How Would You Get to California?

Yesterday I read of a simple creativity exercise. Here’s how you can run this simple exercise:

Why Run the Test

This is a test to teach people about themselves. Ideally, it teaches a person that reaching one’s chosen destination is not the problem, instead it’s their perspective that is the issue.

How to Execute the Test

1. Ask someone “How would you get from here to California?” You can replace “California” with any far away or exotic destination because it’s only a representation of a your dream.
2. When they respond, simply say “What if you could not [their answer]. For example, if they say “I would fly on a plane”, you would say “What if you could not fly on a plane?”
3. Continue this banter until the answerer runs out of answers.

What the Test Teaches

I ran this test on two people in my household, and it frustrated them. When the test was run on me, I was immediately amazed by the results.

Often our goals are clouded by perspective. For me, I don’t have a single goal that says “I want to get to California.” But California represents a general goal, it may be something like “I want to make lots of money so that I can do whatever I want to”. So let’s reframe the goal a little.

Let’s say that there are 10 million people, and their goal is the same, they all want to get to California. Let’s say it’s a contest – and the earlier you get to California then the easier and better your life will be. So let’s revisit this goal, and say we challenge 10 million people, time to achieve your goal – on your marks, get set, go.

Now there’s some logistics – some of these people live in Washington State or Nevada – for them a trip to California should be fast and easy. Other’s live in Maine or even in Europe, South America, or some other far flung place. Some of these people have the means to buy a plane ticket, assuming one is available, since everyone will be trying to get to California all at once. Everyone will want to take the easiest and fastest route – a one-way non-stop plane flight to California. But, there aren’t enough planes or resources for that.

Some will decide to setoff by car, train, bus, boat, horseback or even foot. Others will decide that they don’t want to go to California like “all the other sheep” and will instead attempt to travel to another destination. Some will get injured and even die on their journey. A few will make it there quickly, many in the middle, a few last, and many will never make it to California. Those who don’t make it will have to find joy where they ended up; or perhaps they died along the journey. Perhaps they ended up getting caught up in any number of traps.

Joe was from Ohio, he knew he would make it. But, he didn’t have the means for a plane ticket, but he had a few hundred dollars in the bank and a car. So off he went, except that his car broke down in Kansas City. He didn’t have the money to fix it, so he spent time looking for a job there so he could get his car fixed. Two years later he found himself there still as he ended up getting hurt on the job, then later addicted to pain medication. Then he lost his car, and everything else. He moved onto the streets for a number of years. Finally he decided to set off on foot. He caught a ride when he could until Denver. At Denver he got out of the ride the long-haul trucker was giving him, and laid down on a bench at a rest area, where he would parish due to exposure. Joe never made it to California.

Debbie’s parents were wealthy, she was educated and connected to the the Alumni at her private college. She pulled some strings and landed a one way ticket to California. In less than a day, she was at her destination, living her best life.

Marcus came from a working class family, and had a working class attitude about life. He would make it to California, but not before two divorces, a few wrecked cars and bloody hands from all the work he’d done. He made it there in time to retire, and experience the good life.

All of us are on our way to California. Some of us will make it, some of us won’t. Some of us will die, or worse, we will run out of ideas of how to get to California, or worse, we will quit. There is no wrong way to get to California. Sometimes the long detours will help us live happier lives once we get to California – we’ll appreciate it more because of the journey.


Whatever your California is, I challenge you to ask yourself “How do I get to California from here?” Start where you are, do what you can.

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