Have you ever felt like you did everything right — followed all the rules, took all the right turns, made all the difficult decisions a person is supposed to make — only to get the opposite of what you wanted?
Maybe you built a successful business that was taken down by someone else’s stupid mistake. Maybe you bent over backwards to hold your marriage or dating relationship together, and it still fell apart.
Maybe you got the degree but still couldn’t find a job. Maybe you studied and studied and studied (and studied) for that test, but thanks to a few rogue questions, you didn’t get a good grade.
I don’t know about you, but when these kinds of things happen to me, I always feel so cheated.
A few years ago, I started to feel like this was the story of my whole life. I had gone to graduate school, gotten a great job, and was shopping for condos in my favorite neighborhood in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.
But despite the fact that I was keeping up with what everyone told me I was “supposed” to do, I felt really unsettled. Something felt wrong.
My life felt like it was full of stuff but empty of passions and dreams and things I really wanted to chase after.
So, I decided to change directions…
I had always wanted to quit my job and travel to all 50 states to write a book about the experience, and I knew that if I didn’t take the opportunity right now, it probably wouldn’t ever happen.
So I decided to sell everything I owned, move into my Subaru Legacy and start driving.
It was a huge sacrifice, and it took some finagling to get my family and friends on board, but I was convinced that this is what I needed to do if I was ever going to achieve my dream of writing a book someday.
The problem was, two years later I had given up everything and still didn’t have the thing I really wanted — my book. The experience left me wondering: What was the point?
If we aren’t going to get what we want out of life, no matter how hard we work, what’s the point of working so hard?
If we’ll never achieve our dreams, no matter how much stuff we give up, why give up our stuff? After all, if we’re going to be without our dream, we might as well have a nice couch… right?
I wrestled with these questions for a long time before I finally came to the answer that changed my whole life. This answer has given me freedom to let go of everything and chase my dreams with focus and passion. Here it is:
The chase is the reward.
By that I mean, when you set out into the world to chase what really matters to you, something amazing happens. It doesn’t matter what you’re chasing or if you achieve it or not.
Because what you have at the end of the journey is the most valuable thing you will ever own. It is something that can’t be measured or stolen, something that can’t be misplaced. When you do what you know is right and chase what you really want, you have your reward.
You own it. It's yours. The chase is the reward.
The reward is the character you gain
I heard it said once that we should worry more about our character than our reputation. I think that's true.
When we chase what matters, our reputations might be compromised (you do crazy things when you’re chasing a dream and everyone has an opinion), but your character is bolstered.
Chasing a dream teaches you about hard work, commitment, and patience in a way you can’t learn from reading a book. This is on-the-job training. Even if you don’t ever achieve what you set out to do, when you get to the end of the journey, you have something even more valuable.
You have become the best version of you that has ever existed.
The reward is wisdom
People ask me all the time to share the wisdom I have with them about the online publishing world or about writing a book. Without fail, my thought is always, “What do I know?”
But then, as soon as we get to talking, I realize I can answer many of their questions.
This isn’t because I’m smarter than anyone else or because I’ve read a bunch of books (although I’ve done that, too). Most of the wisdom I have comes from the path I've walked.
I went on the journey. And the wisdom I gained in the process happened quietly and discreetly, just a little each day until it added up to something really valuable. And now I have it forever.
The reward is compassion and empathy
When you do something really hard, it changes you forever. You become less critical of people who mess up or make a fool of themselves. Because when you’re doing something hard, you mess up and make a fool of yourself all the time.
I’ve never messed up more than when I was chasing my dream of writing a book. But now, when other writers make the same mistakes I made, I can identify with them rather than judge them.
Empathy is the fuel that keeps relationships running. It can make or break a business, your friendships, or even your marriage. And when you chase something you care about you get it in droves, and it can’t ever be taken from you.
The reward is greater perspective
When I left my hometown of Portland and traveled to all 50 states, I met people, saw things, and gained experiences I never would have if I'd stayed home.
Those experiences broadened my understanding of the world and of myself and opened up new ideas and opportunities for me. This is true both for all things.
When you “leave home” (whatever that looks like for you) to chase what really matters to you, there is no way your perspective can stay the same.
You’ll see new things, meet new people and gain new experiences. Those experiences will change you; and that change is unspeakably rewarding.
When you look back on the path you’ve traveled outside of your comfort zone, you’ll see the perspective you’ve gained.
The reward is strength to keep going
I like to think of this as a workout or climb up a mountain. Each day you do a small part. Run a few laps. Take a few steps. Just one at a time.
You might push yourself a little or even a lot. But for the most part, you just do the task at hand. And before you know it, you look back and can see how far you’ve come.
You’re stronger than you were before. You’re higher on the mountain.
The same is true when we chase what really matters to us. What happens on a day-to-day basis might not feel very rewarding by itself. It’s just a few small steps up a very large mountain.
But over time, it adds up to something important. And before we know it, we look back, and catch a glimpse of the view. And that’s exactly the motivation we need to keep going.
If you’re interested in reading more about Ally's story, check out her newly-released book called Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage. It's available anywhere books are sold.
How else are you finding that the chase is the reward? Share in the comments.