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.