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In the spirit of commencement week at CSULB, I got to thinking about all of the different paths our graduates may explore as they embark on the next chapter of their lives. It also got me thinking about the many winding roads I’ve been on that have led me to where I am at this moment. I didn’t think this is where I’d be when I graduated, either from WSU or CSULB. I mean, how could I have? And had there been some magical crystal ball to tell me, I’d never have believed it. I was sure I had all the answers in my 20’s, and big goals, too. Yep, a real, honest to goodness plan with goals, and I was sure they’d unfold the way I was planning, because why wouldn’t they? I was definitely focused on the destination, and the journey was sort of a means to an end.

A student of mine recently lamented the fact that college was taking longer than the “customary” four years. This student was beating themselves up because they felt like they really ought to be finishing now, at the four year mark, as opposed to a year from now. My response to this student was a brief shared story of my collegiate path, which totaled 11 years; 7 for my undergrad and 4 for my masters degree. I began at Macomb Community College, where I spent two years, but shortly after I began college, my Dad began having health issues and ultimately was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly everything became a whole lot more serious, more real. My priorities changed and taking care of my Dad was the first priority, and graduation would necessarily get pushed back until whenever. After all, what’s an extra year or two in the big picture, right? As for my four years in grad school, working as a full-time musician and teaching 30 + private flute students a week meant I was keeping a lot of plates spinning. The final message I offered my student were the words of Emerson; “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

P1000509Unfortunately, it is too often the case that we focus on the destination rather than the journey. The “If I …, then …” or “When I …., then ….” scenario. It’s as if life is some sort of race, and people are rushing to get to whatever milestone is next.

How about focusing on the here and now, and immersing yourself so completely in the journey that you enjoy the process instead of simply enduring it?

Trouble is, though, that sometimes with big, long term goals, the goal posts somehow magically get moved. You’re sure you’re almost to your destination, but then one day when you’re looking the other way, the goal posts have moved, and the rules of the game have changed. And so, your journey continues. Imagine what a difference it will make if we choose to focus on the journey instead of the destination.

This morning while at my sports medicine doctor’s office, getting my regular butt kicking, I got to thinking about the journey I’ve been on with them for the past three years. These years have been challenging, working through a couple of painful injuries, with a handful of set backs along the way, but also a huge amount of progress. It would be very easy to stay destination focused with my treatment. To be perfectly honest, there have been times I’ve literally asked my doctors “how much longer until I get on the other side of these injuries?” In recent times however, I’ve chosen to remain mindful in the process and the journey of what is helping me to get stronger week after week, and ultimately help me to be better at what I do. When I think back to where I was three years ago, it’s pretty mind blowing. This journey I remain on with my doctors is getting me to my destination of being pain free. It’s not a short ride, and I don’t always enjoy it, but remaining aware and grateful are key.

I propose this: let’s choose to maintain unwavering faith in the journey. Because here’s the thing: when you focus on the journey, you might just enjoy the process a whole lot more.
As a musician, this is essential. If we focus exclusively on the destination, i.e., the concert, the audition, the recital, the completion of the degree, and not on the journey, we totally miss out. We miss the moments of brilliance in the practice room, when those epiphanies happen and we’re able to take our game up a giant step; tracking our musical growth along the way and recognizing “hey, I really am getting better”; picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and learning from our colossal failures; building life long relationships with our peers, colleagues and teachers; stopping to smell the roses in the city where we’ve just auditioned, but didn’t advance and now find ourselves with a free day … and the list goes on.
As many of you know, I am one of those kooky musicians who actually really enjoys practicing tone studies, flexibility studies, technical exercises, études, etc. Love it. Why? Because it makes me get better. I love getting better at what I do. I love learning new things. I love being inspired from an unlikely source and then letting it fuel my practice. I love the process. I love the journey.

In closing, here is something my good friend Noreen shared with me about 20 + years ago, as I was preparing for some upcoming orchestral auditions. It was helpful then and continues to be helpful all these years later. Psychologist Jim Loehr created the following “Loehr’s Laws” specifically for publication in Tennis Magazine. The brilliant thing about them is that they’re not just for athletes or musicians..
1.    Learn to love the game.
2.    Toughness prevails over talent every time.
3.    Your behavior in the non-playing time will make or break you.
4.    It’s never too late to get tough.
5.    Mental toughness is a forever battle.
6.    Everything is connected to everything else.

Congratulations, Class of 2015. Do you your work with mastery, and be the best you can be for the sake of being the best you can be. Enjoy your journey.