WORDS & IMAGE: ERICA NEAL
By seeing our dream as a sum of smaller goals, our joy isn’t hinging on one sweeping lifechange. This perspective nurtures the agility required to make progress in spite of uncertainty.
Either the most fulfilling or the most frustrating thing about pursuing passion is that it’s a journey without an ultimate end. Even when we finally accomplish what we set out to do, we have to figure out how to keep that thing going. And just to make life more interesting, our original goal might branch out into several unexpected, new ideas along the way. So we set our intentions. We craft a vivid narrative to inspire us. And then life comes along with its change-ups, demanding flexibility. How wonderful, and how exhausting it is to be on a path hewn by passion. But romantic language aside, when our main focus is walking from arrival to outcomes, the exhaustion can easily outweigh the wonder. Fulfillment is often overshadowed by frustration. I doubt anyone would willingly give up opportunities for wonder and fulfillment; but we do whenever we don’t recognize all the ways we arrive, before ever reaching our intended destination. That is the gift of embracing the process.
So much of our culture orients us towards celebrating outcomes. Process has become a subject that’s meaningful in the context of a beautiful, dramatic, or inspiring success. It's the “How did they do it?” question that we eagerly ask those who are where we aspire to be. And there’s value in that. We learn from the processes of those who have done what we hope to do. However, there is also value in extending that same awe and curiosity to our own lives. How have you gotten this far? What new habits or perspectives have you developed? What have you read and/or learned? This is your process. Pay attention to it. Be grateful for all of the elements that have worked well, and all the ones that haven’t. When we learn from our own lives, it keeps us from being consumed by comparison.
I know this because my family is not in the place or in the midst of circumstances that reflect our ultimate desire. We also deal with the temptation to measure our success and progress against others gardens, fields and charming low-impact lives. However, when we consider our journey with gratitude, we realize that (setting and chickens aside) we are already living more of our dream than not. We’ve been building sufficiency right alongside life’s surprises and challenges. With that knowledge, a peace settles in that allows us to keep moving forward rather than getting stuck on the perception of lack or failure. By seeing our dream as a sum of smaller goals, our joy isn’t hinging on one sweeping lifechange. This perspective nurtures the agility required to make progress in spite of uncertainty.
For example, in our first attempt at growing food, the greatest success was the bevy of ways I managed to kill plants. But by understanding that gardening was a skill that we would learn over time, the endeavor became about the learning process rather than a boast-worthy harvest. This shift in perception is what kept us replanting again and again. If we gave too much weight to the poor outcomes of our first season, we may have decided that growing food wasn’t really our thing, and quit. The same is true for sewing, making a sourdough starter, or sketching house plans. Multiple iterations, trials, and experiments … an immersion in process is what produced a fruitful second season, delicious, crusty bread and shirts with restored buttons. When we lessen the focus on outcomes, and dig into the details of the work we’re passionate about, we make more progress and are happier along the way.
One of the most effective ways to foster all of this gratitude, shift in perspective, love for the details and process is to document our journeys. Whether it’s a public feed, a private journal, a collection of artifacts, or a combination of multiple means, creating a record of our beginnings, lessons learned, the beauty and the struggle is like banking encouragement. The truth is, most of us are forgetful while en route to a dream. When the present confronts us head-on with disappointment or unintended results, we forget all of the good that preceded it. On the other hand, when we experience those moments that make us feel like champions, we forget all of the failures that came before the win. Being able to recall our growth and story up to that point – good and/or bad – keeps the heart balanced. There’s less room for crippling discouragement or the follies of pride, and more space for continued learning and growth.
Now, at some point we do want to actualize our dreams. The practice of embracing process isn’t about consoling ourselves into complacency or justifying procrastination. What it does is remove the angst that comes with being dissatisfied until we get everything aligned with our vision. Embracing the process with gratitude sustains our pace. It channels our passion into persistence and productivity. It swaps our frustration and exhaustion for wonder and fulfillment. And we have to move in that current; because the work, causes, and projects we’ve chosen will continue to grow. As long as we care about creating magnificent resistance, that sense of destination will recede into the pursuit of more goodness. So let’s give ourselves the best odds for a joyful pursuit.