“There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place,” writes G.K. Chesterton, an early-20th century wizard of words, in the introduction to his book “The Everlasting Man.”
He then continues by summarizing a story he had yet to write about “some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen garden, shining flat on the hillside like the colors and quartering’s of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen.”
What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?
We all have ambitions and goals for our future. For some, it may be a detailed, 40-page single-spaced life plan (the original of which is kept in a top-secret vault in the nonexistent basement of Old Union) and, for others, it may be as vague as to just “be happy.” My guess is that you’re probably somewhere in between. Law School? A successful engineering career? Top pick in the NFL draft? (Here’s to hoping Andrew Luck reads this and shoots me an email!)
Whatever the case, we all have some projection of the ideal future that we are progressing toward and trying to reach: the summit, the golden age, the actualization of potential, the ultimate fulfillment and validation. But there’s a nagging chorus lingering in the air that is continuously drowned out by the clamor of our hard work and busyness. It embodies the theme of Chesterton’s story and screams, “What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?” (It sounds exactly like Manchester Orchestra’s song “Simple Math,” which happens to have the coolest music video of all time.)
There are two types of goals we attempt to reach: achievement and transformation. The former are the more concrete aspirations, and they are never ends in themselves. No one wants to become a doctor just for the sake of becoming a doctor. The root desire is a combination of helping people (or gaining the satisfaction of helping people), the high salary, the social status or to fulfill a lifelong dream of turning your life into the show “Scrubs.”
There is a complication with treating the simplest desires, such as wanting to be happy or successful or influential, as goals in and of themselves. How much is enough? Will you know it when you reach it? Chesterton adds, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to acquire more and more. The other is to desire less.”
Regarding the two types of goals previously described, I’ve continuously advocated for the latter, the transformative process. Regardless of where you go, what job you have or whom you marry, the constant in each situation is you. So rather than trying to achieve a certain status, it is better to transform — or rather be transformed — into a certain type of person. Instead of holding an occupation as a target, allow your character to be primary. Rather than striving to become a genius coder, work to become a patient and understanding person who also codes extremely well. Instead of trying to become a suave entrepreneur, work to become a generous and compassionate person who happens to run million-dollar companies.
The true superiority of this goal is that it can happen right where you are, today. The ideal future, the golden age of opportunity, the ultimate fulfillment and validation that we predict for the future and have anxiously anticipated has come near and is all around us right now. That place we’ve been trying to get to — where we can take steps toward becoming a person who loves and forgives and is patient, humble and joyful independent of circumstances — is actually where we’ve always been.
The boy in Chesterton’s story was unable to see he was falling asleep and waking up everyday within the fulfillment of his quest because he didn’t recognize his surroundings for what they were. It is only by re-seeing, or possibly seeing for the first time, the opportunities and potential around us everyday that we can grow and be transformed into something greater: giants within our own frame.
If the place that you’re trying to get to isn’t where you’ve always been, but instead a romantic, candlelit dinner — or if you’re Andrew Luck — email Chase at ninjaish “at” stanford “dot” edu.