As a young boy I sat around a campfire with a group of middle-aged motorcycle riders as they swapped stories of their riding adventures. I was enthralled by all of their fireside tales, but one particular story has stuck with me all of these years. An older rider told about his young son smashing his leg against a rock during a high speed desert race. To my surprise the one telling the story said, “He should have never looked at that rock!” All of the other riders shook their head in agreement. I assumed they were joking with each other until I questioned the validity of the story. The man said, “It’s the absolute truth! Never look right at something you don’t want to hit. Once you fix your eyes on something, you will take your bike in a direct path towards it.” What a lesson! “Fix your eyes on something and you will take your life in a direct path towards it.”
I love Thomas Monson’s motto, “Decisions determine destiny.” If decisions determine our destiny, then what determines our decisions? Decisions are determined by our desired destination. Whether it is called a goal, vision, a purpose, or an end; power and clarity come to our decisions when we have our “eyes fixed on our destination.” I like to think of this type of living as “Destination Driven.” We benefit from having specific goals and objectives for the different aspects of our lives. To have our eyes truly fixed on our destinations we must have more than just a vague idea that resides only in our minds. Stephen Covey suggests that it will never really be our destination unless it has been carefully thought out and written down.
Clear destinations make decisions easier. I remember a faculty meeting where we tried unsuccessfully for an hour to plan a student-body assembly. We had a lot of ideas, but couldn’t agree on a course of action. Finally a seasoned teacher asked the million dollar question: “What is the purpose of this assembly? What are we hoping to accomplish?” We discovered that someone had mentioned an assembly and we all excitedly began planning. Without a clear destination, decision making was nearly impossible. Since that day, I have tried to make it my policy to begin any task, whether alone or in a group, by asking, “What do I hope to accomplish?” Decisions are then based on what leads to that objective.
At least two negative consequences can come from having no clear destination: (1) We accomplish little, and (2) We make bad decisions. Regarding living with a clear destination, Russell Ballard said, “Often the lack of clear direction and goals can waste away our time and energy and contribute to imbalance in our lives.¹” When we fail to live destination driven lives, days, months, and years can pass us by without accomplishing much. The Cheshire Cat taught Alice this principle when she couldn’t decide which road to take, “Where do you want to go?” said the cat. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”² I heard a friend say at her 50th birthday party, “I’m not sure this is where I thought I would be at fifty.” Then she paused for a moment and said, “I’m not sure I ever even thought of where I wanted to be at fifty!” It is never too late to make goals. Without some destination she will certainly be saying the same thing at her 60th birthday party.
Having no clear destination also leads to making bad decisions. This is particularly true for young adults and for parents. It is very easy as a parent, especially when frustrated or fatigued, to make decisions that aren’t based on our desired outcomes. Let me explain by sharing what I consider to be the lowest point in my parenting (and there have been some real valleys!) When our oldest daughter was a pre-teen she began to test the boundaries of our family rules. I now understand that this is normal, but remember, this was our first child. I had overheard another parent say that when one of their sons was eating like an animal they made him eat the rest of his meal in the garage where “animals” eat. Some time later, in a particularly challenging moment with my daughter, I burst out, “Alright, that’s it! If you are going to act like an animal you are going to the garage.” Well, it didn’t make sense on so many levels–including the fact that we didn’t even have animals! As I marched her to the garage our second daughter clung to my leg and began to cry and scream, “Don’t do it Dad, don’t do it!” I opened the garage, and in she went. Within seconds I realized how idiotic my thinking was and went to open the door. Suddenly I heard the overhead garage door open. To my delight I found our daughter dancing around in the drive-way, making antlers with her hands to her head, all the while chanting, “Na, na, na, na na!” That was followed by a lot of apologizing, on my part.
A lesson was definitely learned that day, but not by my daughter. What on earth was I thinking? What did I hope to accomplish? I don’t know. It was a decision made without a clear objective. It was a decision born of anger. Had I considered the ultimate destination I wanted for my daughter, timeout in the garage would certainly have never been considered. Decisions based in the emotions of anger, fear, frustration, pride, spite, or lust generally lead to unpleasant conclusions. Decisions based on love, however, are often difficult, but bring positive results.
You may be wondering how things turned out with that child. Well, I decided to take a different approach based on my desired outcome. Six years later as she spoke to a very large audience she explained what happened next. And I quote:
“One day when I was younger, I was riding in the car with my dad and he began to teach me about bank accounts. The car has always been my dad’s favorite place to teach us, probably because we can’t get away. He was getting into a lot of details about bank accounts and making deposits and taking out withdrawals. As he was talking, I thought it was just another random thing I would need to know when I was older. But he began to relate bank accounts to relationships. He explained that there are things that we do and say that put deposits into our “relationship account” and make it grow and become stronger. But there are also things that we do that make withdrawals out of this account. I remember many times after we had this talk that my dad would say to me, “Rach, is this helping our account?” Over the years I have learned a lot of things I can do personally to make deposits and build my relationship accounts… ‘Every little penny counts,’ is also true in relationships.”*
It is also very easy to make decisions based on what we believe others will think of us, instead of what is best. Regardless of our age or life status, this is a very dangerous trap. Youth who behave according to the conscience of their peers will likely look back with regret. Young adults who live according to the “world’s standards” will find that they’ve been sold a lie. And for those of us who are parents, it is practically impossible to worry about the needs of our children when we are consumed with our reputation among the neighbors.
To some, living destination driven can sound restrictive and even burdensome. There is a popular philosophy in our current society that living “carefree” is true happiness. No objectives, no goals, no rules, and no boundaries: going wherever the wind might blow. My experience has been quite to the contrary. The person who lives without objectives is often the most unfulfilled and dissatisfied with life. As Spencer Kimball noted, “You know what happens to people who coast along—they just get in a boat and have no oars nor sails nor engine. They float down the river and the current just carries them down gradually until they come down into the swamps.”
Finally, let me mention what “Living Destination Driven” is not. Destination Driven is not the modern definition of “driven” that represents an unhealthy obsession that crushes all else. Destination driven is as much about the process as it is the destination. In essence, living destination driven is when your “destination” helps you “decide” how, where, and when to “drive.” When you finally reach that wonderful destination, if you’ve done it right, you will find that your fondest memories will come from your pathway of progress.
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Russell Ballard, Ensign, May 1987, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pg 361
*I had just finished reading the bank accounts chapter in Covey’s 7 Habits 🙂