When I was a junior in high school, I began writing a monthly column for a magazine. It was a job I would keep for nearly a decade and it gave me my first real experience as a writer. When I graduated, my mother offered to buy me personalized stationery, which I could use when querying publications and production companies. I took her up on that offer and made sure to include a quote on the bottom of the paper. It was a quote by Robert Browning that I’ll never forget.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a Heaven for?”
At the time, as an 18 year old with adulthood seemingly far ahead of me, that struck me as an incredibly insightful declaration. I had set many goals for myself at a young age - I even made a list. In the years since then, I have achieved every single goal I set. The most improbable (writing a movie and getting it produced by a Hollywood film studio) happened when I was only 21. I still remember being on set and seeing actors who I had watched in countless films and TV shows growing up, acting out roles and reciting dialogue which I had created. It was surreal, to say the least. But please don’t bother seeking it out, it wasn’t that good.
Over the next few years I kept ticking off more and more of those “goals” until, in the fall of 2014 the last one was accomplished when my first book was published. I have 2 more non-fiction books in the works and my first novel should be available later this year (unless I pull a last minute crash and burn, which is certainly within the realm of possibility). In the meantime I’ve also started a successful photography business and photographed everyone from movie stars to a US president.
I write all of this not to pat myself on the back in the least. My goals were not that lofty to begin with and much of the success I achieved was of the middling variety. I write this because my grasp has finally caught up to my reach and I’m now at a point where I’m fine with that. I’ve also realized that Browning’s quote, while certainly meaningful and inspiring for many, constantly wanting more has no interest to me anymore.
I have nothing against those who dedicate their lives to bettering themselves. They’re the people who cure diseases and start missions to Mars and run countries. But for most of us, we’re not going to do any of those things. We’re going to live our lives in relative anonymity and when our candle winks out, our legacy will not be of the “First man on the Moon!” variety.
My life has been filled with more blessings and good fortune than I ever thought possible, but when I look back at the things I’ve done, I see how little any of those goals mattered. Achieving them didn’t make me a better person. If anything it hindered me at the time because it only made me want “more” and not be happy with what I already had accomplished. It’s easy to get caught up on that hamster wheel of life where you keep working harder or going for more schooling or trying to get a better job and you ignore the present because you’re too busy trying to plan for a future that none of us are guaranteed.
Happiness, for me, doesn’t come from my job or my accomplishments. I find happiness in watching my dog bark and yip like a wild coyote when he sees a deer. I find happiness in the first flowers of spring after a long, cold winter. I find happiness in the laughter of my loved ones. Happiness is a state of mind.
I have many young people as my “friends” on Facebook and if you’re reading this, please know that I’m not trying to dissuade you from following your dreams or achieving great things. I believe setting goals is an important part of life. But that’s all it is - a singular part of a huge puzzle. And a small piece at that - not even the border. ;)
Your life is much more than the things you accomplish. It’s your friends and family and pets. It’s waking up grateful and content. It’s being able to be completely alone (and I know from experience that you can be every bit as alone in a crowded room as you can be sitting atop a mountain ridge and watching the sun rise) and appreciating the solitude.
I’ve always had a bad case of wanderlust. Traveling is my passion and anyone who really knows me also knows my love of Maine. I’ve even gone so far as to look at real estate in that majestic, beautiful state and for a few years thought that, if I moved there, I could find peace. I know better now. While I’d love to return to Maine again and again on vacations, making it my home wouldn’t change anything. Home is within you. The actual physical location is simply window dressing.
On my travels, I frequently don’t reach the intended destination and I’m okay with that. There’s an ancient Taoist proverb that says, “The journey is the reward.” Now that’s a quote by which I can live.
In many ways, life is a marathon that we’re running at a sprinter’s pace. Along the way, if we’re not careful, we miss out on all the important parts because we’re focused on the finish line. Slow down. You don’t have to win the race. You don’t even have to complete it. You just need to have fun and appreciate the scenery.
tl;dr -Enjoy your life and don’t focus on the future.