss fires my arch nemesis, all of the stupid conflict in my day will be eliminated.”
“If I just hold on until the stock hits 100, I will have enough coin to blow out of this asylum and ditch these losers.”
Each one of these statements has the same element in common: Delusion. Yes, these are delusional declarations. They seem so credible when we think them, and so laughable in hindsight.
This tenth hard lesson learned in the series is the hardest of all to accept. Learn it young and you can spare yourself a good deal of needless angst. Suspend your wishful thinking now and understand the pure and existential truth of career making, perhaps life making:
There is no such thing as “If I just…”
If you just get over the hill ahead of you, I promise you almost without exception there is another hill that begins where that one ends, and in all likelihood it will be steeper causing you to sweat more. If you just get through the performance review next week, I promise you almost without exception there is another one next year, and that next boss will probably not be any easier on you. If you just get promoted to Director, I promise you almost without exception you will immediately set your sights on Senior Director, then VP, then Senior VP, then Executive VP, then Division President, and then you will feel empty until you move into the holding pattern awaiting to be ordained C-Level.
If you long for a game changer, you are likely Waiting for Godot. No matter what you achieve in the here, there will always be a there, and another there behind it. The solution is all too simple: stop deceiving yourself into believing today’s milestone somehow miraculously is The One that Solves The Problem. It’s not. It never is. My apologies, but the system is designed that way. It wants you to think there is a short-term fix to the long-term problem, but that’s just so you will work even harder at breaking the back of the short-term fix, which is what the system wants you to do, because it needs the short-term fix more than you do, and your motivation is a conduit to the short-term fix. That’s the dangling carrot in front of the carriage, but you know, if the horse gets the carrot, there’s no reason for it to keep pulling the carriage. Business is much better designed than the carriage, much more complex and enduring, not often second guessed in rapid succession.
Try this instead of projecting the fanciful: run a search and replace in your vocabulary for “If I just…” with “Because it’s now…” Instead of “If I just get over this hill…” think in terms of “Because it’s now, I am going to observe everything I can on the way up this hill to see what is around me.” Instead of “If I just get this promotion…” think in terms of “Because it’s now, I have the opportunity and ability to show my boss and peers my creativity in the otherwise crushing task I don’t know why I accepted.” Instead of “If I just hold onto the stock a while longer…” think in terms of “Because it’s now I have ownership in a great company where my talents can add value to the mix every day.” You get the idea, all you are doing is reframing the context of the exact same challenge you are taking on, but instead of seeing it as an exit strategy, you begin to see it as a continuum.
There is a very good reason this is more than semantics, more than some guru espousing the power of positive thinking (author’s sidebar: if you know me, you know I am not that guy). Almost all of leadership stems from the ability to inspire and motivate. If you can’t inspire and motivate yourself, your chance of helping others in this capacity is really quite low. And I am understating how low that low can be.
There really is only one truly important career-making question I think we need to answer on a regular basis to keep climbing hill after hill as a journey rather than a series of destinations, a marathon instead of a series of sprints. Try asking yourself at the end of each day, “What did I learn today?” If you don’t have a good answer, try again tomorrow. If a week or a month goes by and you still don’t have an answer, you are likely in a dire situation. While you might be awaiting an “If I just…” moment, the people around you might be getting better at what they do, possibly at your expense. In a flourishing environment, everyone learns together, that is The Journey. If the environment is not flourishing, you may have a bigger problem than you think, it might be time to tackle that. If you are in a flourishing environment and you are not flourishing, it probably is time to hear the words, “Because it’s now…” Trust me on this, you don’t have much time, and any time you lose, you aren’t getting back.
When we enter the work force we think it is about what we get in compensation, perks, awards, and acknowledgment. Each time those carrots get a little tastier, we realize that extrinsic rewards are soon supplanted and eventually replaced by intrinsic satisfaction. That is when we come to understand that The Journey itself is why we set out on this path, not for what is at the end of the path, we don’t have a clue when or where that is. The Journey itself is The Reward, because it constantly opens our eyes, teaches us, surprises us, allows us to see what was always there, and make better decisions to help others get down the trail with less deception and more learning. With that Journey will certainly come material bounty, all facets of the “If I just…” mode of thinking. Yet if you’re not seeing The Journey as its own Reward, you aren’t only missing the most important motivation of all, you might be stuck in the lobby for the whole show.
Every day will not bring party time, we all know that, and truth be told, setbacks will always outnumber successes, the math makes it so. To revel only in successes is to allow ourselves to be consumed by the setbacks. “Because it’s now…” makes all setbacks part of success. That to me seems like an easier hill to climb, especially because we now understand, the hill we are climbing only trends upward for a reason — to see who figures it out, and what they do with that knowledge when they discover it.
Earn Each Moment.