The Eternal Wisdom of Focusing on the Journey

Having a goal helps, but contrary to contemporary understanding, focusing simply and singularly on the goal is likely to slow down its achievement.

Let us begin with a little story…

Once there was a man determined to find the secrets of attaining the Zen state in life. He found a Zen master in his village. He approached him, and asked:

‘Wise man, how can I find Zen in life?’

‘Work on it for ten years, and you shall find what you are looking for.’

The man asked him, ‘What if I fix my focus on my goal twice as hard?’

The wise man replied, ‘Then you shall find it in twenty years.’

Puzzled but determined to understand the man asked again, ‘And what if I fix my focus only on the goal and nothing else?’

The wise man replied, ‘You shall find it in thirty years. Your one eye will be on the goal, and one eye will be on the path. Having only one eye on the path will slow you down, naturally. There is a difference between fixating on the goal and working on it. ’

As the Zen master looked at the puzzled expression on the man’s face, he explained:

‘Imagine you are climbing on a tree, to reach at the top for a fruit there. If you focus just on the fruit, you will miss out on the various branches protruding out of the tree, and might end up falling, injuring yourself and wasting time in having to wait and start at the bottom of the tree once again.

But if you focus on the activity, the journey of climbing the tree, feeling the bark of the tree on your hands, finding the most useful branch, finding an efficient way to climb the tree, you will reach the top of the tree even before you realise it. Focus on the journey, and you will not only learn a lot more along the way, you will also reach your destination much earlier than simply focusing on the destination.’

The expression of puzzlement on the man’s face turned into a calm yet determined smile.

In contemporary work culture, the focus is often on a goal: becoming the ‘boss’, getting in some list of the most successful people in the world, getting an award and so on. There are countless other examples where we are told to singularly focus on the goal, and nothing else. And when we reach that end goal after years, we feel empty after the initial celebrations. What now, we wonder?

Having a goal is necessary; it gives us a sense of direction. However, once we have decided on the goal, it makes sense to shift our focus on the journey towards that goal. To make the best out of our journey, we can ask ourselves questions such as:

  • What are the skills I need to learn along the way to reach my goal as efficiently as possible?
  • Who are the people that I have met along the way who can teach me, provide valuable lessons, that is, who are the people who can provide me mentorship?
  • Are there any possible roadblocks that I can see, as I climb the (career) ladder? What can be done to overcome those roadblocks smoothly?
  • Is there a need to course correct, and find a more efficient way towards my goal?

And so on.

Said in a slightly different way, it is not a coincidence that the Bhagvad Gita also tells us to focus on our ‘karma’ or actions, that is, what we are expected to do on our journey, rather than focusing simply on the ‘fal’, the fruit. It goes: ‘karma kiye ja, fal ki chinta matt kar…’, that is, keep performing the actions, without worrying about the fruit.

Focusing on our journey, and undertaking actions that will enable us to learn from that journey is eternal wisdom. Focusing on our journey means we enjoy the beauty of travelling through it all, rather than worrying or hurrying to reach a destination.

Focusing on the journey allows us to perceive and observe our path; it lets us widen our horizons. Focusing on the goal singularly, fixating on the end result limits us. It narrows our vision and make us blind to possibilities and opportunities.