Life Is a Journey: Hold on for Dear…Life!

Life is a journey, not a destination. – (very misquoted) Ralph Waldo Emerson

If life is indeed a journey, doesn’t it feel like we have been strapped down in a wrecked old car, going 160 mph along tiny country lanes with a driver who looks insane? Journey? Seriously? This out-of-control scare-fest?

We are sure that we made some plans at some point. We had a nice meal, a few glasses of wine, and dreamt of a future. You know the type of future: the one in which we were drinking champagne in the back of a beautiful luxurious car that purred smoothly along the roads of life. Yet those co-ordinates have been misunderstood by the current driver’s GPS system (the one with an annoying posh woman barking directions!) and we most certainly did not order this experience!

Yet here we are, holding on for dear life and praying we don’t crash. Then we start to question the essence of the journey: are we “on track”? Did we take the “wrong path”? Do we even know our destination any more? Are we lost? And what of our children? Did we make the best decisions to enable their individual journeys?

Feeling carsick yet? Tense?

The “journey” metaphor, which is supposed to motivate and inspire us, appears to be completely stressing us out. This often happens when a metaphor morphs into a belief that is regarded as The Way Things Are. This metaphor is deeply embedded in our culture, from the oft misquoting of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844, to the 1920 book Life Is a Journey and Not a Destination by the pastor Lynn H. Hough, all the way through to Aerosmith’s song “Amazing.” It has become a belief within society that seems an accurate description of the nature of the life of a human, hurtling through time. We forget that it is simply a story.

The “journey” metaphor has, neatly packaged with it, a belief that at some point we will “arrive.” What that imagined destination looks like is often individual: it could be career, family, social status or a material (shiny car!) destination. Perhaps it is the Shangri-La of retirement or the children finally flying the nest. Happiness is traded for the carsickness of the journey, as “arrival” will supposedly make our sacrifices worthwhile. What are you sacrificing for “the arrival”?

Man (surprised me most about humanity). Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived. – Dalai Lama

Philosopher and writer Alan Watts also addressed these questions in this video, where he sees life as music that is meant to be danced to!

It is this realisation that will make us slam on the brakes: we are no longer becoming, we have become. We have arrived. We simply have not noticed. This is it. We do not need to add anything to life, as it is complete and we are complete. Could we learn to love life, this life in this moment, just as it is? Can we love ourselves, just as we are? Could we pass this understanding on to our children so they do not have to take the same tortuous route we did? (Darn it! I can’t help but refer to the “journey” metaphor [“route”], even though I am supposedly avoiding it! That is how embedded it is in the way we think!)

In this moment there’s nothing to do,
nowhere to go,
no one to be,
no past or future,
everything just is. – Byron Katie

Does this mean the end of plans, goals and dreams? Not at all! These become things-to-do-that-are-rather-fun, in contrast to a race towards a preposterously postponed happiness. Michael Neil, parent, author and fellow coach, says, “This thought can be disturbing at first to people who feel like ‘the next big thing’ is continually just around the corner. But just because there’s nowhere to get to doesn’t mean you’ll no longer travel – just that you’ll no longer travel in order to get somewhere better than right where you are sitting now.”

So let us drive this car/journey metaphor into the ditch and truly live! I will end with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s actual 1844 quote, which is far more useful and accurate:

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Tammy Furey

Tammy eases the expat parenting experience through coaching and teaching throughout Switzerland. She also writes, blogs, runs workshops, gives talks, and, of course, parents (her daughter)! Find out more at

Illustration by BVisual.

Beth works as special educational needs teacher. She graduated from university after studying visual communication, specialising in illustration, and then went on to do post graduate studies in education. Beth’s been working as a freelance creative alongside her teaching, and has undertaken projects involving portraits and editorial illustrations under her artist’s name BVisual.

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