Words on words: Traveling with Thoreau’s teachings


Alice Yu

Born in 1817, a time when the United States was testing out life as an independent country, Henry David Thoreau lived to become a teacher, a businessman at his father’s pencil factory, and most notably, a writer. Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, and lived there nearly all his life, save the two years he spent at Walden Pond. His experiences at Walden Pond morphed into the literary classic, “Walden.” A proponent of civil disobedience and abolition, Thoreau died in 1862 of tuberculosis.
[quote cite=”Henry David Thoreau”]What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.[/quote] At this point and time, we’re standing roughly two and a half months away from the most popular “first day” for goals.  While the success rate of New Year’s Resolutions isn’t exactly promising with a whopping eight percent success rate, the promises of greater goals should not be diminished and dismissed. The journey to becoming a better person itself is a series of lessons with arguably more substantial value than the human being left at the end of the journey.
Every journey begins with one step
I’ve seen my fair share of motivational posters and if I’m being honest, this came from a motivational poster. Despite how cheesy these posters are and how cliche their background photos appear, some of them make sense and have the power to put life into perspective. The first step to your journey could be the moment of self-awareness when you realize something has got to change for you. The next could be when your plans actually start taking shape. Or your journey could first begin with an action followed by a period of reflection and planning. Just like a walk in the woods or down the street for the more sensible human beings, every step, every path brings something different. From rainclouds to rays of sunshine, from gravel roads to mud pits, every footstep brings a different environment to acclimate to.
Molding your mindset
By working toward a greater goal, you give yourself the chance to become more attuned to you and your needs. Priorities become more clearer. Or even fuzzier…but even through the blur, you learn about your need to prioritize. You begin to understand the struggle and realize the struggle of persisting and persevering.  By stepping up to challenges and out of comfort zones, you seize the opportunity to color your personality.
Tales of time

When you think about time, you realize that time is really just a concept invented by humans to organize events chronologically. In all technicality, we were born and we died at the same time. Our bodies, Thomas Jefferson, and Cleopatra all exist together. There’s not present, past, future. Everything is just there and everything is just ‘now’. Time has the chokehold to freeze us in anxiety and stress, but time also has the key to relief.  Before I lose myself in this discussion of the enigma that time is, I want to connect time to soul. The attributes you acquire through achieving your goals can be morphed by time, but they all build on each other to morph your entire being.
I’ve accomplished — and failed at accomplishing — many goals and I have many more in plan. There were some times when the person I became after accomplishing a goal was not one I was proud to be, but there are many attributes I have today that I acquired through my journey of improvement. I learned responsibility when I wanted to become a ‘great’ editor on staff. I learned that ‘responsibility’ held a heavy weight in the definition of ‘great’ and thus, I adopted a new trait. I’ve become who I am today through trial and error, and there’s nothing stopping me growing even more.
photo illustration by Alice Yu