It’s the journey, not the destination.


That oft-cited bit of wisdom is presumably a counteraction to the goal-driven orientation that characterizes much of modern life. It’s a mantra for those of us who have never come up with a satisfactory answer to the question, “Where do you want to be in five years?”

Opinion: It’s the journey, not the destination.

Of course, the sorts of people who ask that question are probably not looking for philosophical rumination. They want specifics, action steps, measurable outcomes, deliverables.

So, what would a journey without a destination look like?

In the physical realm, it might mean “going for a drive.” Supposedly, that practice was more common in days gone by, when gas was cheaper, commutes were shorter and cars were more of a novelty.

These days, the thought of filling the gas tank and spending a couple more hours in the car, just for the sake of driving, doesn’t hold much appeal. To say nothing of the guilt one should by all accounts feel at having contributed an unnecessary dose of CO2 to the atmosphere.

But if going for a drive is at best a guilty pleasure, going for a ride offers more promise — especially if the mode of transport is one step removed from the motor vehicle. Although most trolley riders of yesteryear used the streetcar to get to a specific destination, a sizeable number, we’re told, rode just to see the sights.

A similar phenomenon seems to be at work with light-rail transit. In 2006, ridership on the Hiawatha line had already surpassed projections for 2020. Metro Transit’s research indicates that many LRT riders have not previously used mass transit. It seems likely that some of those folks are boarding a train just for the experience of riding. And that experience is guilt-free. After all, the train would still be running even if you didn’t get on.

But going for a ride could also mean, as it does for millions, hopping on a bike. Bicycle sales are at an all-time high, and while some of those machines are being ridden to work or school or the grocery store, many are used for purely recreational purposes — especially here in Minnesota, which has more miles of bike trails than any other state.

Of course, a journey need not involve any means of conveyance at all. The person asking “Want to go for a walk?” probably has no particular destination in mind. Walking will get you from point A to point B, but often its purpose — if there is one — is simply to get from point A to point A. It’s the journey, not the destination.

Not all journeys, however, are physical ones. Indeed, there is no more ubiquitous metaphor for life than the journey. From the Odyssey to the Exodus, from “Easy Rider” to “Thelma and Louise,” the road looms as a major character in many of our most popular stories.

Furthermore, we expect fictional characters who are on the road to experience a psychological or spiritual — as well as a physical — journey. We expect them to learn something about themselves, and about life, from having traveled. And if it’s a good story, we’re at least a little disappointed when they reach the end of the trip.

Mark Twain understood that, which is why he ended “Huckleberry Finn,” perhaps the quintessential American road story — though the road is actually a river — with the hero, having completed one journey, already planning his next one.

At the end of the book, Tom Sawyer wants Huck and Jim to go with him on some “howling adventures amongst the Injuns, over in the Territory.” Huck decides he should “light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

We’ve all been there before, and most of us have yielded to the Aunt Sallys of the world. We’ve been thoroughly civilized, and we’ve come to enjoy the results.

Still, every so often, someone comes along with an invitation for a journey. Where you’d be headed if you took them up on it isn’t entirely clear. They’re gassed up and ready to go.

Are you coming?