how to flow with the go to get what you want + give the world what it needs



“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” — Basho

Common wisdom has it that first, you form your vision.

Then, you break it down.

You reverse-engineer a roadmap of goals and milestones that will take you from point Z to point A.

You become a man, or a woman, with a plan.

But any plan rests on a boatload of assumptions – about yourself, about the future, about the world around you – that may or may not be true. A lot of those assumptions are about things that are not within your control.

It could be that you fail to achieve your vision because it was never achievable in the first place.

Maybe instead of assuming that we create our own destiny, we need to shift to a different understanding. We co-create it. We work hand in hand with the shifting circumstances around us to understand how we can best use our talents and have real impact – in a way that still leaves us creatively satisfied.

We work to avoid the conflict between Karma and Dharma.

In his book Strategic Insight: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement William Duggen defines Karma as “the full set of circumstances the universe presents to you that are beyond your control.” He goes on to say

Your Dharma is your own set of thoughts and actions. These are within your control. You find your Way by sorting out what exactly is within your control and what is not, and then finding the particular thoughts and actions…that best fit what is beyond your control…You do what you can, not what you want. Your Dharma follows your Karma.

And in his book The Lean Startup, Eric Ries presents the notion of “validated learning”. Your aim, in the beginning, isn’t to present to the world a perfect and perfectly completed Thing (that the world may not want in the first place), but to test the assumptions your Thing depends on to find out what is true, what works – and what doesn’t.

He writes about “Build-Measure-Learn”: you build the minimum viable version of whatever it is that you’re working on, show it to people, find ways to measure reaction and impact, and learn, learn, learn. You then apply that learning to the next version of your Thing. And so on. The aim is to cycle as swiftly as possible to make as much progress as possible.

(In my world we refer to this process as “the writer’s workshop”.)

Keep in mind, you are not asking people what they think they want. People are generally resistant to change and don’t know what they want until they have it — and then wonder how they lived without it in the first place.

Instead, you’re studying the conversation between you and your audience. Change doesn’t happen with one individual, but in the spaces, the interactions between them.

You search out those spaces where your strengths and desires naturally intersect with that conversation, instead of falling beyond it where no one is listening.

When necessary, you pivot – you change your direction – you find a new way to follow your Vision or perhaps change that Vision to reflect what you know now that you didn’t know before.

So instead of blindly imposing your Vision on the world, you stay closely connected to that world through observation, experimentation and insight. And the more you learn about the different pieces of your Karma…the more likely it is that those pieces will combine and recombine with what’s already in your mind to produce a flash of creative insight that alters your Vision (in a good way) or gives you a new one.

You flow with the go.

But you do it in a way that

sets yourself up to have flashes of creative insight that can influence both your ‘flow’ and your ‘go’.

Instead of thinking of destination first, journey second….you focus on the journey: what you learn, how it feels and how it changes you. You let your Vision arise from that.

Journey first, destination second.

What do you think?

Sep 23, 2011

15 comments · Add Yours

Love Duggen’s explanation of dharma and karma. Puts a whole different perspective on planning, goals AND vision.

And your definition of change is compelling – something I need to ponder as I struggle daily with finding myself outside the conversation. Thanks!


This is so funny, cuz I realize this is exactly what I’m doing with my own project! I have a goal of publishing my own graphic novel, but to reach that goal, I am posting ‘pieces’ of it weekly on my site. I don’t have the final destination in mind, just the process of improving my artwork/storytelling and building a bridge to prospective readers.

I realized I probably won’t be able to “monetize” what I’m doing right now, but I’m using it as a means to reach my ultimate goal.

I’m learning a lot about my story and how it affects other people. I’m finding out what resonates with them and what leaves them dull. And its making me a better writer and artist.

Thanks for articulating so well, Justine!


Love these ideas, Justine!
I was doodling during a conference call this afternoon (don’t tell!) and I randomly wrote the words “navigate by your own stars.” When I read quote above from Duggen, it made me think about the relationship between the stars of Karma (the universe) and the stars of Dharma (our internal stars). I think both carry equal weight in helping us find our way along on our journey.

I couldn’t agree more also about learning while doing – putting out a first version of something, LISTENING with all your senses to the feedback, and then creating the next version and the next and the next. That idea echoes many of the concepts I learned earlier this year from a class called TeachNow. Teaching is, after all, what so many of us do … but often teaching is just another way of learning.

As always, love your posts. Thanks for stirring up my thoughts on a Friday afternoon.


The human brain is teleological. It must have a goal in order to sort the wheat from the chaff among all the input our senses can provide. When we have a goal, the brain begins to create the magic of serendipity. It finds the input we need to proceed towards a goal, and filters the unneeded.
However, whatever it provides is evaluated in the context of all the experiences a person has had. Usually when a person can’t proceed DIRECTLY towards a goal, it is because they are not yet ready, have not yet learned all they need to know. With a goal in mind, The brain can provide that realization as well, and direct the person to seek out needed experience.
The world is full of “instant successes” who labored in obscurity for decades before emerging triumphant because they never gave up on their goals.
Pete Grimm


As always, quite the provocative post. What I think is there is no destination. Only a series of journeys.
Secondly, I would like to say that I saw a form shifting through an MC Esher type 3D puzzle as you described how we move along our edges without going past the conversations. Wow. Beautiful.


What do i think? I think you’re brilliant! I love the expression of Karma and Dharma. It is what we all know, as writers at least. It’s the process writer’s go through to create a work to present to the world. The journey of writing, rewriting and rewriting again, getting feedback along the way, until it’s ready to go out into the world. Beyond that, in difficult economic times like these, flowing with the go is all we can do. The events beyond our control force us to do what we can that is in our control…want to sell your house?-don’t do it now, work on it instead…want to change jobs?…don’t do it now, educate yourself and improve where you are instead.
Very thoughtful post, Justine.Thanks.


If forget who said this, or something like it, “If your not careful you will get to where your going.”

What if your vision/goal is to do as little work as possible in the most efficient way possible? Not to save the world, but to be able to live your life as you see it. Not as others tell you to, but as you want to. I got everyone telling me I’m a fool for living a monkish life style. That I need the latest and greatest doodad. That I need to save the world from the latest thing that’s going to destroy it.

Who says I needed to do anything with my life to be happy?

Maybe we are over complicating things?

:-) Who needs all that pressure,


I would have never known anything about Justine, without having read an article written about her by Caroline Graham September 18, 2011. I liked her bravery when she talking marriage – her take on what it is like to be in a world where men have all the power. Be a partner… in that. How she is flying now… I am a writer, therefore I live in the World I have created. Justine has given me food … for my thoughts. I like that! I applaud her gusto!


Someone asked me recently why I was doing something that to them seemed a bad idea – why was I doing it if I wasn’t going to get something out of it at the end. I thought for a moment and said, would I skip the symphony just because I knew the concert ended in two hours? Not if I want to hear the symphony at all.

I love this: “Keep in mind, you are not asking people what they think they want. People are generally resistant to change and don’t know what they want until they have it — and then wonder how they lived without it in the first place.” And I think what Peter says goes along with this – we do need to point ourselves in directions, even if we don’t know where exactly we’re going.

I love goals. I just did a whole series of blog posts on them. I think for me the key component in achieving a goal is the movement. I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition – that we must go from Z to A as we try to do or from A to Z as you suggest. I think the approaches can compliment each other.


Willa Cather liked to quote a French writer whose name I can’t recall, “toute l’extrémité n’est rien, le voyage est.” The end is nothing. The journey is all.

I love your creative coupling of spirituality, the writing process, and business.

I have lived in all these worlds also and love to see them drawn together.


@Josh A. Kruschke

Happiness comes as an indirect benefit of doing something that has meaning for us: relationships, work, whatever. It is that sense of wild peace, of fullness, of contentment. It’s very different from pleasure, leisure or ease. (The science of happiness backs me up on this.)

On a more personal note — I know people who got wealthy and retired young, I know people who inherited wealth or married it and can afford to do as little as possible and even tried it out for a span. They were and are not happy. Trust me on this. Pursue something that fully engages you, challenges you to become more of what you really are, and leaves a meaningful legacy. (And figure out how to do that as efficiently as possible with as little work as possible.) Otherwise you’ll be disillusioned.


Ah, here’s to future…happiness.

If I do this, or am doing this, I will be happy.

How about, just being happy, fulfilled in the moment. That specific moment is the only one you will get just like it.

How about enjoying what is, not just what could be.

Yes, this is some of the things and questions I’m working through.

I’m trying to become more engaged with the world around me.

More balanced. Less comfortable.



@Josh A. Kruschke Josh, THAT IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT. that experience of being in ‘flow’ — whether it’s in work or relationship or a creative pursuit or meditation or communing with nature or reading. when you are so involved with the moment that you lose your sense of self-consciousness and you emerge from it feeling deeply restored. call it ‘being in the zone’ or whatever. the irony is, effort actually is required — it’s easier just to park your ass on the couch and watch TV, but (unless the television show is exceptionally good) you won’t find ‘flow’ that way and you won’t look back on it with the deep satisfaction of time + energy (which is your *life*) well spent.

human beings are meant to do stuff with purpose and meaning — although it’s also up to the individual to define just what ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ means to them. it’s how we keep creating and innovating and adapting and playing our way forward. otherwise the species probably would have died out a long time ago (since we survived due to superior brainpower instead of brute speed, strength, etc.)

i just truly, deeply, passionately believe that in order to be happy people need meaningful work + meaningful relationships. and nothing I’ve seen or read, no one I’ve ever met, has given me cause to believe otherwise. and it doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire CEO or a grade school teacher, because money can’t buy either (although it can certainly ease the way).


Justine –
I think we going to the same place. Just starting from different points of view, or maybe just haven’t found my *it*. That person or cause to motivate me to give me some ambition.
I’ve heard different variations of it’s the journey not the destination, but for me it’s more about the flowers that we stopped to smell a long the way. Everyone’s going to get to where they’re going. Whether or not it’s where you want to be or did you even enjoy the trip will be the more important questions, I think. Not what did you do or build with you life?

Hmmm…. but I am me, and you are you, and will both figure out, hopefully, what works best for ourselves.

I do look forward to reading about your journey,


Another though provoking post! Thanks! It’s a weird world we live in and I’m a weird member of this world. I don’t know how much I’m looking for the right niche, and how much I’m discovering the niche I’m already in….. am I looking for a house, or do I already live in one? Or both?


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