If you don’t know where you’re going…

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. – Lewis Carroll

But this line is not in the Alice in Wonderland books. The proper exchange is :

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

What does that mean?
Well, the paraphrasing that is so often quoted is a pretty good summary the exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat. How can you pick a road to somewhere when you don’t know where you are going? How do you get “there” when you don’t know or don’t care where “there” is?

Why is direction important?
Or more specifically, having a direction. Where are you going? Until you can answer that question, you can’t say that any one route is better than another. Any road will get you to where you want to go.

Not having a direction, not having a goal, not knowing where you are going, it’s all the same. You go nowhere. You can never get “there,” can never arrive anywhere, because you don’t really have a destination. Without direction, without a destination, without a goal, how do you pick a direction, choose a road, or plot a course to get “there”?

Where can I apply this in my life?
What direction are you interested in taking your life? Pick an aspect of your life and apply the saying. If you don’t know where you’re going to dinner, any road will get you there. If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, any road will get you there. If you don’t know what you want in a friend, same thing.

I know it’s practically impossible to know everything before hand. But if you wait until you have all the information, life will pass you by in the mean time. Do some research, ask some questions, gain some practical experience, then make a decision, then act on it.

That’s the hard point for me. Deciding when to quit cutting bait and get fishing, as Grandpa used to say. When do you know when it’s time to quit researching and time to start the field work? That will vary depending on the person, and on the subject under consideration. That’s weasel words for “depends” – depends on you, mostly. Sorry.

What are the areas of your life where you seem to lack direction? Grab some paper and start a list. It could be anything – just write it down. Clothing style, hair (style, color, length, …), job or career, friends, purchases, sales, or whatever it may be.

I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I do software and engineering and any number of other things, but somehow, I think my future is in education of some sort. But without anything more specific, how can I possibly move forward? What road will take me to a destination that I can’t specify?

As usual, most of life’s difficulties come down to preparation. Too little or too much, or just sitting there with “analysis paralysis” the result is the same. You don’t get what you want, you don’t go where you had hoped to end up.

The first step is to get an idea of what you want to do. Select one of the areas you are lacking in direction. Brainstorm some possible directions. Write them down. Then consider each one and narrow the field down to just a few of the best and most appropriate possibilities.

If you’re wondering what to do for a vacation, you have a lot of possibilities. Start with the toughest limits, typically time and money. If you’re planning a weekend getaway, a trans-oceanic flight is probably not a good idea. If your budget is in the “what’s in the couch cushions” category, you’re probably staying fairly close to home.

Once you’ve got an idea of what the basic boundaries are, ask yourself what you really want to do. For the vacation, do you like to camp, ride, lounge in a spa, see plays, drive places, take pictures, ride roller-coasters, or whatever else might appeal to you.

Sweep through all the options you came up with, and compare them to the limits you have. If it’s a weekend and couch cushion change, you might want to drive to the nearest national park and hike for a while (hope you like hiking!). I think you get the picture.

Once you have a couple of really good candidates, finish your research and select one of the paths. At this point, it probably doesn’t matter which one exactly you choose. You can always write it off as a “learning experience” and try again. Even if the steps are small, you should strive to make progress, learn from the experience and revise your direction.

If you don’t have a direction, why have a rudder or a steering wheel. Without direction, you are adrift in the stream of life, subject to all the problems, and completely without recourse. If you have a direction, you can always change your mind and decide to portage around the rapids.

Where are you going? Answering the question is important. If the answer to the question is anywhere, you’re probably already there.

From: Twitter, @BrightQuote
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/lewiscarro165865.html
Photo (with minor edits by the author) by Symic

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34 Responses to If you don’t know where you’re going…

  1. Dan 26 October 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    Good article, thanks. I look on it in a slightly different light, a bit like Will Poole mentioned above. By not having a fixed destination it removes the worry and fear out of making the wrong or right decision and so you are free to make spontaneous choices based on the present moment. Fear and worry often stop people taking decisions, but if you don’t need to consider this, the options are almost endless. You will then ‘feel’ which way to go and life will take its own form and flow naturally. Inner resistance to opportunities which you may encounter if you are fixed on a certain goal or achievement then disappear. Therefore any path is the correct one.

    • philosiblog 2 November 2015 at 12:03 am #

      Thanks for stopping by, and for leaving such an insightful comment.

      This is one of the reasons I love to write this blog. There are so many ways to take any given quote, and I only have time to choose one. I love your take on it, and at times in my life, I have chosen the less structured road myself.

      • Hugo 23 April 2016 at 3:02 am #

        You have to know what want and rhe road will appear.

      • philosiblog 2 May 2016 at 12:13 am #

        Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment.

        Indeed, knowing what you want is the first step, but I do not believe it is not sufficient itself. It may still take time and effort to find the road you wish. Or, worse yet, you may find many potential paths going forward. Then what? There is always work to do.

    • Laleh Ashtar 1 August 2016 at 11:44 am #

      Totally agree with you Dan. Not knowing the destination is not a bad thing, contrary to the popular belief. It is liberating in some way. This is how I’ve been living, relying on my intuition and life itself. You don’t have to very smart or calculative about your moves, you just have to be not very stupid.

  2. Evelyn 11 October 2014 at 3:53 am #

    Goals are essential if you have a specific direction for your life. God has a specific direction for your life so why shouldn’t we have specific goals? Furthermore, if you line up your goals with God’s will he make sure you get where you want and need to go and he will direct your path towards those goals if you trust to follow him. Any other type of existence is pointless. I know Lewis Carroll would approve my comment if he was running this because he was trained to be a minister. He didn’t become a minister, ultimately, though. He didn’t like being a minister and thought he was no good at it. So he did something else. He wrote.

    • philosiblog 14 October 2014 at 5:30 am #

      Goals, when well formed, are an excellent way of focusing your energy and activity.

      I won’t speak for Lewis Carroll, but he did manage to write some noteworthy material. He followed Ben Franklin’s advice and, as he did not do something worthy of being written about, instead he wrote something worthy of reading. https://philosiblog.com/2011/03/13/something-worth-reading/

  3. Will Poole 14 March 2014 at 9:56 am #

    From my reading of the quote. I got from it that it was a good thing to drift through life without purpose or direction.

    Alice is worried about getting lost if she goes down the wrong road. (worried about the future)

    The cat ask if she has a direction. She says no. So go anywhere and you’ll be fine. (present moment)

    Recently I have stopped setting goals in my life and I feel 100% happier. In terms of getting stuff done. I always wait for myself to be spontaneously drawn to something in the present moment. e.g. painting, music or writing etc… And it doesn’t matter what the motivation is:-

    Helping a friend

    Also when you don’t set goals for the future the mind starts focusing on the present automatically which means you can live your life more fully moment to moment.

    Also without goals life has more surprises and variety, because nothing is set in stone.

    I think the mind is more creative when there are not things you should be doing or goals to achieve.

    Freedom and openness to thoughts seems to be the essence of creativity to me.

    Therefore any fixed systems like goal setting seems to be limiting to creativity.

    I would say go with the flow because it uses less mental energy and you will have more to spend enjoying life in the present.

    The human body and mind is spontaneous, it is not like a robot and does not suit fixed systems.

    Jiddu Krishnamurti was a huge inspiration to me.

    Great blog, keep up the good work!


    • philosiblog 14 March 2014 at 3:09 pm #

      I hadn’t considered the past/future/present aspect of it, and took it quite a different direction, as you noticed. I’m very goal oriented, but I’m getting better.

      Yes, it is somewhat controversial to state that you have no goals. Leo (of ZenHabits.net) has several posts on that topic. I have been goal-oriented my whole life, and I’m finding it difficult, but I’m trying to cut back. 8) Some examples of what he does and how he does it are:

      http://zenhabits.net/no-goal/ http://zenhabits.net/100-days/ http://zenhabits.net/achieving/ and

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I especially like it when someone comes up with an alternative to my view. Very refreshing and invigorating. I hope to hear from you again.

      • Will Poole 14 March 2014 at 3:56 pm #

        I’ve also been goal oriented my whole life and for me setting goals have always made the goal a thing I have to do.

        And It is this framing that changes the nature of the activity day to day.

        Anyway complex subject and It may be that some people are better suited to goal setting than others.

        Thanks for the links, will check them out. I have liked both Tim and Leo for a long time.


      • philosiblog 14 March 2014 at 8:54 pm #

        Great people, them. Goals vs No Goals is a life philosophy. Like so many other things in life, we grow up in an environment which favors one over the other, and few give any thought to what the benefits of the other may be. It’s almost a flame-war to some people.

        I prefer to keep what works and discard the rest. But I keep track of my discard pile, as you never know… 8)

  4. ymonke 31 July 2013 at 9:09 am #


    • philosiblog 1 August 2013 at 3:38 am #

      If my translator is correct, that is Thank You.

      I reply (properly, I hope) with You are Welcome : 不谢

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    • philosiblog 19 May 2013 at 4:08 am #

      Thanks for the kind words.

  6. truelia 15 March 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    I like the way you write. It’s very structured and inviting people to do what suggest us to do. Smart.

    • philosiblog 16 March 2013 at 6:05 am #

      My writing style is a product of my job and how I think. I’m very structured, which is a bit different from organized. Glad you are enjoying the blog. Thanks for the comment.

  7. toilet drain 18 December 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Your way of telling all in this post is genuinely pleasant,
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    • philosiblog 18 December 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      Glad you liked it.

  8. Jet drew 6 October 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Hey there!Thank you …I love this quote and I really appreciate your explanation.

    • philosiblog 6 October 2012 at 11:02 pm #

      You’re welcome. Glad you liked it.

  9. Gabbie 10 August 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    I love Philosoblog! I’ve picked up some great quotes to use in my times of decision. I am in high school, and I don’t exactly love everything that I do, so I have to decide to add some direction into my life. My main problem is that I don’t wanna make anyone angry at me or confused with me, which is why I have a difficult time getting out of something (Clubs, sports, etc..) that I have been sucked into. Believe me, I do love certain aspects of everything that I do, but I realized a good while ago that I can’t do everything and still have the interest and energy to do everything else as well. I’m now looking at my future, what I really want as a career, what I have a knack for… And I’m finding ways to get there. I’m even drawing my own little roads on a paper with destinations, it’s so cute :3
    Keep posting!
    Lots of love, The Elf

    • philosiblog 11 August 2012 at 1:42 am #

      Welcome to the beginning of the rest of your life. People will always want something from you, even if it’s just your company for a time. But, as you have already notices, your time and energy are not limitless. Decisions, and the consequences of those decisions, and the ripples that radiate from those consequences, that is what you will ponder for the rest of your life. Or you can just charge ahead, and let life steer you. You can imagine which path I would select for myself. Self examination isn’t always fun, but it can be useful. But like almost everything else, there is both too much and too little. Too much, and you agonize over every decision until every decision is agony. Too little, and you flit about like a butterfly, or a small child at a party. My best wishes to you, and hopefully you will enjoy the next post.


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