When people asked if I was looking forward to going to Africa, I told them that I was looking forward to having gone. I knew that spending most of my days in a bus on bad roads, with irregular access to square meals and even less access to plumbing. But I also knew that, in time, the memories of the challenges would fade and what would remain would be the exceptional moments.
I’ve never really bought into the whole notion of enjoying the journey. I mean: if you enjoy the journey, that’s awesome, but some things worth doing are going to be hard to enjoy along the way. Sometimes no matter how much you make the most of a bad situation – no matter how long you reign as President in the day-long game of asshole you played on the bus – you will have to make the conscious decision to stick out the journey to get to the destination. The destination being, in this case, a distilled version of the experience which has the benefit of perspective and reflection and synthesis, and which isn’t encumbered by the fresh memories of junk food and drop toilets.
Take the picture featured on this post. I took this picture in the Ngorongoro. A line of about 8 zebras walking in line, their stripes contrasting against a field of yellow wildflowers and accented by a bright blue sky. It’s the kind of scene I’ve come to describe as feeling like I was on drugs because it was so vibrant and surreal that in the moment my mind couldn’t fully process what it was seeing. But also in the moment I was having an incredibly severe allergic reaction to that field of wild flowers. I was sneezing and wheezing, and it was not at all cute. And when my allergies were at their worst, we had the coldest night of our trip, which resulted in my getting sick for two months to the point that at one point I couldn’t speak for 2 weeks. And yet, the picture is still one of my proudest possessions – in part because it represents the 10% of my trip which moved me in ways I didn’t know I could experience, and in part because I feel proud to have persevered through the other 90% to get that shot.
If enjoying the journey means not having a bad attitude, then I’m entirely on board. Keeping a positive attitude, finding every opportunity to inject some fun into an otherwise tedious task, and being receptive to every possible fun surprise are all great policies. But I don’t see anything wrong with acknowledging that sometimes it’s all about the destination and resolving yourself to the likelihood that the journey might marginally suck. Like whenever I go into surgery: I’m nice to everyone involved, I crack jokes to try to make the experience a bit more fun, but I sure as shit am not going to “enjoy the journey”.
Do whatever you need to brace yourself for the journey – just please don’t forego the destination.