Some people are all about where they want to go, others are more into the way they’re taking.
I call the first kind of people destination drivers, and the second kind path pursuers. I got to thinking about this from looking at the shape of my life. People who I assume know me fairly well often think of me as this very focused person: they think I live with a clarity they wish they had. But I don’t. It just looks that way. The reality is every time I’ve had to make a big life decision I’ve struggled with being clear what I want to do or where I want to go.
And the way I’ve moved forward from my crossroads is by following the path that’s felt most compelling to me.
That’s what I mean by being a path pursuer.
It’s how I ended up volunteering with teenagers for over ten years, starting with simply signing up for a summer camp because it sounded like it would be fun, then going back the year after because it was fun, and by the third time I knew this was my foreseeable future. It’s how I ended up in psychiatry, starting with reading a psychology book growing up, and that I was more interested in the mind in medical school. And I started writing simply because it was something I wanted very much. Along the way I knew people who volunteered because they needed it for a goal, or chose a medical specialty because there was more money or work-life balance there, or chose to write because their end goal was to be a published author.
To be clear, I don’t believe for a second that either approach is better than the other. They’re just different. I recognise, too, that there’s a degree of privilege in being able to choose to be a path pursuer: you can’t afford that in the face of imminent threat. Still, as tends to be the case with apparent binaries, this too works out as a spectrum, with people leaning towards one side or the other to varying degrees. Which means the value is less in self-diagnosing, and more in offering a model: in this case, a model for thinking about our decisions in the past and going forward.
And it’s just as useful for thinking about our interactions.
For instance, I somehow end up surrounding myself with the kind of people who drive steadily toward a destination. And it’s both fascinating and frustrating: the very different ways we engage with moving forward create friction and fun alike. Unlike me, these are people who start things knowing exactly how they want it to end, or where they want it to go. They’re people who ask me, “Where are you going with this?” and are look at me like I’ve lost it when I go, “I’m not sure, really—I’m just here for the journey and I’m keen to see where this path takes me.” And just like my approach can sometimes feel unfocused to them, theirs can often feel like too much of a dreary grind to me.
Still, at our best we appreciate each other. I appreciate their focus and commitment to the destination. They admire how my capacity for enjoying and caring deeply about what I do. They help me remember to keep a goal in mind, even if I don’t have one in view and they in turn tell me I remind them to take time to enjoy the journey. In the end, our differences matter precisely because we need each other.
And along the way I’ve also come to learn why some people think of me as focused: while destination driver people often tend to view us path pursuer types as unfocused, the fact is we commit too.
The difference is we commit more to a path than to a destination.
We may not know where the path is going, but we commit to seeing it through. Because our pursuing a path isn’t just about smelling the roses, it’s as much about wanting to see how the story ends. (I have friends who are so discomfited by suspense that they will skip to the end just to see what happens—I suspect they’re destination drivers.)
So which do you think you are, and how has it shaped your decisions and interactions?