Okay, get ready for a super, SUPER geeky post.
One of the many, many Star Trek spin-off shows was called Star Trek: Voyager. It had a really neat concept, several really amazing actors, and was generally a terrible show. But I’m not going to talk about how terrible it was, I’m just going to talk about the central concept.
The background of the show is that a starship and it’s crew get thrown to the other end of the galaxy by The Plot Monster, and then they have to just travel back the normal way. The normal way will take about seventy years. That’s obviously an issue, but they approach it in a uniquely genre-savvy way: the captain basically says, “Look, it’s a weird sci-fi universe we live in, and all sorts of weird stuff happens all the time, so we’ll just head in the direction of home and every time we encounter some weird other plot device that lets us shave a little time off the trip, we’ll take it. And it’ll add up and we’ll get home.”
(By the way, despite the overall lack of quality on the show itself, that concept is so incredibly great with it’s meta nods at the genre that it deserved some sort of award all by itself. It’s a shame there’s no Emmy for “Great Idea, Poorly Executed.”)
But anyway, there’s a really tremendous lesson there. If you pick a long-term goal and you advance towards it, life is going to happen in the meantime. Lots of events will occur. Some of them will be obstacles, and will hinder and distract you – or at least conspire to. Some will be shortcuts and wormholes that give you a boost towards your goal.
In that sense, a single-minded determination can actually work against you. If Captain Janeway had said “Look, we have to get home, nothing else matters, so ignore everything else we pass. Turn off the sensors, turn off the communicators, and everyone get comfortable,” then the trip would have taken 70 years and most of the crew would be dead before they ever got home. Yes, some things they encountered made (or could have made) the trip longer; dangers and diversions. But proper navigation – through life or through space – involves analyzing each of those events.
Obstacle or opportunity?
A clear vision of where you want to go is essential for this analysis. It’s impossible to tell if something is a help or a hindrance if you don’t know where you’re trying to go. But even if you know where you want to go, you can’t just ignore the journey. Not just because you should stop and smell the roses (even though you should), but because the journey itself will provide its own help if you pay attention, and separate the good from the bumps.