How to Find Joy in the Journey (Even When Things Feel Like They Suck)

I had been looking forward to my time with Mike for months.

He’s the real life sensei: Yoda to Luke, Gandalf to Frodo, Mr. Miyagi to Daniel, Dumbledore to Harry, Mickey to Rocky. He’s facilitated the life transformation of hundreds of people, and I’m included in the tally.

I was at a transitional point in my life before I visited Mike. I asked to spend a weekend with him to get his guidance and drove twenty hours to Eaglesong Lodge, his bungalow in the mountains. We hiked for miles, had a beer in his cliffside hot tub, and spent hours having soul-searching conversations. On one of my last days there, we were driving to another hike he had charted, and I asked the question I’d driven twenty hours to ask: “Mike, how do I make my life better?

He paused for a moment, and we both watched the Colorado landscape roll across the dashboard like a Texas tumbleweed. He drew wisdom from his endless well within and responded: “You need to learn, accept, and be yourself.”

There was so much anticipation for this moment, and when it climaxed like a hallmark tagline, I felt disappointed. I was expecting to feel so enlightened that I could float home on my introspective cloud. Instead, I felt like I got vague fortune cookie advice that could apply to anyone.

fortune cookie

I think I felt more disappointed because I was looking for “the answer”. You know, the one that would solve all my life’s problems in one simple three step process. And if we’re honest, I think at some point, we’ve all asked for “the answer” too. It’s believing that if we could just ask the right question, to the right person, they’ll give us the right answer that will whisk us away into our happily ever after. They’ll give us the “how to” for success, fame, and happiness. Mike is one of those successful, famous, happy people, and I was hoping for he’d tell me the secret to having a life like his.

This same “holy grail” type of question can be more subtle too. It could be asking, “What is it I’ve been missing to finally get free from porn?” or “Would you pray that God would just take this pain from my past away from me?” or “What did you do to meet the spouse of your dreams?” or “How do I finally get free from depression?”

There’s nothing wrong with asking these questions, but there’s also nothing magic about the answer you’re going to receive. I think deep down, when we ask these fix-my-life-now questions, sometimes we hope their response will microwave our journey and help us pass “Go” to collect $200 without rounding the board ourselves.

The unfortunate part is that I don’t think the answer is that easy…if someone gives you the simple “how to solve every problem you’ve ever faced”, chances are they’re selling you snake oil.

It’s been over a year since I visited Mike in Colorado, and the crazy thing is that his advice has actually been the thematic thread that’s knit together my journey since then (despite my resistance). And I think there’s something brilliant in his response for all of us.

The Urgency of Destination

You see, Mike didn’t give me the easy “how to fix my life in three simple steps” answer. He sensed I was buying into the urgency of destination. I was believing that the most important thing about my life was not the process of becoming who I ultimately wanted to be, but rather getting what I wanted to have. The problem with this kind of popular thinking is that we believe our lives are inherently inadequate as they are, and we need to do something fast to fix them so that we can believe we are worthy of love, of relationship, of happiness.

The irony of saying “I’ll be worthy when…” is that we develop a habit of believing “I’m not worthy now.” When we achieve our conditions for worthiness, we invent a new “worthy when ___” clause in our agreement with ourselves because we’re in that habit of delaying our self-acceptance and self-love.

[clickToTweet tweet=”The irony of saying ‘I’ll be worthy when…’ is that we develop a habit of believing ‘I’m not worthy now.'” quote=”The irony of saying ‘I’ll be worthy when…’ is that we develop a habit of believing ‘I’m not worthy now.'”]

mountains-overlookWhat I’ve learned from Mike’s mountaintop advice is that life is about owning our own stories. It’s about being present with where we’re at on our journey. It’s about learning more about ourselves in the process and being more of who we are and not who we think we should be. It’s about finding joy here and believing we are worthy now. Because the truth is, life is too short to delay our happiness. We shouldn’t wait to love ourselves and enjoy our lives, and when we do, we end up never experiencing it. The destination (the money, the following, the success, the accomplishments, the relationship) is just one point on the journey. Even if it were to give us the high we’re looking for, what happens when we pass that point and enter into another journey towards another destination? Because our journey never stops until our life does. If we live for the destination, we miss out on the joy we could have at every point in our journey along the way (and each of those points could be just as joy-filled). Indeed, there is more joy available for us in the journey than there is in the destination alone.

The Joy of the Journey

I think living for the journey has two key parts: 1) accepting where we are now and 2) focusing on the next step—a continual process of acceptance and progress. It’s making a habit of enjoying here, loving ourselves now, being happy with where we’re at even if it’s not where we ultimately want to be because we’re not where we once were.

I know for me, accepting where I am now has been a key turning point in this process. I’ve been opening up to my wife about my struggles with porn and video games. I use both of them to check out when things are rough, and it’s been tough for me to accept that part of my story, to accept that I’m in the middle of those fights because I’d much rather hide, hope that I’ll be where I want to be, and expect myself to be there. But when I do the very thing I don’t want to do, I hide, hope, expect, fail, shame, rinse, and repeat. Instead, what’s been so powerful for me is to accept where I’m at: that I’m in the middle of learning how to grow through my addictions, of learning how to make better choices, of learning how to stay under emotional pressure and not crumble into bad habits. I’m not where I want to be, but I accept where I’m at. In fact, I believe that where I’m at is good because I’m facing it, and I’m choosing to do something about it instead of just pretend things are better and hide the fact that they’re actually getting worse. And because I’ve accepted where I’m at, I experience joy in the victories I have along the way. I’m proud of myself for my growth, and I’m able to stay focused on progress. I share with my wife about what I’m going through: the successes, the failures, the collaboration on strategies, the teamwork. When I choose to eradicate my shame by simply shedding light on what I’m going through, I begin to accept myself for where I’m at TODAY and take steps to make tomorrow better.

That acceptance sets me up to make a habit of progress. Because I’m able to give myself grace and patience when I fail because I choose to accept where I’m at (because I’m human, and I’m trying to get better), I’m able to stay present with my own journey. I allow myself to be where I’m at, and it enables me to stay more consistent with this journey of improvement. I admit my mistakes, but I don’t dwell on them or feel shame about them because I accept it and choose to learn from it, and then I move forward. Because I know when I accept it, I don’t move backwards by hiding and pretending things are better. I don’t fantasize about where I could be and make no real steps towards it. I own it—the ups and the downs—and I take proactive steps forwards.

If we can accept ourselves and where we’re at and make progress on our journeys, we’ll set ourselves up to make better habits every day, and one day we’ll be able to look back and see that we aren’t who we used to be, and we are who we hoped we’d be. And that’ll be a beautiful and proud day, indeed. But more than that, we’ll enjoy every day in the process because we’ll be present to the joy that’s available to us right here, right now. Then, we can make every day beautiful—full of worthiness and love—and be proud of ourselves for our continual journey of progress.

Showing 2 comments
  • Michael Warden

    Honored to be a part of your journey, Nathaniel. And I’m glad for the world that you are in it.

  • Lynnette Marie Adams

    I saw your quote and it was perfect to go with my story. I credited you of course. I am on my own journey some days scary some days incredibly exicitng

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