05 May The Reward Is Not Where You’ll End Up, But What You’ll Discover Every Step Along the Way
My dad has always told me that the best way to see a city is by running through it.
I like to imagine the experiences he’s had which shaped this wisdom — running through cities both ancient and modern; embracing the rain, a love we share, as well as early mornings beneath a clear, moonlit sky.
I imagine he’s had some realizations on these runs, emerging from the combination of endorphins and the air of a new environment.
On a run, your experience of the city is unique. You’re not just moving through it — you become a part of it, a contribution to its energy.
But more than what you give to it, the city pours into your soul, and with each step of the run — each step of the journey — you change.
The same principle applies to walking:
“While walking is certainly not the most efficient way to see a city,” writes Chris Arnade in his article Why I Walk, “it is the most pleasant, insightful, and human. I don’t think you can know a place unless you walk it, because it isn’t about distance, but about content.”
Suddenly while on the move, you stop to gaze across the river, the skyline, the empty road. The realization comes — there’s nothing more than this.
That’s the beauty of the walk, the run through a city, whatever journey of the heart and soul in which you’ve embarked. Its reward is what you learn with every step — every day — not what you’ll reach at the end, but what you’ll discover on the way.
I cherish my dad’s advice, even if he didn’t intend it to mean what I’m drawing from it. It’s encouraging, because it means more to me than just running through a city.
It’s a metaphor for life.
For anybody striving to embark on a quest to change your body, sharpen your mind, open your soul — for anybody scared to follow their heart because you believe it might not work out in the end — ask yourself this:
Would the act of doing the thing, day in and day out, bring me joy, satisfaction, or a deeper sense of purpose, regardless of the outcome?
I’m grappling with this myself, particularly with writing. As I write these words, the answer becomes obvious. Yes.
From what I’ve read, heard and experienced, the results rarely change us in the way we expect.
The result, the magic, is what you learn from the daily act of confronting something worthwhile. Not where you’ll end up, but how you’ll change from taking step, after step, after step.
To savor this life, we mustn’t do the most, go the furthest, or reach some sort of finish line; perhaps all it takes is strapping up our laces to run through the streets, simply to feel the rain.
On a run your legs might ache, yet it’s a sort of pain which tells you I’m alive.
On a run, you don’t just pass people by — you see them. You listen to birds that you can only hear from cutting through an empty park, just to smell the fresh cut grass.
Perhaps if we embrace every step, the highs as well as the lows, the beauty and the pain — we might look back on our life one day and say I tried. I gave my heart to something. I fucking tried; now look how far I came.
This realization hit me at 7:48am at the park that’s become my gym in Lisbon. The question came to mind — why am I here with a couple of locals doing pull-ups? Why do I just try to do something active, be it pushups on a park bench or a run by the river?
What motivated me to return to the gym in California, even while dealing with unexplainable back pain for over five years?
I’d spent nights feeling broken and in tears, unable to come to grips with the fact that I was 22, 23, 24, 25, and I couldn’t play sports, nor workout in the way I wanted to. I could barely go a day without feeling the pain. Yet I would walk throughout the day whenever I could, just to feel my body moving.
Would walking get me in great shape? Is coming to the park here in Lisbon just to do something helping me reach some fitness goals? No.
I don’t know if walking was healing my body, but it was doing something more, something that’s made me who I am today — it was opening my mind and inspiring my soul.
The reason I hit the park and dance to the music in my ears, is because doing so produces thoughts like this.
I’ve shown myself that I’m committed. Every time I’ve fallen, I’ve gotten back up.
Living with chronic back pain was the most challenging season of my life, but it was also the most meaningful. I believe, I have to believe, that it happened for a reason.
The pain isn’t completely gone — but I think my spirit has been longing to explore the world for years. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something. I’m still uncovering what that is.
I don’t write about my back pain for sympathy; I’ve questioned how much to write about it over the years, because I don’t like to focus on it when I have so much to be grateful for. But to not share how it’s made me who I am would be to tell an incomplete story.
It’s helped me see that we’re all dealing with something, no matter how it appears on the surface.
It’s helped me appreciate that at least I have legs that can move, eyes that see, ears that hear.
It’s helped me realize that there’s always something to be grateful for, which doesn’t need to be anything more than the warmth of sunlight on our skin with air to breathe and room to move.
It’s shifted my perspective of what life can be — simple. Full of love. Built upon gratitude. If I focused on tomorrow, if I’d be in pain in a week, a month, a year — I’d lose touch with reality — with myself.
It taught me that today is all there is — today, on this individual step of the journey — I’m alive.
The challenge with my back was indeed, the greatest gift that I’ve received.
When I left the park I fired up the audiobook Turning Pro, by Steven Pressfield, the author of one of my favorite books, The War of Art.
Pressfield wrote screenplay after screenplay, novel after novel, until something finally stuck.
Like me, he questioned why he was doing what he was, pursuing his innate passion with no guarantee of traditional success.
As I crossed the historic and tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade, his words came through my headphones and set my soul on fire.
“In a way I was lucky that I experienced failure for so many years,” Pressfield says.
“Because there were no conventional rewards, I was forced to ask myself why am I doing this? Am I crazy? All my friends are making money and settling down and living normal lives. What the hell am I doing?”
A month ago, I set out on a new chapter, and I’m so damn grateful to be doing what I am. Yet I feel the same way. I wonder why I’m doing this, why I left home to explore the world and write; I wonder where I’ll be in five years, if I’ll still be working jobs to fuel my passion, or if the leaf will turn.
I also wonder why I haven’t given up.
“In the end,” Pressfield writes, “I answered the question by realizing that I had no choice. I couldn’t do anything else. When I tried I got so depressed I couldn’t stand it. The truth was I was enjoying myself. Maybe nobody else liked the stuff I was doing. But I did. I was learning. I was getting better. The work became in its own demented way, a practice. It sustained me, and it sustains me still.”
I thought that coming here would give me the material to become a successful travel writer, whatever that means. Yet one of the most essential realizations I’ve had while being here is that I don’t want to be like other travel writers.
What keeps me returning to the blank page, to the journal, to the books that I read such as Turning Pro, is that I want to tell a meaningful story. That won’t come easily. It will come with introspection, time, and a continual aspiration to learn.
But the end goal, even where I’ll be in one year — it doesn’t matter.
I write because the daily act sustains me. It makes me think about the world and fills my heart with love.
Pressfield brings up a passage from the Bhagavad-Gita:
“Krishna instructed Arjuna: ‘We have a right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor.’ What did he mean by that? He meant that the process is its own reward. The only real reward.”
It doesn’t matter where you’ll end up; the reward is what you’ll discover on the run through the city.
The reward is the satisfaction of leaving the park with a dirty shirt, knowing that despite hurting over the years, I’ve never stopped trying. By putting down these words, I dig deeper into myself and what it means to be alive — that, most definitely, is the reward.
Today is all there is. Seek a life that sustains you.