Success and the journey of a thousand jigsaw pieces
So after the joy and euphoria of achieving a major life milestone passed, I found myself in a deep state of purposelessness. I was an untethered buoy in a vast blue sea and I was terrified. Admittedly, I had spent the last 17 years pursuing this goal. I had lived, yes, but the goal was always there, at the back of my mind like a voyeur. At night my dreams ran feverish with it, and when I woke, it was at the foot of my bed, a sagely monk, handing me a towel, telling me to get to work.
I thought I hated my goal. I thought I detested it. I wanted to be done with it. I wanted to arrive on the other side of it, triumphant and free. But as I disembarked on the success side of my goal unto those white sands of freedom — after a brief euphoric phase, of course — I wept the tears of Alexander when he found that he had conquered all of the known world.
I was confused. I felt ungrateful. This was what I wanted. Yet I felt lost. I was afraid to set another goal — I would be like the slave who begs for a master after being set free. Yet I knew a man’s life is one thing when he has purpose and another thing entirely when he doesn’t. I had come to love my purposeful self, the grit, the determination, the cunning and outright intelligence I had used to surmount my goal. I was now in a heaven of all the chocolates I could eat and I was nauseous. Sweet was cloying. The gladiator hates the country life and wishes for the battle field.
I was also worried about life. What was the bigger picture? The existential picture? It can’t be a series of goals, can it? A constant carrot luring us to our dying day? In a dream, a man with no face once told me, ‘Sentience is mental illness and all is therapy’.
So I took a breather and I realized that I had gone about it all wrong. The goal is not the goal. The goal is the journey to the goal. The end means little . . . like the picture formed from assembling a thousand jigsaw pieces. A picture which must be upended to start again this journey of a thousand jigsaw pieces.
So I must set new goals. Because life needs purpose. Without purpose we are less than gnats because even gnats have purpose. This is a fact because the heart knows it. But these are different goals. These are how all goals should be. I call them joyful purpose or purposeful joy. These are goals in which every minute is success, because the goal is the journey and the journey is the goal. The end is great, but if we don’t bask in the torture of our goals, laugh raucously at the challenges and screech with joy when the going gets tough, then we have shortchanged ourselves. We are in the greatest movie ever told, but too caught up to enjoy it.
And even when the journey feels tedious — aren’t the best jigsaw puzzles, the most challenging ones? I stumbled upon James 1: 2–4 yesterday: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Mature and Complete. Not lacking anything.
I’m at the intersection of who I used to be, and who I am now and who I will continue to be. I’m evolving and that’s a good thing. My purposeful joys are simple. The end goal is necessary because a goal constricts the pupil of the mind, gives you clarity. You can’t see the way, unless you see the end. Keeping that in mind, I am no longer motivated by completion, by necessity. I am motivated by the journey — that which I used to abhor. I am intrigued by the twists and plots of my own life, the hand of God and providence, the fruition of faith. I am intrigued by the wonders of my memory to recall entire, esoteric medical texts, the genius of random inspiration in stories birthing themselves in my mind, the wind on my face the entire time. In an almost Buddhist way, I see now that the end, however grand, is never the end. Our minds have evolved to solve problems. Our minds are truly at peace when solving one. This is why you must evolve to enjoy your trials. Without them, your mind bends over and starts eating itself. That neurosis of sentience bloats and problems are created when there are none. This is why mental illnesses are a serious problem in the first world and maybe not so much in the third. So when you achieve your goal, you are also at risk of first world problems. The problem of having no problem, our beautiful evolved mind sitting idle, like a Ferrari buried in a landslide.
This is why Trump ran for president, why Dangote never stops, why Zuckerberg comes to Africa. Like Wall-E our programming continues its work long after the need to work has been overcome. It must. We are that programming.