Ice Cream Before Grandma's

Imagine with me for a moment than your beloved, little old grandma lives 1,000 miles away from you and it’s time to load up the car and pay her a visit.  You only get to see her once a year because of the distance so your time with her is quite special and you don’t want to miss a second of it.  With your trusty vehicle fully gassed up and with fresh oil and new tires you hit the road.  The weather couldn’t be more perfect as the sun dances behind spotted gray and white clouds, playing games with the trees and hills as they cast their shadows across here and there.  It’s not even mid-afternoon and you’re already more than halfway there, meaning you’ll get to spend more of your first day with dear old granny than you had originally thought! 


That’s when you see the sign.


Dairy Princess, home of the world’s best fudge-covered, sprinkle-laden, waffle cone embraced ice cream the world has ever known…at least that’s what you’ve heard.  The stories of sweet, creamy splendor that have emanated from this place are the stuff of urban myths, almost too good to be true.  And there, like a flaming torch in a god’s hand proclaiming wisdom and knowledge, is the glowing Dairy Princess sign.  Ever since the first heavenly announcement of this angelic place graced your ears, you’ve been dying, no LIVING, to experience it for your mortal self.


And then you remember: you have a destination before you, and no siren of sweetness, no dairyish distraction could possibly keep you from spending the most possible time with dear old granny!  You breathe a sigh of relief as you pass the exit for Dairy Princess.  Ha!  You have passed the test!


Yet deep down inside, you ask yourself, “What if I could have taken that quick dairy detour AND made it to grandma’s on time?”


Lately my mind has been filled with thoughts and questions about purpose, direction, focus, and the affect my choices will make on my life.  Life has been very good to me and has granted me more opportunities and blessings than most could ever even dream of.  I know that so many people would be grateful to have just one cool passion to pursue or one dream job or one fun hobby but let me just be honest: I’ve been blessed!  Through no merit of my own have I been given incredible opportunities to pursue with my life’s energy and passion.  For a long time, I have felt confirmation that my most deeply rooted passion and purpose is to pursue beauty and justice in the world through social impact design.  I love design and I love helping people, so naturally it feels as if my heart is geared specifically for this purpose.  Just like visiting Grandma was the ultimate goal in our little story, social impact design is the destination upon which I have locked my GPS coordinates, my ultimate direction.  Yet here’s my dilemma: I have consistently found my heart drawn to non-related pursuits along the way including martial arts, youth ministry, music, etc.


Enter the confusion (“scary music playing the background…”)


I don’t know about you but I’m an “all-or-nothing” kind of guy.  When I have a goal in mind, you’d better hold on, spider monkey, because my gas pedal is going to be through the floor.  Once I have a goal in mind, I want to get there and I want to get there fast.  However, we’ve all heard it said that life is about the journey, not the destination. 


Riiiiight….  Try telling that to the kids as you’re driving to DisneyLand.


However, I will admit that there’s a lot of truth in this statement and as I’ve reflected on my “destination focused” nature, I sometimes have to wonder if I might be putting a bit too much “mustard” on my hot dog of life (pardon the “cheesy” food analogy.  Okay, I promise I’m done with the “corny” puns …)  Through all of the wisdom I’ve picked up on through books, podcasts, and inspiring leaders in my life, I feel I’ve always been told that the only way to achieve the most out of life is to focus on the ultimate goals, to sacrifice the “good for the great”.  There’s only one problem: my heart starts to feel empty at the mere thought of disposing of these “side” interests in my life. 


Do you see my dilemma?  Maybe you’ve felt it too.


However, in my pursuit of the best path (enter triumphant music!!), I suddenly began to ask myself this question: what if our ultimate objective in life is a combination of both the journey and the destination?  What if it is possible to partake in the miracle known as Dairy Princess AND visit dear old Grandma?!


As I have been in the process of evaluating the merit and effectiveness of my pursuits in life, I’ve come to believe in the existence of this dichotomy, this “journey and destination” type life, and I’ve discovered two principles which I have found to be extremely helpful in this pursuit of balanced living:


Identifying Your Steps


What if Diary Princess wasn’t the only attraction along the way?  What if the SPAM Museum, the world’s largest chicken wing, or the world’s most scenic urinal were also possible stopping points (yes, those are all for real)?  Or what if there were in fact DOZENS of places you could stop?  Would you still choose to see each and every one?  Bringing this back home, my two very sweet grandmas happen to live a couple of states west of me in Washington.  Every summer, my family would drive the several hundred miles to western Washington to visit them and let me assure you, the number of possible places to visit are extensive!  Waterfalls, historic sites, and quaint little Bavarian flavored villages abound along our typical course.  While all of these options, I’m sure, are lovely little detours filled with cool sights and fun experiences, can you imagine stopping at them all?  You’d never get to see Grandma!  But on the opposite extreme, imagine all of the unique and exciting opportunities you would be missing out on if you Autobahn-ed it straight to Grandma’s without passing go and without collecting $200?!  Think of all the possible moments you would miss out on, the beautiful, colorful threads that would be omitted from the tapestry of your life.  Some may try to give you a formula for figuring out exactly how many places you should stop at along the way, but the longer I’ve sought answers to this life question, the more I believe that only you can decide what is right for you.  Identifying your stops may take a while and you may at times pick too few or too many, but don’t stop seeking the right balance for your life!  You’ll get there eventually.


The Same Direction


In our imagined tale, the Dairy Princess was just slightly off course on our way to our destination, but what if it was 200 miles in the opposite direction?  Would it still be worth it?  I have begun to think of life’s little “detours” as either additive or subtractive to my ultimate goal.  If a desired detour is a couple of minutes off of the freeway, I like to think of that as an additive destination.  Two of my current side hobbies are directing a youth group and running a small karate school.  In the past, I have questioned if spending time in these pursuits has prohibited me from achieving my ultimate goal of pursuing meaningful social impact design.  However, over time, I’ve discovered that they not only contribute skills and experience that will someday be beneficial to my career such as public speaking, leadership, and business skills, I’ve also come to the conclusion that the joy they bring me, combined with the minimal deterrence they provide from me reaching my ultimate destination, all equate to them acting very much as additive activities.  Remember: you are the judge of your decisions.  As such, it is up to you to weigh the cost of taking additive detours in life versus arriving to your destination faster.  I would also add to this that we don’t always know exactly what the “right” life choice is, but more important than knowing if it’s slightly more “right” than all of your other legitimate choices available is committing to follow through with whatever choice you make (read my previous blog for help on knowing the time to push harder or abort a previously made decision).

"We don’t always know exactly what the “right” life choice is, but more important than knowing if it’s slightly more “right” than all of your other legitimate choices is committing to follow through with whatever choice you make."


We all know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but let me ask you this: what poetry was ever inspired from a flower made up of perfectly straight lines?  I am a lover of efficiency to a fault, but I have found that there is beauty in life’s meandering, arcing, carefree loops and swirls and la-dee-das.  While the thought of that pot of gold at the end of the I-90 rainbow is what fires me up to continue moving forward, it’s the Dairy Princesses along the way that make the journey worth remembering.  Years after your memorable week at Grandma’s house, you will hopefully remember a myriad of life-giving moments spent with her, the ultimate destination.  But in that same trip down memory lane, hopefully you get the chance to reminisce along the way at the unimportant little detours.  Who knows, you might even see them become an integral part of your beautiful, inefficient, and life-giving route.


Jacob DeNeui