As he wrote in "The Snow Leopard", when Peter Matthiessen set off with his friend George Schaller, it is clear that spotting a snow leopard wasn't Matthiessen's ultimate goal. Rather, the goal was the expedition itself and whatever it brought.
There are lots of other examples where a single idea provides a focus or direction for an effort, but that single idea isn't really the ultimate goal.
I've often wondered if there's a word or phrase that captures that succinctly.
For example, imagine someone saying "My goal is to learn semiconductor physics" when instead they really mean is "I'm going to learn about semiconductor physics to see what I discover along the way".
Is there a more appropriate word for "goal" in that first sentence? Perhaps a word or phrase borrowed from some other language?
The word "lark" captures a hint of the idea, but is only appropriate when the undertaking is done purely out of fun or mischief. The word "ambition" is too heavily weighted to the outcome, suggesting that if you don't really attain that goal, then you haven't accomplished what you wanted.