So maybe life is a journey

It’s amusing while driving on a long trip to read people’s vanity license plates and wonder about their messages. A couple of months ago, somewhere in the Carolinas, I saw this on a car:

NOTDONE

The message has stayed on my mind ever since. I think it’s because it can be either very straightforward or deeply profound in its meaning. I speculated that it might relate to food or cooking – maybe a chef or a baker drives the car. But it also occurred to me that the driver is saying, “I’m not done” with life, that he has some sort of “bucket list” of things to do, and isn’t finished with it yet. That’s what keeps me pondering it.

When are we finished? When have we done everything we want to do, or think we should do? These kinds of questions can dog our daily life – the never-ending “to-do” list – as well as our overall feelings about achieving goals, making a difference, being satisfied with life. A young person struggling with what to do next told me recently that it surprised her when other people admired her for being so successful in her work. She didn’t feel successful; she felt as if she still had so much to do to get where she wanted to be. In her friends’ eyes, though, she looks like a success right now.

What is success? We equate it with fame and fortune, reaching some sort of end point, accomplishing something big or difficult. In my thesaurus, however, the first synonym for the word success is fulfillment, which to me implies that it is possible to be successful, while still being “not done”, if you feel fulfilled by what you do. The flip side is that someone could have all the money and fame in the world and still not be successful if a sense of fulfillment isn’t there.

Yoga teaches us to practice detachment from results. Detachment doesn’t mean a lack of feeling or emotion, rather a letting go of the outcome of events. As Kate Holcombe explains it, “…detachment means that you strive toward your goal, but if things don’t go the way you want them to, your sense of Self is not shattered…This has the effect of keeping you in the present moment of your action or practice rather than being distracted by thinking about the outcome.” In other words, focus on the satisfaction that your life and work offer right now, while still acknowledging that work remains to be done.

Another instructive lesson comes from Soren Gordhamer in his book, Wisdom 2.0. He relates the story of a martial arts student who goes to a master to learn everything he can. The student wants to work as hard as he can to achieve mastery as quickly as possible; but every time he says he’ll work harder in order to finish his studies sooner, the master says that it will take even longer. When the student asks why, the master tells him, “’With one eye focused on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.’”

I went to a time management workshop once where were advised to write our goals in the present tense, rather than the future. So a goal like “I will become a writer,” became “I am a writer,” and “I will exercise every day” became “I exercise every day.” It was a way of visualizing ourselves where we wanted to be. But it’s also a way of staying present-focused, of realizing that the person I want to be is here inside me right now, and that the steps I’m taking now are what will bring fulfillment.

So we may forever be “not done”, but by keeping both eyes on the path, with an occasional glance at the destination, we may find that the journey is quite successful.

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