Change and the Destination

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In light of the changes I've made to my physical appearance lately, I've been thinking a lot about change and destination mentality.

For those who don't often ponder social constructions in their spare time, destination mentality is a state of mind that tells us that we should always be working towards an eventual end, such as coming to the final destination at the end of a long journey or finishing a project or goal. It's a helpful tool when you are working on something that has a definite end, but it gets hairy when we start thinking about emotions and mindsets as our end goals. What does it mean, for instance to have "reached" success? To have "found" happiness? To have "become" good enough?

We expect - especially as Americans - that at some point our work will be finished and we'll have entered into these feelings and forever there we shall remain. We forget that constancy doesn't exist. The only constant in this life is change.

Change. Frightening, exciting, stimulating change. Always in two predictable types: the ones we make and the ones that are put upon us.

The counterpose to destination mentality is to live in the moment and react to that change as it comes, to make decisions about it rather than to pine for some fading feelings that cannot be preserved. It's hard to do. It requires you to acknowledge that you don't know what's going to happen next. Whether you make the change or not, something new will occur.

But let's bring it back from the abstract. Let's translate the terrifying into the manageable. Take a moment and focus on your current self. For me, I think of the projects I want to finish: a new vest, two academic papers, and a video. I think of the mental states I want to be in: creative, productive, awake, and contented. Destination mentality serves me well for the first set, but the second less so. I can no more be constantly creative and contented than I can be awake 24 hours a day. And I can clearly live with that without faulting myself for having to make a choice and fall asleep.

More often than not, destination mentality makes us feel guilty about not being "there" in the abstract. Not being totally completely put together because we haven't "reached" our end state yet. Instead, to accept that these states are fleeting can be oddly liberating - you get to be more gentle with yourself, more playful. I get to tell myself "that's ok!" on days I haven't done creative work and congratulate myself on days that I am producing great work.

I challenge you to let change into your life, as strange as it may seem at first. You may just find a close companion.