People say that the journey is more important than the destination. I know deep in my bones that that is true. Especially when I am my best self.
But every once in a while, my best self goes on vacation without letting me know. And an imposter I will call trying-to-be-my-best-self-but-not-being-able-to-right-now, takes over. The imposter tries to convince me that the destination is all that matters, and that I must run over myself to get there. At those times, simple ideas like these help me keep things in perspective.
Jokes told well.
A few years ago, I was terrible at telling jokes. T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E. The reaction I got most often when I told a joke (the long kind, not the one or two liners) was – silence. Followed by some sorry forced laughter, “ohhhh, I get it now,” a consoling hug from one of my sisters, or a pat on the back from a sympathetic listener. My friends teased me kindly about my joke-telling skills. And we laughed at my complete lack of ability to tell them. As far as joke-telling went, I was the joke.
Years of this later, I decided that I wanted to tell jokes well. So I set about investigating what my problem was. It wasn’t the jokes I was telling: people laughed when others told them. Something seemed to go awry when I delivered them. And I wanted to know what it was. So I sat a friend down and asked for advice. After all, he told jokes often. People, myself included, listened enthralled. And laughed gleefully afterwards. I wondered what his secret was.
This is what he told me. It’s not about the punch line, he said. It’s about the build up to the punch line. You have to tell a good story. You have to get people to like your story, and get them invested in it. To the point where they’re feeling (without knowing it) – this story is so good, how good is the punch line going to be? In anticipation of that sweet ending, they’re already giggling a little. You’re doing your work before you get to the punch line. So that success is in the bag when you get to it. The punch line just wraps the story up in a way. And although the point of telling a joke is to get to a punch line that makes people laugh, in some ways, it is least relevant to the process of telling a joke well.
This was revolutionary to me. I had always believed that the punch line was the most important part. So I butchered the story. I rushed through it to get to the end. To get to the part where gratification would come. To the part where people would laugh. Except that they didn’t. It was like I had done everything right, but had somehow got everything wrong. I had rushed through the journey to get to the destination. And when I got there, it failed to satisfy.
If you’ve ever read a book to a child, you’ll know what I mean. Children don’t seem to care as much about what happens in the end, as they do about the experience of having a story read to them. They love the different voices, the growls, the animation, and the expressions we make as we read to them. The same is true for adults. We don’t read mysteries to find out whodunit. We read to experience the thrill of not knowing, but wanting to. It’s the best part.
Forsaking the enjoyment of the journey for the destination is like gulping down an exquisite meal with the sole purpose of filling your belly. And not tasting what you eat. At the end of the meal, you can’t understand why others liked it so much. It’s like skiing downhill with the goal of getting to the bottom. And forgetting that the thrill of the ride is what matters most. It’s like going on a road trip, but forgetting to enjoy the trip.
So, when the imposter trying-to-be-my-best-self-but-not-being-able-to-right-now takes over, I try to remind myself to enjoy the trip. To be present in it. To enjoy it. And to make the most of it. Because while destinations are worth striving for, some never arrive. The ones that do, don’t always look like we expect them to. A few bring what we hope they will. But even they sometimes lose their appeal, and are quickly replaced.
All we do know with certainty is that we are on this trip. And that we can choose to ignore it, or make the most of it. Everything else is just a mind trip.