My Favorite Poem

pot of gold

I went to find the pot of gold

That’s waiting where the rainbow ends.

I searched and searched and searched and searched

And searched and searched, and then – 

There it was, deep in the grass,

Under an old and twisty bough.

It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine at last…

What do I search for now? 

by Shel Silverstein

About three years ago I came across a book of children’s poems by Shel Silverstein called Where the  Sidewalk Ends.  I’m not sure where we got the book, I think it was a gift from someone when my oldest child, Maci, was born.

Truthfully, I hadn’t read it.  I think that my Mom used to read me Shel Silverstein poems when I was a little kid, but I hadn’t returned the favour to my children.  This book was collecting dust in our basement when I discovered it (while looking for something else).  I opened it up for a read, and discovered a fascinating world of creativity and silliness, of which I then shared with my kids.

Then I discovered this gem, the very last poem, in the book.  In my opinion this simple poem captures everything that I have learned as an adult in terms of living a fulfilling life – lessons that have proved very costly financially, and emotionally, for me to learn.

True fulfillment is found in the pursuit, not in the actual acquisition.  

This was a lesson that was hard for me to learn, as throughout my twenties I was entirely motivated by acquisition – the prizes at the end of the rainbow.  The pursuit was a necessary evil to obtain the prize.  The prize was what mattered.

What I found out however, was that the prize didn’t satisfy.  Each time I’d set a goal, and pursue that goal, and actually achieve the resulting prize, it was anticlimactic, and what I realized was that it was the pursuit that I most valued, not the prize.

I also realized that when my motivations were only based on the prize, I’d end up in a place that I didn’t want to be, and there was no deeper purpose to my work.  That depressed me.  I wanted to feel that I was doing work that mattered to me, and it was only when I liberated myself from a “prize-based motivation” mindset, that I actually started to see deeper purpose in my pursuits.

When I made this discovery my whole life seemed to change.  The way that I viewed the world became radically different, because I no longer yearned for, or cared about the prizes.  I wanted the pursuit.  I wanted the challenge.  It was the search that gave me the most pleasure, not the pot of gold.

This discovery liberated me.  I was no longer hostage to the opinions of others, or the pull of comparison.  I became happy for others in their victories.  If someone had the latest “duds” and I didn’t, I could care less.  It wasn’t about getting stuff.  It wasn’t about impressing people. I didn’t need any of it to be happy.  I just needed the journey, and the journey had to be one that was uniquely mine.

I really believe that embracing this philosophy is the secret to optimal experience, and I also have since learned that this simple poem has intellectual roots in flow psychology.   It’s what I now teach my kids, not to treasure the rewards, but to embrace the journey.

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