Too often, we live our lives rejoicing only in the destination.
We mark major accomplishments as the milestones that define our lives: a graduation, a new job, a wedding, a move, or overcoming a tragedy.
We look back with fondness on these significant events and we desperately look forward to the next: the accomplishment of a life goal, a significant desired award, a major life transition, a big promotion, or simply emerging from one of life’s dark valleys triumphant. We surmise that because we found joy in the previous accomplishment, we must find it again in the next.
Unfortunately, life is not lived exclusively in these major destinations. In reality, we actually spend far more time in the pathways between them. The significant achievements are few, while the journeys between these major destinations are long.
These spaces between destinations are where we prepare ourselves—and are prepared—to accomplish the next goal, to weather the incoming storm, and to choose the next destination carefully. But because we live in a results-oriented world, finding joy in these gaps can be difficult.
Years ago, my then 5-year-old daughter walked into our living room carrying the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. She climbed into my lap, asked if she could read to me, and began opening the front cover. With little hesitation, I agreed. I looked forward to helping her through it.
Little did I know my help would not be needed.
Using the sight words she had learned from her kindergarten teacher and simple steps to get through the tricky words, my daughter successfully navigated every single word in the book. When my daughter closed the book, she looked at me with a huge sense of accomplishment. And when she did, she looked directly into the eyes of the only person smiling bigger than her.
I remember looking at her with a feeling of pride I could never communicate with words. The compliments were genuine and the hug was sweet. My daughter was learning to read. It was her first book. She knew it. I knew it. And there was great joy to be found in this growth.
Now, just to be clear, I knew full-well her journey to become a reader was not complete. Being able to sound out every word in a Dr. Seuss book was hardly the culmination of her education. I would still challenge her to reach new heights and seek higher accomplishments.
But, in this specific moment, overwhelming joy was the perfectly accurate response. My daughter had grown in her ability to read. She had worked hard to reach this point. The progress from her starting point deserved to be celebrated. And she understood there was joy to be found in this journey.
Very likely, your life deserves more celebration than you offer it.
Learn to celebrate the progress, not just the accomplishments.
In the end, our lives are not measured by the accomplishments. They are measured by the little steps and decisions we make every day.
Strive forward to become a better person, a better parent, and a better contributor to the world around you. Strive for the great accomplishments the world will use to define your life. But don’t be so quick to discount the progress you have already made.
Because that is where life is lived. That is where joy is found.