A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to see Jerry Seinfeld's comedy show in Minneapolis at the beautiful Orpheum Theater. If you haven't seen Jerry do stand-up live, I would urge you to watch for tickets in your city and go whenever he comes. If you think the 90's sitcom TV show "Seinfeld" is even a little bit funny, then you will be laughing hysterically for all of Jerry's hour and a half long stand-up routine.
One of the bits in his routine that stuck with me most was when he teased out the obviousness of human impatience. The bit lasted a few short minutes and focused on how we as humans always "gotta get out" of wherever we are. We're always itching to leave from wherever we are to get wherever we're going, Jerry says in his uncanny demeanor. We are always impatient and always focused on the destination or a finishing point, never happy with what we are currently doing.
One example he gave is that when we travel we often hurry to the airport, saying during traffic, "I gotta get there, I gotta get there." Then, after arriving to the airport, we stand through the TSA security line saying, "I gotta get to my gate, I gotta go." Then, having rushed to the appropriate gate we find our departure and say, "I gotta board, I gotta get in line and board my flight, I gotta go." Finally, when we get on the plane we ask, "When is this taking off? I gotta go, we gotta go." And lastly, once the plane has landed at its destination, we complain, "Why aren't we deboarding yet? I gotta get off, I gotta go. I gotta go." All of this panicked "I gotta go" in an effort to get to our destination, check the boxes of our travels, and then a few days later we get sick of traveling and start saying, "it's time to go home, I gotta get out of here. I gotta go."
Of course, reading my replay of Jerry's bit in text here probably doesn't do his hilarious delivery any justice. But, like the show Seinfeld, it's funny because it shows us the silliness of human error. Jerry explains that we are never content with anything that we are currently doing, and we're never satisfied in any one setting, location, or action.
Why are we this way? Why do we focus solely on the end of a task, the destination in a journey, the perfection of a skill? Maybe it is because of our nature. Maybe something in the human genome causes our impatience, dissatisfaction, and urgency. Or maybe it is because of our nurture. Throughout childhood, we heard the phrase "practice makes perfect" countless times from parents, teachers, and coaches. The goal, or so it seemed, was to undergo countless hours of tedious, less-than-enjoyable practice in order to finally reach a destination of perfection. Right? And what good would that do? Always trying to get somewhere we're not, finish something that needs to be done, or be someone we aren't, yet.
Well, I'm not happy with how we've turned out – whether we were born this way or we morphed into it. No, I don't mind urgency – I think it's necessary in business and in life, but what I do mind is that in an effort to get where we're going we rarely ever enjoy the process along the way.
We hear and say cliches such as "life is a journey" but rarely do we believe it or put it into practice. Rarely do we express gratitude during times of waiting or journeying. No, we typically "gotta go" to the next place, task, or obligation. Thing about it, rarely do we enjoy tasks like putting IKEA furniture together or folding laundry. Rarely do we pause during our incompetence in a skill and think "I am glad I am not an expert at ____ yet. I am enjoying the learning process." Rarely do we enjoy sitting in transit, working on homework, or painting a wall. Rarely do we revel in the process. To revel is to enjoy oneself.
As children, we couldn't have possibly enjoyed being bad at times tables, and as an adult, you can't imagine someone satisfied in the day-to-day of their entry level job as a receptionist. No, we would rather get our kids to perfection, having them memorize everything up to 12×12 by the end of the month. We would rather give the receptionist advice on "how to move up the corporate ladder" than we would on telling him or her "how to enjoy the process of the current job and become a better employee and person."
My wish is that we could enjoy the process of everything. For me, it's in polishing shoes, doing laundry, cleaning dishes, stretching, breathing, reading, working, driving, and more. This example is manifested best in my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practice. I have been a white belt for a year now and have been pursuing a promotion to blue belt. (For those who don't know BJJ, white belt is the "entry level" and the lowest rung, the least experienced of the five belts that lead up to the illustrious black belt).
For some time during my training, I would become frustrated with my mistakes and I would focus on improving fast! "I gotta go," I was thinking. I didn't want to be a white belt and I didn't want to be at the bottom of the barrel. I wanted to be good, now. "Practice makes perfect," I would think, as I worked towards the next level.
But lately, I've replaced that phrase of "practice makes perfect" with instead this one: "process makes perfect," meaning that enjoying the process is what will not only make me happier but also make me better at whatever I am doing. And it has changed everything. Enjoying being a white belt, enjoying my mistakes, and enjoying the process of learning at the bottom rung has made the sport more rewarding, more peaceful, more real. It has taken away the pressure to perform, to succeed, and to excel and replaced it with a nearly zen-like contentment in the here and now.
Even billionaire investor Warren Buffet once said, "we enjoy the process far more than the proceeds." Sure, it's easy for a wealthy person to say, I know, but the point here is that even someone who may seem to "have it all" makes clear his reflection that the results are less important than the process and the continuous progress made through working toward those results. Similarly, best-selling author Denis Waitley said, "it is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit," and it is imparitive to enjoy the pursuit, not rush to a finish line only thinking about the end.
The goal for all of us should be to find contentment and happiness in the in-between times of life, not just the milestones, promotions, destinations, ends, and completions. We should enjoy the process of everything, even if something inside of us is pulling at us thinking "I gotta go." Because reaching the destination rarely provides the same enjoyment and fulfillment that we build it up in our head to. Rather, it is the process along the way that makes us feel alive.
Think about it – entrepreneurs speak often about how they had to pour blood, sweat, and tears into reviving their dying businesses. Climbers of Mount Everest talk about the challenge of the climb, not what it felt like on the peak. Military veterans reminisce about the challenges of boot camp training more than they do the joy of their retirement. Parents recall the most insignificant little moments they had with their children rather than the gratification they received when their children became adults. It is not the destination we seek, or the end that we truly desire, it is the process.
Learn to live in it today, in whatever you do. It is a journey worth taking, no matter if the destination has relevance or not. This is why wood-working is so therapeutic, and why artists sometimes destroy their work after they finish it. This is why people run 100 mile races and why others build and paint tiny model cars.
Want perfection in life? Find it in the process.
"You will learn to enjoy the process, and to surrender your need to control the result. You will discover the joy of practicing your creativity. The process, not the product, will become your focus."
— Julia Cameron