The Finish Line Isn’t Where You Think It Is
As is our Sunday tradition a few times a month, my daughter and I went on a hike.
And it took forever.
It always does nowadays. As much as we both love being outside, she is in no hurry to cover the three or four miles we aim to do. It’s a stark contrast to my trail runs on alternating weeks, when I want to cover the same terrain, roots and all, as quickly as possible.
But with her, the point isn’t to finish at a certain clip. The point is to just be on the trail.
She and I are looking at different finish lines. Mine is back at the car, three-and-a-half miles later. Hers is to point out turtles and twisty vines, to wonder out loud how many leaves are in the forest, and to ask me all the questions she can imagine until I run out of ways to say “I don’t know."
The point is not the point
Somewhere along our life's journey, we each begin to focus on a singular outcome. Maybe it’s something simple in a growingly complex world. Maybe keeping score is more fun if there’s only one metric to which we compare ourselves to others. So we start to focus on and measure our work and life in terms of:
- Square footage
The (a) point is not the point. Points are the point. Life is too important to be lived quickly. Nature is too necessary to not be noticed. People are too fragile to be overlooked. All of the elements we badly need in life could never be counted with a calculator.
So maybe we digress by default. We push past the hard stuff (relationships, depth, meaning, religion, mystery) and keep score artificially. At least then we know where we stand.
But sadly, where we stand is on a fragile podium of our own making, one built on arbitrary measurements that neglect the very finish lines we need most - the biggest, most complex ones that keep moving the more we live.
Someone sold us a finish line we don’t want (or need)
I’m the worst person to meet with if you’re a financial advisor or planner. You’ll ask me where I see myself several years from now, how much financial security I want in retirement, and what I need to have saved up by the time I’m 65. I’ll listen to your questions until you’re finished and then I’ll laugh, tell you I have no idea nor concern, and tell you that retirement is an outdated concept, one I’m not racing toward, and not a way that I keep score.
You’ll protest, we’ll chat about it a bit, I’ll thank you for coffee and then you’ll be on your way to the next sales prospect. I’m not interested in running this race.
Well-meaning adults told us (some of us when we were very young) that there was a clear path to follow that consisted of various steps that included making good grades, going to college, getting a job, climbing a ladder, getting promoted, earning a nice living, owning a home, and then doing all of this in increasing measure until we died.
And so went the story of a happy life.
Many of us bought into this race we needed to run. (Many of us still do.)
But this race misses a lot. Its contrite finish line leaves so many of us wondering why the hell we’re running this race so fast. Isn’t there more?
Yes. But it’s not the race you think it is. It’s not even the race you may know how to run. But it’s the only race your inmost being was born to run.
It’s a race bigger than any singular finish line, bigger than what your parents told you, and bigger than your job.
The finish line keeps moving. And more and more of them pop up day after day. Some you’ll decide to stop chasing, and that’s ok. The point isn’t to get to the end of the race.
The point is to run the race with everything you’ve got.
Chase something big
Go start a company. But don’t let someone tell you the point is to make as much money as possible. Instead, breathe life into your idea and its people, watching as the goal isn’t just to amass material wealth, but also to train people how to work hard, to please customers by listening to their needs, or to bring ethics to a place where they are rare.
Go fall in love. But don’t only think the only worthy end is to die beside each other at 90. Maybe you simply love each other for a season, teaching the other about vulnerability and honesty, leaving the relationship wiser and more rich, your heart ready for someone or something else when the season is right.
Go to school. But understand that the point can’t merely be a diploma some years down the road. You’ll also need to learn how to learn, what pursuits are worth your intellect and attention. You want to sit with opposing thoughts, confront someone whose worldview is too small, and sit at the feet of those who are wiser, whose wisdom has come after years of striving.
All of our races - our life’s pursuits - may start heading toward one finish line. But then along that route, we learn that the point of that race wasn’t to finish it. It was just to start it. To get to the first distance marker. To meet someone else along that same course and then veer off with them, hand in hand.
Maybe the point of this race was to show us another race running parallel to ours and so we hop over to that lane. And then we realize we are running in the wrong direction, so we stop and start over, now destined to where we want to go. The finish line is further off, blurrier than we thought, but that’s ok. At least we’re running.
If the race is only about speed, even if you win, you miss out on what could have been an incredible journey. The races that are just about speed usually aren’t worth running anyway.