Updated: Jul 11, 2020
The life of a 60-something friend of mine came to an end last winter. Because he’d been in seriously declining health, news of his death was sad but not shocking. His passing, though, reminded me of a poignant feature of life—no matter how Different or not you’re trying to do it.
Life is a journey, and regardless of what you’re aiming for, you never arrive. It ends wherever you happen to be at the time you die.
You Can’t Plan the End
A practical implication of dying “en route” is that you can’t presume to have any particular number of years left to accomplish whatever you're planning.
My friend's death, for instance, hit a bit close to home, given my similar chronological stage of life. He died, even though by today’s standards, 60-something is not especially old.
So, the time to get started on whatever you dream of doing is now. (See my post “Young, Old, or In-Between—Now’s the Time to Do Different”).
Because you don’t know where along the path it will end, you need to make sure you’re on a trajectory that delivers the life value you want. A few questions from an earlier post of mine bear repeating, to help evaluate your progress:
Are you satisfied with the direction your life is headed? If not, what specific areas fall short: business, family, relationships, personal freedom, financial achievement?
If you continue on the current trajectory for another 10 years, will you end up living the way you really want to?
Did you hope 10 years ago that your life would be different than it is now? In what way(s)?
The Journey Is the Destination
California's Mount Whitney protrudes from the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where it ranks as the tallest peak in the continental United States. Several decades ago, one of my great life lessons occurred as I hiked the trail to the summit.
I had made the trek once before, but that first time, I had taken the standard approach and made two overnight stops—one on the way up and one on the way down. This time, though, my plan was to make the entire 22-mile, 6100-foot-elevation-gain trip in one day.
One result: I discovered I was in really good shape, but not that good.
I also found out that plans don’t always deliver the best results in life.
My one-day-to-the-top plan was motivated by the ego satisfaction it would provide to say I had climbed Mt. Whitney in a day. But pure ego satisfaction is never a good reason for doing anything.
I had started the hike in a group of five people and one dog. My wife, best friend, and our dog were along just to enjoy a day in the Sierra Nevada wilderness. They had no intention of pursuing the summit. The other three of us, though, were stoked for the macho accomplishment of achieving the summit and getting back in one day.
After a half-dozen miles from 8,600 to 12,000 feet, we reached the trail’s infamous 97 switchbacks. We ascended the next, grueling 1,600 feet to the several-mile-long ridge that leads to the summit.
Atop the switchbacks, altitude and exertion had literally taken my breath away. Although I intended to press on, I let my hiking companions move ahead since they were ready to make the remaining miles at a faster pace than I could muster.
Alone, I shuffled across a frighteningly narrow hundred feet or so of trail with precipices nearly a thousand feet straight down on either side, then trudged to within a mile of the summit.
But I was done.
After staring listlessly in the direction of the top for several painful minutes, I wandered to a suitable patch of rocks a few yards off the trail and laid down in the sun. I wondered why in the world I had tried this ridiculous “feat.”
Then I noticed the view.
It remains to this day one of the most spectacular mountain panoramas I’ve ever seen.
And . . . it was better than the view from the summit.
I knew, because on my previous hike up, I’d actually been slightly disappointed to find that the shape of the mountaintop made it difficult to get a full view of the surrounding peaks from one spot.
Put Plans in Their Place
Quitting a mile from the summit of Mt. Whitney wasn’t what I had planned. My ego certainly wanted more. But wearing out was the most excellent thing that could have happened to me.
I realized in that moment of pain and awe that accomplishing the goal—getting the plan done—is not the way to do life, either.
People have observed the same in other ways:
Enjoy the journey.
Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
Just take action—ready, fire, aim.
To be sure, plans absolutely do have their place in your life’s journey. They get you started in the right direction.
I would never have gotten where I did on the mountain if I hadn’t been planning to go to the top. But don’t count too much on the execution of your plans. You'll experience a better way by staying open to what happens as you go.
Figure out your values. Set a trajectory for what matters to you. Start moving toward what you want. And let life do the rest.
Wherever you get when it’s all over is the prize.
*Photo credit: Parker Amstutz from Unsplash.
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