The Zigzagged Path to Big Dreams

When I talked about the zigzagged path to big visions, I know that the explanation might have been lacking some concrete visuals. Story time!

Let’s say you wanted to get to Alexandria, Egypt. Now, I’m not sure where you are, but I’ll bet there are no direct flights to Egypt, much less to Alexandria. So you have to get to an airport (in point of fact, you wouldn’t even have to fly).

So, you need to get to an airport. Then you’ve got to get a ticket to somewhere big, some place that has more opportunities to get you where you want to be. Let’s say you want to get to Heathrow. Heathrow is one of the biggest airports in the world. Surely there’ll be lots of opportunities to get to Egypt from there!

So you’re in your airport, and you buy a ticket to Heathrow. Naturally, it’s got a few stops to make– you hadn’t planned to go through Miami, but if that’s what it takes to get to Heathrow, you’re fine with it.

While you’re waiting in the airport, you call your mother. “Mom, I’m going to see the ruins of the Great Library at Alexandria. The next time we talk I’ll be in London.” “What?!” she screeches (your mother tends towards histrionics) “London is nowhere near Egypt!” so you explain to her that it’s just a stopping point, and there’s bound to be more tickets to Egypt there than you can get in Podunk, TN.

Decisions, decisions

Now, as you’re watching departures, you see a flight pop up. Non-stop to Berlin. Berlin. Hmm. Berlin is certainly closer to Egypt than Heathrow. And it’s faster. But you can’t fly Virgin Air, and that’s what all your Airmiles are for. So what do you do? Do you switch your tickets? Do you stick with the plan you’ve already embarked on? Is it really going to be faster if you make it to Berlin and you can’t speak the language?

Before you start scribbling pros and cons in a column, I’ll let you know now— It really doesn’t matter which you decide. All roads lead to Egypt for as long as you intend them to. You can go through Berlin, London, Morocco  South Africa — it doesn’t matter how far out of the way it seems, because above all you’re headed for Alexandria.

Typically people will start to object at this point — “I don’t care about Berlin. I just want to get to Alexandria as fast as possible, and with a minimum of fuss. Alexandria is where I want to be, and until I get there, I don’t care about anything else.”

It seems logical, of course, but that’s not the makings for a very fun trip. And even if it were reasonable, you simply can’t predict which route will be the fastest. You can only go with the one that seems the best at the time, and faster is not even remotely equivalent to ‘better’.

Faster is Not Better. Better is Better.

Better is one of those variables that’s intensely personal. So if you want to build a boardwalk empire, but you also what to see your kids home from school every day, that’s obviously going to limit your choices in some ways. If you’ve got itchy feet and can’t stop moving, you must have a way to make money that’s location independent, whether it’s as a travelling salesman or an internet entrepreneur. In a world of limitless choice, the way you navigate is by your values.

What’s valuable to you? What’s less valuable to you? Trade the things you don’t value for the things you do. Above all, be specific.

Many people who think family comes first have accidentally fallen into the trap of acting as if providing for their family’s creature of comforts (or their future) is more valuable than spending time with them in the present. They probably wouldn’t agree with that sentiment if you pointed it out to them. But that’s the value they’re living.

So pick a way station. Get there. Reorient. Pick another way-station that you reasonably expect to get you closer to your ultimate destination. Lather, rinse, repeat.

What’s the next way-station you’re headed for?


16 thoughts on “The Zigzagged Path to Big Dreams”

  1. The anti-consumer in me likes your point about people who claim to value family above everything else who never get to see them because they’re working all the time. Now, if you’re a single mother of three and you HAVE to work all the time to muster up the bare minimum for your family, that’s a different story. Caveats apply of course.
    And as I type this, I think, “Leave it to the minimalist to pick out the one minimalist related thing in a post that has nothing to do with minimalism.” I’m a dork, sorry.
    My next way station is wherever I can get public speaking practice, meet future friends in at various conferences/events, and rock the socks off people who need help fighting the forces of purchasing power devouring. By that I mean quality investing through beating inflation and taxes. There’s more of course, but if I’m trying to get to Alexandria, Egypt, I’m still in Alexandria, MN waiting for a bus to take me to the airport. There’s a loooong way to go.

  2. The Metaphor Maven strikes again! I love this way of looking at the journey, because you do keep the endpoint in mind, and you’re not uber concerned about your route, but you also have fun as you’re going along. (Though it can be hard to remember all of this when you are stuck in a crowded foreign airport with an indeterminate delay and no toothbrush. Or crammed into the middle seat of the last row of the plane on a transatlantic flight. Or whatever the life equivalent might look like to you!)
    I am so bad at figuring out way-stations. I can see where I want to go, and I can see where I am, but the middle is just all blurry. It’s less that I’m attached to one particular route and more that I’m just staring at a huge world map with no idea about flight schedules. I’m working on it, though. Slow and steady 🙂

    1. @remadebyhand Think of it instead as navigating in fog; sure, you don’t make *great* time, but look how COOL everything looks! Even familiar landmarks look new and different. It’s a great way to maintain a sense of childlike wonder and awe. 
      Plus, I think looking back, the most crucial junctures in your life will be the ones where it was the most foggy, but you’ll have lots of practice (cf Ittybiz’s Churchill post.)

      1. @Shanna Mann Ok, fog I can handle. And that totally describes where I am. It’s a wonder I haven’t crashed into something for all the staring out the windows in wonder at the transformed world around me I’ve been doing lately!

  3. I like the idea of “navigating by your values”. Naturally, I resonate with Joel’s comment about the single mom. I also think that putting something first, like family, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re with your family all of the time. It’s more about awareness, and not being so busy that you don’t notice when they need you to be there. My #1 goal, at the moment, is self-employment that sustains my financial needs without any other side jobs.

  4. “Pick a way station. Get there. Reorient. Pick another way-station that you reasonably expect to get you closer to your ultimate destination. Lather, rinse, repeat.” Lovely travel directions, Shanna. Especially for people like me whose idea of a map is thoughts scrawled every which way on a single piece of paper. “All roads lead to Egypt for as long as you intend them to.” So that’s what that last sideways note on my piece of paper means 🙂

  5. My “Alexandria” is being able to indulge my itchy feet on a whim when I need to while also being close to my “home” and support network Back East. Values are community/family/friendship/connection and travel/adventure/novelty/excitement. I’m going to make those two really separate ideas work, dammit. I can do it – I don’t have to be torn in two all the time. I’m on my way to “Heathrow” as we speak… or maybe it’s Berlin. I forget. Any port in a storm, eh?

  6. I’ve been on a very circuitous path to being in business for myself. But it’s one that I need to be on. I only think I started getting anywhere once I started setting short and medium term goals. Build a site, create a project, write an email list, etc.  Now that it’s been 2 years, I find myself feeling like I’m at the beginning of another path. I have a platform.. now I can build anything on top of it!

  7. I find that keeping an eye to Alexandria helps minimize worthless distractions thus increasing my time and flexibility for worthwhile ones. And taking the most direct route often promotes lazy thinking, cheating and a lack of depth. To think of all the learning I would have missed out on had I always taken the quickest route. @Erin: Yes, have fun as we are getting there. People need to make MUCH more time for complete nonsense and debauchery on their way to Alexandria!

    1. @cjrenzi Yes, short-cuts can be terrible– Wandering around in the fog is what lets you learn the lay of the land, the context, and a lot of crucial information that will be of value “in the trenches” someday. 
      But, oddly, it’s not about the actual life events that dictates whether you got “experience”. It’s about whether you actually reflected on the events of your life or not.

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