I don’t know where we are going but I know exactly how to get there
I don’t know where we are going but I know exactly how to get there.
This seemingly paradoxical phrase is simple but full of wisdom. It can be applied to many situations in life; one of the main ones is about the purpose and meaning of life.
The phrase in question comes from Renias, a lion tracker in the South African Londolozi Game Reserve. It reached me via Boyd Varty, himself a lion tracker but also a life coach, writer and speaker.
I first heard Boyd Varty explaining this phrase and telling a thousand exciting stories in Tim Ferriss’s podcast. Tim usually has some great guests, but Varty really impressed me, so I decided to read a book he has written: The lion tracker’s guide to life. Ferriss mentioned he has this book in his guest room at home so the people visiting him can read it. That sounded like enough recommendation for me. It didn’t disappoint.
It’s a small, easy-to-read book full of wisdom and food for thought. It’s one of those books that make you stop reading and reflect every few pages and keep you thinking well after you have closed it to do something else.
Varty links the ancestral art of tracking lions, leopards and other dangerous animals with living a meaningful and purposeful life, and he does it masterfully. It’s not a self-help or personal growth book but helps you grow more than many books classified as such.
It helped me, at least. It made me think and reflect a lot about my life, my purpose in this life and the meaning of all of it.
A phrase about purpose
I don’t know where we are going but I know exactly how to get there.
This is the phrase that made me reflect the most. It must have happened the same to Varty, as he repeats it several times in different parts of his book. His friend and mentor Renias mentions it in the context of the art of lion tracking, but we soon realise its meaning and use are much broader than that.
When you start tracking a lion or other wild animal, you start with one single track. It can be a footprint somewhere, a broken branch, or something else, but once a tracker discovers that first track, they won’t let it go. They will find a second track, then a third one further ahead, and they will follow those tracks for hours or days, until they finally find the lion, leopard or rhino they are following. They know where they are starting and have the knowledge and instinct to get to their target animal, but they don’t have any idea of where that animal is when they start the search.
They don’t know where they are going but they know exactly how to get there.
You can apply the same phrase to your own life. Most personal growth and leadership gurus will tell you about the importance of a clear vision (I do too!) and setting SMART goals and objectives. As Yogi Berra said, “if you don’t know where you are going, you may wind up someplace else.”
If you don’t know where you are going, you may wind up someplace else.Yogi Berra
The problem with this is that we often don’t know what we want. We don’t even know who we really are, our purpose in this life, or the meaning of it all. We spend all our lives trying to answer these questions, often with little success. Some people don’t even think about these things. They are happy to see their life pass before them without thinking much about it.
We as human beings need to do some reflection time and think about what we like and enjoy in life, what we are good at, what our Ikigai is, and what our purpose is. This is not an easy task, but it can be done, often with the help of others: your partner or best friend, a mentor, a coach, a guru, a shaman, or a lion tracker; whoever works best for you. You can even learn from the dying.
Once we do that, we are ready to tackle life with better resources to be fulfilled and happy. If you know your purpose, you can aim your life in the right direction and do the things that will help you get as close as possible to that purpose.
You don’t know the final destination because it’s impossible to know all the hurdles and obstacles life will throw at you, but at least you’ll know what path to take each time.
If you have your purpose clear, you won’t know where you are going but you will know exactly how to get there.
Life is a journey
Life is a journey, a long journey full of obstacles and good and not-so-good moments. The most important part of life is the journey itself, not the destination. The final destination is the same for everyone: death and the quiet void of non-existence. The path or trail of life is what matters.
Most of us spend our lives waiting for the next thing, for something to happen in the future, to be truly happy. I know this because it happens to me all the time. We think that when that special thing happens, all will finally be fine. So when we get married, get that new job, buy that new house, move to that new country, have our first child or make our first million dollars, we will finally be happy. And life passes in front of us without us realising it and enjoying it, and before we realise we are old and decrepit, and all our dreams are shattered.
We live and enjoy life in the present. The present is the only time in which we exist. Both the past and the future only exist in our minds. That’s why practices like meditation and mindfulness, so focused on the present, can bring us joy and enlightenment.
Reaching a flow state while working or doing something that absorbs us completely also achieves this anchoring in the present. Lion trackers know this, as there isn’t anything more akin to living in the present than following the tracks of a dangerous animal in the middle of the African bush. Their life depends on being present.
Live in the present. Live in the now. Meditate, be mindful of what you do. Try to reach flow states on things you enjoy doing.
Once again, it doesn’t matter where you are going. The destination doesn’t matter. You have the tools to get there anyway. You know exactly how to get there.
Returning to nature
A book about lion tracking will advocate returning to our natural, wild state. It couldn’t be any other way. In our modern and busy lives, we have come too far away from our ancestral and natural way of being. We are too far removed from who we really are.
We are too busy carrying out our meaningless bullshit jobs, stressed about how to pay our mortgage, the new car and the latest iPhone, and living in denaturalised asphalt and concrete cities. We step onto our career treadmill and don’t stop to think about what we are doing with our lives and what is essential for us. As the protagonist of the Fight Club film says: “we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”
We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.Fight Club
We evolved in the natural world as hunter-gatherers. That’s what we did for hundreds of thousands of years before we settled to become farmers first, urbanite city dwellers later. Civilisation and modernisation have brought us vaccines, penicillin, the internet, chocolate cakes, and many other wonderful things. I don’t think Varty or anybody else is advocating for a total return to our ancestral hunter-gatherer ways, but we could learn a thing or two from their way of living that would help us become happier. We should also get closer to nature more often.
It is worth stopping our fast-paced, hectic lives to reflect and think about what kind of life we are living and decide whether this is who we really are and what we should be doing.
From the wisdom of Fight Club to that of Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” he said once. I couldn’t agree more. It is worthwhile to stop the rat race a bit to think about your purpose in this life.
Find your track, find your purpose
Throughout the entire book, Varty mixes the story of a specific lion tracking episode with Renias and his other mentor, Alex, with other anecdotes in his life, which help to illustrate his thoughts on different topics related to philosophy and personal growth. He talks about the meaning of life, death, flow and mindfulness, the power of emotions, following instincts and being attuned to them, communion with nature, and bringing out what he calls our “wild self”, among many other subjects.
It is a good review of different ideas. However, the most important part is at the end, when both the lion-tracking story and his own personal search reach a climax, and he finally realises what his purpose in life is. He realises that all the different aspects of him (his traits, passions, strengths, life experiences) move him towards one single direction, his purpose in life: to tell the trackers all over the world that it is time. We are all trackers in a way, but most of us don’t know it yet, and he wants to help us find that out and help us in our personal trails, to find our own tracks.
I found that moving and inspiring. I can relate to it. We all have different trails open to us in life, different tracks to follow. It will all depend on our life experiences, what we enjoy doing, our passions, and what we have to offer others. In the middle of all these vectors, there is our purpose. It is not always easy to know exactly what it is, but it is worth looking for and exploring it. This is one of the secrets to a happy and fulfilling life, after all.
Varty’s phrase says it well: “there is nothing more healing than finding your gifts and sharing them”. Find your gifts (we all have them!) and share them with others.
There is nothing more healing than finding your gifts and sharing them.Boyd Varty
I am exploring my own purpose and thinking about it as I write this. I can’t express it fully yet in detail, but I’m getting there. I know it has to do with helping others grow, via my work on Talent at Sodexo, through coaching, or, why not, through my writing. It also has to do with being a great partner, a great friend, a great son, a great brother… in sum, it has to do with being the best version of myself I can be for others and trying to be a bit better every day.
My purpose isn’t 100% clear, but I’m okay with that. I know I have the right tools, and I’ll get there eventually.
I don’t know where I am going but I know exactly how to get there.