I admit my guilt; I would like to arrive. At what? Well, that’s more complicated. I’m not convinced I know, even if I thought I did. But I would definitely like to feel like I’ve reached a certain level of success, where I can look back and convince myself that everything I experienced along the way led to wherever I’m at, and that it all makes sense. I want to feel like the not so great experiences made me stronger and happened for a reason. I want to feel like my decisions were purposeful, even though I didn’t know what the outcomes would be when I made them. I want to feel like the outside world looks at me and thinks I’ve arrived. A bit idealistic? Sure, but raise your hand if you feel differently. That’s what I thought. But do we ever really arrive?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Pursuing Perfection, I recently reread Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society by John Gardner, a book about why some individuals and societies continue to innovate and grow and some become stagnate and decay. Self-Renewal, originally published in the 1960s, has lost none of its relevancy. Neither have the passages I underlined years ago lost their relevancy for me today; though I want to believe the opposite of all of them. Gardner discredits the idea that happiness is an ideal, idle state that we can achieve with enough soul searching and hard work.
“….Self-renewing people never feel that they have arrived.”
“Those who think that they have ‘arrived’ have simply lost sight of those goals (or perhaps never saw them in the first place.)”
Never arrive? Never? Cognitively, I agree with Gardner, but emotionally I’d rather not. On the few occasions I felt I had arrived, the feeling was temporary. The new experience quickly became the norm, and I began asking myself all over again, “What’s next? What am I meant to learn here? Where will this experience lead me?” Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel this way. Sometimes I wish I would allow myself to settle in, sit back, and be done with it. But, as Gardner says:
“Life isn’t a train ride where you chose your destination, pay your fare and settle back for a nap. It’s a cycle ride over uncertain terrain, with you in the driver’s seat, constantly correcting your balance and determining the direction of progress. It’s difficult, sometimes profoundly painful. But it’s better than napping through life.”
For readers that are interested, John Gardner served as the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services) during the Johnson administration. He also founded Common Cause, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization in 1970. And those are just some of the many highlights. Gardner’s bio reads like a man who, in the eyes of the world, far more than arrived. Though I venture he never stopped sizing up the next hill.
Grab your bike. Let’s begin to cycle.
This post is dedicated to Helen, whom I wrote about in the post, Old Identity, New Identity, and who turned me on to Gardner.