The arts, entrepreneurship, yoga, and meditation have all taught me one common lesson over the years: to honor the process.
For most of my life, I grew up in a culture where only the end result mattered. In school, it was just my scores on the final exams that mattered, not what I’d learnt throughout the year in a classroom, or outside of it. In sports, what mattered was who won, not how much fun the participants had.
So, I grew up to believe that the only thing that mattered was getting things done. I mostly lived from one goal to the next.
If I did manage to accomplish it, I felt worthy. If I failed, it felt like a life wasted. As life progressed, the number of unaccomplished goals outgrew the accomplished ones, and I ended up feeling like a failure—until I set foot on the path of entrepreneurship.
I was 19 when I began planning my first entrepreneurial venture. A friend and I had planned to start our own dance classes. We would meet regularly and plan a lot of things. We would even practice dance routines to teach. That venture never took off, for various reasons, but I had thoroughly enjoyed the process. I had also learnt a thing or two about business. Although the end result was not what I’d wanted, it hadn’t felt like failure. This was the first time I realized that there’s beauty in the process.
But, since old habits die hard, I would often forget that lesson.
Every time I practiced my art, I would gently be reminded of it. As a performing artist, I would spend hours and hours in preparation for a performance that lasted just a few minutes. The quality of each performance would always be determined by the quality of the process of preparation. Process was absolutely important, I would think to myself, only to forget it and get obsessed with the end result sooner or later.
A few years ago, I attended my first formal yoga and meditation retreat. I used to practice some yoga postures as a warm-up before dance classes and I used to meditate intermittently on my own, but I had never practiced either under structured guidance before.
One of the key teachings of this retreat was to trust the process and relish it without worrying about the outcome. In meditation, we were asked to focus on the process of centering ourselves through our breath without worrying about attaining an end result, such as thoughtlessness.
In yoga, we were asked to ease into the asanas gradually without worrying about achieving a perfect pose. Practice and process mattered more than the outcome.
This idea was not new to me but hearing it from a yogi suddenly made it more valuable. So, I gradually started being deliberately focused on the process more than the end result. With that, I noticed that I felt more motivated to roll out my yoga mat every day—even after I finished the retreat—because what mattered was that I was taking part in the process of doing yoga. It didn’t matter if I was doing it perfectly or if I was getting something out of it.
I started caring less about the thoughts in my mind during meditation because just sitting was part of the process. It didn’t matter if I was reaching Nirvana or not. I enjoyed the process, fully aware that this is how I’d felt a few years ago when I was planning my first business. I also acknowledged that this is how I always felt whenever I wrote poetry or performed on stage.
I had enjoyed the process more than the outcome itself before, but not consciously.
As I learnt to consciously honor the process, the most beautiful thing happened—the process honored me back. I got better at yoga postures and at meditation. I got better at my art because there was no rush to get somewhere. With that pressure gone, I was able to reach a point of improvement sooner and more effectively. I took this lesson into other aspects of my life too.
My relationships got better because I realized that the success of a relationship is in the continued process of acceptance, forgiveness, and love. There are many relationships in my life that need to get better, but they don’t need to get better right away. I will heal, they will heal, and our connection will heal but I have to honor the process of healing. Realizing this has made me less resentful and more loving.
I have begun honoring the process more than the outcome even in business. It may seem counterintuitive, but being more focused on the process than the end result has inspired many fresh ideas in me. With the stress and fear about the outcome gone, I’m able to proactively participate in many projects for my company.
It’s not that the end results don’t matter to me at all. They still do. But if I don’t achieve the exact end result I want, I don’t feel like a failure anymore because when we honor the process, we cannot fail. The process either gets you what you aim for or makes you more capable of getting there.
Also, I’ve learnt that there’s no such thing as no outcome. It may be tangible or intangible, but there’s always going to be an outcome that takes us to the next level. I’ve realized that the only failure is not when we don’t get a desired outcome but when we don’t let the process nurture our growth.
To try this for yourself, the next time you do a chore, try doing it for the sake of doing it rather than just trying to get it done. If you’re stuck on something at work, acknowledge that the hiccup is also a part of the process, and that it will eventually untangle itself. If a relationship is not where you want it to be, take a step back and allow it the time to evolve.
I invite you to embrace the process for everything wholeheartedly and experience the flow of life for yourself. Because after all, life itself is a long process with no tangible outcome. Let us learn to enjoy it to the fullest.