Is it the Destination or the Journey?

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destination“What stop please?”

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, I used to love to ride the public transit. I was too young to drive, and I needed to go from the suburbs into the city each week for my harp lesson. Each way my trip required one bus, one elevated train and one underground trolley, plus a nice six block walk. I felt so grown-up and free being able to negotiate the transit system by myself. And I loved being able to confidently tell the bus driver which stop was mine.

Because while the journey was fun and exciting, it was really all about the destination. I was going to my harp lesson, the most important part of every week. Getting off at the right stop was critical.

I was in a gift shop last week and a little framed saying caught my eye. The framed quotation was one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s: “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

And as I found myself acknowledging the truth of his words, I was reminded of how, in our endeavors, the journey is determined by the destination. More simply, if we know where we want to go, we can figure out how to get there.

This is one of the reasons it has been important to me to know what I want to do with my harp playing. Some people would call it goal setting; that always feels a little lofty and intimidating to me.

I like to think of it more like the stops on the bus route. All of the stops hold possibilities; they are all headed in the same direction. Once I get on the bus, each stop takes me closer to my goal, at least up to a point – the point where I get off.

Having a destination in mind helps me to choose which stop will bring me closest to my goal. Or I could decide to choose a different stop and take a different route to my goal.

But the destination itself shows me the route to follow and the stops are steps along the way.

I use this imagery for daily practice and for longer term projects too. Once I know what I want to accomplish, I can visualize the route. And the route, just like the bus route, has stops, waystations, places where I can check where I am.

I remember occasionally being distracted (or more likely absorbed in reading a book) and suddenly looking up and out the window in the subway wondering if I had passed my stop. What a relief it was to hear the bus driver call out the next stop and realize that I was still headed in the right direction and my stop was next.

So …what’s your stop, please?

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  • Gretchen Cover

    And, each time we get to our destination, we then start a new journey. The cycle of journey/destination goes around and around. Great essay.


  • Jeanne Caverly

    Well said! That quote has been a favorite of mine for years, but I never thought about it from the perspective of a bus ride and the destination determining the journey – great analogy! I had interpreted it to mean that we can get so focused on the destination that we miss the depth, beauty and excitement of the journey itself. At 70, I’m much closer to the ultimate destination and I treasure each step of the journey! I love practicing / playing my harp!!! Having just begun playing 2 1/2 years ago, the harp has given this leg of my journey a whole new meaning and focus! I am so grateful!!! Thank you for the broader perspective on this quote.


  • Jane

    As I travel through my life, I have realized that serendipity is indeed a reality.
    Visiting a musical friend, my eyes locked on to a lever harp in her living room.
    I asked her if I could give it a try. She said “red is C”.
    That was the beginning of my harp journey. She couldn’t really play it, but almost instantly it made sense to me.
    So I bought that harp, and learning to play it has sent me back to musical basics, sharpened my sight reading skills, and given me great joy.
    The focus required of me to play has helped me through some very tough moments i am experiencing in my life at this time,
    And those ringing strings, soothe my household.


  • Trina W.

    Love your imagery of the bus route and travel to get to your lesson! Overall, life is a journey made up of many steps (destinations). Our practice steps/goals could be seen as destinations upon the journey…


  • Darlene Deisinger

    The journey is always ahead of us. Sometimes it is easy and most of the time there are obstacles along the way. We must keep moving forward and not think about what we cannot do. We never give up!


  • Rob Stone

    Yes, good point and learning a piece of music is like a journey; step by step you travel until it’s completed and along the way you experience the pleasure of the music, the composer’s creativity, the mood, etc.


  • Carole Smith

    I enjoy the journey more than reaching the destination. I think of this like holiday preparation, decorating the house, figuring out what food to have, what to wear on the special day. The day comes and it’s fun. But there is always the day after. This particular journey is over. Time to find the next one.


  • Regina Clarke

    Wonderful way to look at it–stops along a bus route–it is so much more accessible to envision. Thank you!


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