“The journey is the reward.” ~Chinese Proverb
We’ve probably all heard this famous piece of wisdom at one time or another.
I’ll be honest, there were a few years where I just plain blew it off.
Like, “Yeah, yeah, journey, reward, I got it. Cool. Now, when’s my ship coming in?”
Not that I was greedy. Just impatient to arrive at a place called Made It. It seemed that other people were already there and I was eager to join them.
I had seen the brochure for Made It and I knew then and there, it was my kind of place.
The trick about getting to Made It is that there wasn’t a singular map. You’re supposed to make your own.
In my case, my map started with, “First, take a hard right at Work Really Hard. Then, follow this for about three to five years.
There won’t be any signs, but if you see exits to places called Partyville and Cul-de-lack-of-Discipline, whatever you do, don’t get off there.
Keep your eyes on the road, stay awake, and eventually, you’ll arrive at your destination.”
Once I’d sussed out my map, I thought it would be a short trip, relatively speaking since I had packed properly.
In my duffle I had: my unique brand of fulfilling creative expression, plenty of determination (roll-on), focus (with back-up laser), integrity (large-ruled), networking ability (with stationary for thank you notes), and extra socks (tenacity can make you perspire).
Oh and sunscreen, because I burn easily and it’s super sunny in Made It.
I had big ambitions since my teens, so I planned to arrive in Made It early, settle in, and eventually get a summer place in Write Your Own Ticket.
I thought I’d be flying high by the time I was twenty-five—living in a two-bedroom condo in a nice high rise in downtown M. I., complete with a jolly doorman and giant beige sectional sofa that could sleep a family of six.
I was a go-big-or-go-home sort of girl, but age twenty-five came and went, and I was still traveling. I had run out of gas a few times. Once or twice I needed a tow (waiting for that took, like, a year).
“Why me?” I would cry as I watched other cars speed past me on their merry way to Made It. “They’re not even looking over here!” I’d complain enviously.
When obstacles were thrown in my path like boulders rolling down a mountain onto the road in front of me, I would slam on the breaks, still screaming “Why me?!”
Note: The Why Me? is an asexual species who can easily reproduce when unsupervised, and if you’re not careful, Why Me? will take over your life like Star Trek’s Tribbles.
Then, slowly, over time, with enough miles under my belt, two important things shifted.
First, my definition of “big” in “go-big-or-go-home” changed.
Second, I stopped asking “Why me?” and I started asking “Why?”
Why Me? not only hogged the radio; he wasn’t getting me anywhere, especially not to my destination.
So I kicked Why me? to the curb and invited Why? to hop on in.
Because every lesson, no matter how big or small, starts with a Why?
An objective, and at times, brave Why?
“Why is this happening in a way that I may not have expected, but what is it trying to show me?”
Or “What am I not seeing? Why am I not seeing it?”
And “Why is this situation repeating? I thought I already got this memo. What do I need to learn this time?”
Before I met Why? I would see a set-back as an unwanted detour, or worse, a breakdown.
“I’m never getting to Made It now!”
Here is an early example of what happened when I showed Why me? the door and let Why? tag along with me.
Twenty years ago, I was demoted at my summer job for failing to contact the management earlier in the season to let them know I would indeed be returning for another year.
I could have felt sorry for myself and let Why me? handle it, turing it into a mess of bridge burning, embarrassment, and certain unemployment.
Instead, I let Why? run with it. After all, it was an easy one.
Why was I demoted? Why was the management put out with me?
Well, if I were to be really honest with myself, I had taken the position for granted and somewhat disrespectfully expected the company to keep my position open while they were turning other eager people away.
Instead of walking away, as Why Me? would have wanted, Why? took responsibility and gratefully accepted the demotion.
I endured all sorts of questions about it from my fellow employees for half of the summer, but after a couple of months of hard work, I proved myself again and my bosses returned me to my previous position.
This small lesson, thanks to Why?, upped my level of professionalism, which I have carried with me ever since.
The key to riding with Why? is not being afraid to hear the answer.
It will always be the kind of answer that makes your soul nod a big Yes.
When we invite Why? to join us our journeys, then life is less of a boondoggle and more of an elegant mystery, just begging to be solved.
Then Made It begins to seem less and less of a desirable destination, because you will realize, as I did, that I had already passed it a long time ago.
Why? has been my constant and trusty companion on my journey during these last twenty-five years. Why? is a great hang.
I should warn you that when you first travel with Why?, he can and will rattle your cage. Don’t blame him and don’t resist it. This is his job.
He’s trying to get you to examine things more deeply than you ever have before.
He even might throw your precious map out the window as you yell, “Hey! I still need that!”
He might run ahead, pulling you along faster than you’re ready to go—taking you to some rest stop you’d swore you’d never visit.
He’ll pop the hood any chance he gets.
I know Why? seems like a rabble-rouser, especially when you’re not used to his presence.
But if you steady yourself and let Why? stick around, you will soon find that he carries great snacks, a unique form of travel insurance, and rarely takes a bathroom break.
Pretty soon, you’ll refuse to travel without him by your side.
I owe Why? quite a lot at this point in my life. Thanks to him, I was able to change how I define “big.”
Now, my definition of “big” means: health, contentment, flow, inner peace, and blessings for my family, friends, and community.
“Big” also means love, joy, hope, oneness, and gratitude.
Why? has made my journey the reward.
And the reward has been big.
Photo by DieselDemon