A fellow is hitchhiking along a lonely stretch of road in Missouri. He’s trudging along the westbound side, keeping his thumb out even though a car hasn’t passed in hours. As the afternoon stretches on, a car pulls up in a cloud of dust. The friendly driver rolls down his window and says, “I’m headed to Los Angeles, friend! Want a ride?”
The hitchhiker looks disappointed. “No thanks, I’m actually headed for San Diego. Guess I’ll keep looking.”
Don’t do this! If you’re in Missouri and trying to get to San Diego, then for all practical purposes someone headed for Los Angeles is doing exactly the same thing you’re doing. 90% of the journey is probably the same. The possibilities are all good ones. Maybe you’ll get out when the road gets close enough for different routes to the final destination to be meaningful. Maybe you’ll fall asleep in the car and ride all the way to Los Angeles by mistake, and you’ll still be closer to San Diego than you were. Or maybe along the way you’ll talk and realize you’d actually rather end up in Los Angeles! And maybe along the way, if nothing else, you’ll make a friend.
I see people make this mistake all the time. They think they can only join forces with people who are doing exactly the same thing as them. And of course, that means they never join forces with anyone because no one is doing exactly the same thing as you, ever. But very few roads go to only a single destination, so you can effectively carpool with many different folks doing many different things.
And the subtler, deeper problem I often see is that when people are so single-minded about a particular goal, it’s often a goal that they have no real way of knowing is the right one. In the analogy above, the hitchhiker has never even been to San Diego before; he just wants to go to a beautiful, sunny California town that’s different than the life he’s known.
So maybe you really want to be a folk singer, all your life. You’ve never sung professionally, but you’ve got a lot of talent. One day, a famous rock band hears you singing in a karaoke place and they ask you to tour with them. Don’t say no just because they’re a rock band and not a folk band! Clearly, singing with a rock band for a while gets you closer to your end goal than refusing. Whether you use the rock band to get famous and then launch your folk career or whether you just decide it’s really fun to sing with a rock band and stick with it, you’re better off.
Don’t ask, “Is this my exact goal?” Ask “Is this closer to my goal than whatever I’m doing now?” And then ride along with whoever is headed that way.