On my day off, I planned a treat for myself as a way to off-set the need to productively tackle a long “must do” list: a rare mid-week lunch with my friend Mike. He selected a location near his office where we were able to order yummy Asian food. I was so hungry that I helped myself to two fortune cookies from a giant bin – one for before lunch and one for after.
Our fortunes were not so much fortunes as they were aphorisms. My first cookie yielded this one:
The sentiment struck me forcefully, and I half-laughed, half-grunted. Mike raised an eyebrow at me, so I handed him the slip of paper, saying, “This describes my whole life for the past year.”
As so often happens, my flip comment (and the fortune which precipitated it) came back to me later. Long after I had returned Mike to his office, long after I reached max capacity on my “must-dos” and long after hunger was again gnawing at my belly (despite feeling so full at lunch), I found myself thinking about the concept of “traveling hopefully”.
When I embarked on the journey that brought me here, to Minneapolis and to today, I had a fuzzy vision for my life’s path, but no map or set itinerary. The lack of these has meant that it hasn’t always been an easy trip. Or maybe it’s the nature of even a well-planned trip: there have been delays (finding a professional position, connecting with people), break-downs (physical ones such as dead batteries and emotional ones like loneliness), sudden course corrections that have left me feeling disoriented. There have been days when my heart has been travel-weary, when all I really wanted to do was go home…wherever that seemed to be.
Traveling hopefully means remaining open to possibilities even when possibilities seem scarce. It means measuring options against your fuzzy vision and choosing the ones that seem to offer the most promise of clarity in the long run.
Recently, friends urged me to apply for a job back in Iowa – one which they hoped their influence could help me successfully retain. It was tempting: the idea of finally arriving at a destination made me a little weak in the knees. But every time I sat down to complete my application, I became emotional. It just didn’t feel right in my heart. What I eventually realized is that, no matter how difficult the journey has been, it has also been rewarding in ways I’m not willing to give up yet in exchange for an arrival.
There’s a fierce gladness that comes from listening to that small voice inside, especially after a lifetime of shushing it. It may not always be enjoyable to learn both what you are capable of and what you are made of, but it is a deeply moving experience. Traveling hopefully, even if the journey continues further/longer than anticipated, extends one’s ability to see multiple positive outcomes rather than remaining fixated on one preferred destination.
It’s important to note that the fortune says, “It is sometimes better…” Because there are times when arriving may be the better thing. The problem is, until we get really good at traveling hopefully, we don’t know how to differentiate which, in a given set of circumstances, is the better of the two. Like everything in life, we improve our ability to discern the better option the more we actually do it, the more we actually face new options and choose. I wasn’t a good “life traveler” because I stayed safely ensconced in one place for so long. But I’m getting better (imagine me saying that a la Monty Python!).
It might be good to point out that traveling hopefully is not the same as traveling joyfully, happily into the bright blue yonder. When you travel hopefully, you are reaching beyond today’s circumstances toward something perhaps only you can see – a destination worth working (and hoping) for. There are days when joy is the last emotion you feel, way at the bottom of a list that begins with emotions like grief, anger, dejection, fear. Or worse, days when joy is buried beneath a pile of whines and whinges and complaints. But a hopeful traveler isn’t sidetracked by these for too long. The internal victory is won by hope, and we travel on.
I must also say I’ve got nothing against arriving. Arriving is a great opportunity to stop for gratitude, to take time to enjoy the moment, the place, the state you have achieved. But “arriving”, I’m learning through this life experience of traveling hopefully, is only a way station on the path. Arriving is temporary, it turns out. Traveling is more our natural condition, the way we learn and grow and become. The journey needs, therefore, to continue. In spite of everything, it has grown more clear to me with each passing week that there’s no reason to travel with anything less than a hopeful heart.
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. -Lao Tzu
One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. – Henry Miller