[[quoteright:167:[[Webcomic/{{Oglaf}} http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/oglaf_6061.jpg]]]]

->''"We are not asking him where the treasure is hidden! We're not even asking him whether there is any treasure or not! I'm not sure, but...everybody set out to sea, risking their lives to search for it!! If you ask this old man anything about it here and now...then I'll quit being a pirate! I don't want to go on a boring adventure like that!!"''
-->-- '''[[IdiotHero Monkey D.]] [[ObfuscatingStupidity Luffy]]''', ''Manga/OnePiece''

The heroes have traveled far and wide, braved many obstacles and even challenged the forces of darkness to find the legendary lost treasure. [[ShroudedInMyth Maybe it's a fortune in gold and jewels left behind by a long-dead king, or perhaps it's a book of ancient wisdom, or a magic mirror that lets the bearer see the future;]] whatever the case, the protagonists (and any number of rivals) [[MacGuffin have good cause to believe what they're after is very valuable and/or powerful,]] the sort of thing that could change their lives - perhaps even change the world - and definitely not something that should fall into the wrong hands.

So they find the ancient tomb. They open the sarcophagus. And what do they find inside?

Nothing. No pile of treasure or legendary artifact, [[VideoGame/SkiesOfArcadia just an old coin and a note telling them that they've already found]] the [[ItWasWithYouAllAlong greatest treasure of all.]]

And it's true. The legends may have been greatly exaggerated, but all of our heroes have become better people as a result of their experiences. What they found at the end of their journey may only have sentimental value, but its message is clear: these are lessons they would only have learned by setting out in search of it.

When ItsTheJourneyThatCounts, the object of the seeker's quest turns out to be materially worthless, but also constitutes a revelation that the seeker has grown or developed in some meaningful way during the course of their journey. Of course, if the protagonist's development is [[SnapBack nullified]] or [[IgnoredEpiphany ignored]], then you have a ShaggyDogStory on your hands.

Compare MagicFeather, where the protagonist discovers he's ''always'' had the abilities he ascribed to the MacGuffin; AllThatGlitters, where the twist is merely that the treasure is worthless, not that the characters have benefited from the search for it; and BluebirdOfHappiness, where the bird is often found back home. See GoingToSeeTheElephant when arriving at the destination is simply not as important to the plot as the journey there. WantingIsBetterThanHaving is another aesop that is often invoked with this one.

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!!Examples

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* ''Anime/DragonBall'': Goku spent a good while trying to catch Corin before finding out that catching him ''was'' the training; the "magic water" was just that: water. Master Roshi, on the other had, spent a lot longer trying to catch Corin (and finding out the truth).
* In ''SakuraWars'', Sakura Shinguuji receives a scroll purporting to carry the secrets of her family's sword-fighting style. It turns out to be blank. She spends a good long while looking for secret writing before figuring out it means she needs to look within herself for the secrets.
* In ''{{Negima}}'', Negi and the "Baka Rangers" (the five worst students in his class) go looking for a magic book that will make them smarter in time for final exams. In order to get the book, a giant statue quizzes them on translating English words into Japanese. Then they get stuck in a lower level of the library, and pass the time by studying. Then the giant statue shows up again, and chases them up a stairway barred by review questions. Then they end up [[FriendOrIdolDecision throwing the book away to make the group light enough to take the only elevator to the surface]]. And in the end, [[spoiler:the whole thing turned out to be a SecretTestOfCharacter designed by the headmaster.]]
* Looking at the themes and morals of ''Manga/OnePiece'', it is highly likely that the series is going to end on this note.
** [[Series/SaturdayNightLive "It's funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating."]]
** Luffy himself believes strongly in this, to the point that he absolutely refuses to listen to any information about the titular treasure when the opportunity arises or else he will quit being a pirate - because he does not want to have a boring adventure.
** WordOfGod on the matter is [[spoiler: it won't end on one of these and One Piece actually IS something.]]
* ''MartianSuccessorNadesico'': The heroes discover a MacGuffin which could theoretically be used as a ResetButton to prevent the war but decide not to use it because the sacrifices they have made mean too much to discard.
* Invoked in ''MedakaBox'' when Medaka sends the student council on a treasure hunt. Everyone is absolutely sure from the beginning that the reward will be one of these notes, and [[BrickJoke 50 chapters later it turns out they were right]].
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[[folder:Fan Works]]
* In the ''My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic'' fanfiction ''Fanfic/ItsADangerousBusinessGoingOutYourDoor'', Twilight Sparkle comes down with a terrible case of Horn Rot, and [[PowerTrio Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity]] go on a long and dangerous quest to FindTheCure. While a lot of fans of the story pointed out [[[[FridgeLogic they could have just asked Twilight's mentor]] [[BigGood Princess Celestia]] for help, over the course of the story the three girls learn and accomplish a number of things they never would have if they hadn't done it themselves.
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[[folder:Film]]
* ''WesternAnimation/KungFuPanda'' had the Dragon Scroll: after much build-up the scroll turns out to be blank, shiny paper. Later, the eponymous Panda realizes it's a mirror, and learns the lesson. (In a twist on the usual trope, the Master who gives him permission to take the scroll had no idea the scroll was blank, because ''his'' master, Oogway, never told ''him'' what was on the scroll, either.)
* ''Circle of Iron''. The protagonist Cord goes on a quest for the Book of All Knowledge. When he finally finds it, he opens it and discovers... a mirror.
** And then laughed at the monks who guarded the Book when they practically begged him to tell them what was in it - they were forbidden to look, after all.
* DiscussedTrope and paraphrased in ''Franchise/PiratesOfTheCaribbean''.
* ''Film/TheWizardOfOz'': The Wizard himself has a ton of these: he gives the characters worthless trinkets to symbolize the heart, brains and courage that they've earned in their quest to find him.
** A more metaphorical read on the same concept: Dorothy uses the ruby slippers to get back to Earth; she's always had the power, but it took the events of the story to teach her the true value of her Kansas home.
* In ''Film/TheNeverendingStory'' Atreyu is outraged that the Empress knew how she could be cured all along yet still sent him on his harrowing quest. She explains that he needed to carry out the quest so a human child, Bastian, would follow him.
* ''The Last Dragon'' starts with Leroy Green's master telling him there is no more he can teach him. "Bruce Leroy" insists on learning more. His master gives him a dragon-shaped amulet and tells him to seek out a master of "The Final Level" in Chinatown. Throughout the film, Leroy protects his friends, family, girlfriend and neighbourhood from villains, and unlocks [[DangerousForbiddenTechnique "the glow"]], but returns to his master in shame, never finding the hidden master of Chinatown. Whereupon his master informs him he learned everything he needed to in his struggles, and the amulet was merely a belt buckle.
* Subverted in NationalTreasure. When they enter the [[spoiler:fake treasure room,]] Ben's group starts into this to him. [[spoiler:Then they find the real treasure.]]
* The ''Franchise/IndianaJones'' movies play with this trope. While there usually ''is'' an actual treasure, the central journey of each of the movies generally involves Indy reaching some deeper understanding about himself or the nature of the treasure over the process of finding it; he often doesn't end up with the actual treasure but comes away from the adventure a better person regardless.
* Similar to the ''NationalTreasure'' example, ''Film/TheMummy1999'' ends with the protagonists heading home, Evie and Rick having found love with each other and Johnathan [[LampshadeHanging bitching that they ended up empty-handed]]... only for it to turn out that, unbeknownst to them, the saddlebags of their camels had been stuffed with gold that another character had meant to steal.
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[[folder:Literature]]
* In ''Literature/TheAlchemist'', [[spoiler: Santiago goes through the whole book just to find out that the treasure spent the whole book looking for was buried right under his location from page 1]].
* In ''Literature/TheTalesOfBeedleTheBard'', [[spoiler: The Fountain of Fair Fortune]] turns out to be exactly this. The trials that the heroes had to suffer through only forced them to recognize their own gifts and talents, or move on past their own heartache, or rely on each other. It works.
** In fact, [[Literature/HarryPotter as long as we're on the subject,]] the [[spoiler: way of hiding the Resurrection Stone within the Snitch]] may have been a MirrorOfLlunet ''and'' a veritable MacGuffin in ''Literature/HarryPotterAndTheDeathlyHallows.'' It was literally with the hero at all times - however, it wasn't until he'd achieved the maturity to [[HeroicSacrifice accept his mission]] that he was able to fully implement it.
* The former TropeNamer is the Mirror of Llunet from ''The PrydainChronicles'', which (similar to the Time Magazine cover), was basically a mirror. After Taran's journey, it showed him exactly as he was: his faults, his strengths, and how much he's grown. It was a revelation that made him TakeALevelInBadass.
* ''Marauders of Literature/{{Gor}}'' had the tomb of a great hero, which turned out to contain nothing but an arrow. The protagonists realize that the arrow means they need to step up and become heroes themselves.
* Similar to ''Kung Fu Panda'', ''Little Vampire Learns Kung Fu'' has one of Little Vampire's human friends learning kung fu from a supernatural teacher so that they can reach the top of a temple and read a scroll that will tell them how to be a true master. The scroll ended up reading "If you were able to reach here, you already have learned all the kung fu you need to be a master."
* Geraldine Harris' ''SevenCitadels' series plays this trope mostly straight; after an arduous quest by the main characters to acquire [[PlotCoupon seven keys to unlock the prophesied savior]], the hero unlocks and enters the cave of the savior, only to see his own face reflected in the mirror that is the only thing there. Toyed with by the fact that he has been religiously forbidden to see his own face (until now), so it takes him a moment to realize who that face is... and then the wife of his god shows up to hammer the point home in case he couldn't figure it out himself.
* The ''Literature/{{Redwall}}'' book ''Loamhedge'' had a few of the main cast go on a journey to find a cure for another main character's paraplegia. After a long arduous journey (where one of them nearly dies from thirst and two others ''do die'' in battle), they discover that there's nothing there but a poem, and that the main character they did the quest for learned to walk on her own. On the bright side, all three of the younger members of the questing group were immature, rude, and spoiled, and they came back from the journey much more matured. Two of them grow up to be the Abbess and Recorder respectively.
* In ''Literature/TheStormlightArchive'', part of the BadassCreed of the Knights Radiant is "Journey Before Destination". Their philosophy is that this idea applies to one's entire life, and it's ''how'' you got to the end that matters.
* In RobertBloch's story "The Hell-Bound Train," protagonist Martin makes a DealWithTheDevil that the Devil can have his soul if he, Martin, has the power to stop time when he reaches the moment of perfect happiness. Because Martin is always convinced that he could be happier, he never uses that power during his lifetime. After his death, he acknowledges this trope [[spoiler: and uses his power to stop time aboard the hell-bound train so he can enjoy an endless journey with "all the jolly crew" of the damned]].
* ''Day of the Dissonance'' by Alan Dean Foster has the apprentice making a lonnnnng journey to find medicine for the very ill mentor. The apprentice is not amused by the lesson, but does understand it. Extra: The apprentice, Jon-Tom, is a UCLA law student pulled into the magical world, which are the setting for 8 books, called the Spellsinger Series. This is the third. [[spoiler: The medicine is aspirin, which Jon-Tom had with him in his college backpack at the mentor's house when the wizard first started feeling poorly.]]
* A pervasive trait of the ''{{Xanth}}'' series. It's almost a formula: the protagonist(s) leave their home because some personal problem, visit the Magician of knowledge for a solution, and is sent wandering the land, picking up companions and having adventures. In the end, they find what they were sent out for, but realize that they no longer want or need it, because the journey has changed them - they've outgrown their old childish need, or realized that there are bigger problems to deal with, or the love they were hoping to win is shallow compared to the companion they've been journeying with.
* Invoked in ''Literature/{{Discworld}}:'' Granny Weatherwax orders a sick man to make a pilgrimage to a remote pond every day for a month to appease the water spirits. It turns out she was just making him take a walk every day to improve his health.
* In the novelisation of VideoGame/FireWarrior, the main character's commanding officer eventually tells him that when confronted with the harshness and brutality of the CrapsackWorld they exist in, he realised that the vaunted 'Greater Good' all Tau strive towards simply doesn't exist. However, he then stresses that it is still worth pursuing those ideals because in striving towards them, the Tau can become more virtuous as a race.
* Basically the only Aesop in Literature/{{On The Road}} by Creator/JackKerouac.
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[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* Subverted on ''Series/{{Glee}}'' when Mr. Schuester tries to teach the Glee Club this [[spoiler: when they place last in regionals.]] They do appreciate the journey, but it still sucks.
* Appears as something of a BrokenAesop in ''Series/StarTrekVoyager's'' final episode, where the characters talk about how the journey is more important than the destination... then risk their lives in order to skip the rest of their journey and get to their destination. (This dissonance is the result of minds changing during the writing process -- originally, ''Voyager'''s crew didn't get to "have [their] cake and eat it too", and they chose to sacrifice their shortcut home to deal a crippling blow to the Borg.)
* Many teams on ''Series/TheAmazingRace'' will say that being on the show and getting to play the game was more important than actually winning it.
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[[folder:Music]]
* "One Tin Soldier": "Now the valley cried with anger, 'Mount your horses, draw your swords!' And they killed the mountain people, so they won their just reward. Now they stood beside the treasure, on the mountain dark and red. Turned the stone and looked beneath it; PEACE ON EARTH was all it said."
* Linkin Park's In The End- "Because from the start to the end no matter what I pretend / The journey is more important than the end or the start". (From the song's rap remix.)
* "[[HannahMontana Ain't about how fast I get there]]/[[AwardBaitSong Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side]]/[[MileyCyrus It's The Climb.]]"
* Music/{{Marillion}}'s ''Happiness is the Road'', in this case crossing with SurvivalMantra:
--> Happiness aint at the end of the road
--> Happiness IS the road
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[[folder:Newspaper Comics]]
* In ''PricklyCity'', when Carmen speculates about what they are looking for, and whether they could recognize it or find it, Winslow offers this trope. Carmen assures him he's quite a find.
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[[folder:Video Games]]
* In VideoGame/SkiesOfArcadia, Vyse is split up from his friends, who wind up separately searching for the Treasure Of Daccat. At the end of their quest, they're re-united, and when they're looking inside the big honking treasure chest, all they find is a single gold coin, and a letter which lampshades the lesson, explaining that that Vyse's friends are the true treasure. ...[[InvertedTrope Also, the single coin has just about the highest selling price of any item in the game.]]
* During Aqua's quest in ''VideoGame/KingdomHeartsBirthBySleep'', she ends up with PeterPan and his Lost Boys on a quest for treasure. Eventually, it turns out that the treasure map simply led them all on a circle around Neverland to the same space they started--at which point Peter points out that the supposed treasure didn't matter, what ''did'' matter was that the boys pushed themselves to overcome obstacles in order to get to it.
* In the first ''VideoGame/StreetFighterAlpha'' Akuma's ending is a rather bitter version of this. He has reached the end of his journey to become the absolute best, but upon reaching his goal, he finds himself feeling empty. The final quote of that ending is "For some it's the path not the goal."
* ''VideoGame/{{Journey}}'', as implied by the title itself, has this as its major theme. Especially apparent [[spoiler:in the [[HereWeGoAgain ending]]]].
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* ''Webcomic/EightBitTheater'' mentions this trope. Then, of course, it mocks it as meaningless.
* ''Webcomic/{{Oglaf}}'' parodies this trope [[http://oglaf.com/delivery/1/ here]]. '''Warning: NOT SAFE FOR WORK'''.
* ''Webcomic/PennyArcade'' played with this trope [[http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/3/13/ here]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Original]]
* This is basically what [[http://vimeo.com/58179094 The Reward]] is all about.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* Played straight in the ''WesternAnimation/SouthPark'' episode "Fourth Grade," as part of her training to teach the fourth graders of South Park, Ms. Choksondik goes inside The Tree of Insight, only to find nothing there. Though at first disappointed, she realizes that it means she already has what she needs to reach the kids. It's then subverted, as Mr. Garrison goes in after her and does find a physical representation of his "gay side."
** In the episode "Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes," the boys are told that in order to destroy Wall-Mart, they have to find and destroy its heart. Stan and Kyle make their way to the TV section (where the heart is said to reside) and encounter the AnthropomorphicPersonification of Wall-Mart itself, who directs them to a small door. They open the door and find a mirror, which Wall-Mart says is "the heart" of Wall-Mart, i.e. the consumers. Stan and Kyle, however, take the instructions to "destroy the heart" literally, and smash the mirror, causing the building to implode.
* Parodied, like many things, in ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons''. In an alternate future with Lisa as president, Homer decides to run around the grounds of the White House in search of Lincoln's gold. He eventually finds a chest, with a note saying that his gold is in the heart of every American. Homer isn't amused.
* ''WesternAnimation/HeManAndTheMastersOfTheUniverse2002'' had this and MagicFeather as the origin of King Grayskull. Grayskull seeks the power to defeat Hordak, and is told by a seer to give up his sword and journey to find a new magic sword. When he does, he finds the seer, who returns Grayskull's sword and tells Grayskull he always had the power, he just needed the trip to focus his abilities.
* An episode of ''WesternAnimation/TeenTitans'' focuses in Robin trying to find a Master to teach him kung fu so that he can defeat the episode's bad guy, who's also trying to reach said Master by using Robin to bypass the mountain of challenges. By the end of the episode, Robin manages to defeat the bad guy before finding the Master, who is the old woman he met before.
* In an episode of ''WesternAnimation/TheGrimAdventuresOfBillyAndMandy'', Mandy goes on a journey to get her nerve back after it's stolen by Billy. The nerve rejects her and she walks away, only to realize that going on such a risky adventure and facing all the challenges that came with it meant that she still had her nerve to begin with. She then promptly gives her old nerve a [[TheReasonYouSuckSpeech "Reason You Suck" Speech]].
* The Door Lord tries to invoke this on ''WesternAnimation/AdventureTime'' by stealing things so that their owners can band together and discover the ''real'' treasure: [[ThePowerOfFriendship friendship]]. Which is all well and good, [[RealityEnsues but not enough to excuse the theft]].
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
* This now happens with people who earn Ph.D.s and other terminal graduate degrees. In the modern era, research and employment opportunities both change at such a rapid rate today that the information a newly minted Ph.D. has acquired over several formidable years of academic study is often out of date before the diploma has even been printed up -- what matters to other researchers and to employers are the skills and background the Ph.D. has acquired from the academic journey as these are what enable the individual with a Ph.D. to handle and investigate the studies in his or her doctoral field.
** In other words, the most intellectually (and professionally) successful Ph.D. is not someone who is questing to take possession of a doctorate but instead someone who is on a journey to become a doctor of philosophy.
[[/folder]]
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