Danielle is Romanian. She moved from Bucharest to the USA to marry George, a Russian émigré to the USA. I was chatting to her last week about her goals in life, a task set by her school in Boston, where she is now studying. She is twenty-six and, sadly, so early in her life, questioning what she has achieved. She has taken a law degree in Bucharest; moved to America and married. What more could she have hoped for or expected by twenty-six?
But the American culture which she is now embracing is driving her to become even more goal focused. It is asking her to set targets and strive to achieve. They imply that setting and achieving personal goals is the key to a successful life.
When she was younger in Bucharest and in her teenage years I am sure she never had the goal of leaving her family and friends to move to America. She has told me as much. Her objective was, like many of us, to be in love and be happy. Had her fiancée been French then she would now have been in France, had he been English she would have been struggling to absorb British culture and humour.
While I prefer to think of a fulfilling life and not a successful life I will, for the moment, bow to the American perspective. To be successful in life requires a real understanding of what is important in your life and this is different for everyone. However, whatever the culture, there is a common core. As the proverb says I want to be healthy, wealthy and wise. But that is far too general and even at this simplistic level needs consideration.
Healthy and wise, of course, but we all need to consider if to be wealthy is really a goal we all want to aim for.
A girl friend of mine has two men in her life. She likes them both. One offers her a life of much money and the other enriches her heart with a deep love. Both have asked her to marry them. She was torn between them. She accepted the offer of the man who she loved more deeply. I talked with her and she said that in the end it was love that was more important but that love was of no use because without security loves would fail. She had security, she had love but she didn’t have monetary wealth. Wealth and security without love was meaningless. For her it was perfect. Who else would trade a life of love for wealth?
Healthy, wealthy and wise are simple objectives; in fact they are more of hopes. But are they consistent with the culture of goal setting?
Of course it is in the tradition of many modern philosophies, and in that I include capitalism to assume that the purpose of life is only really achieved by setting and achieving targets and goals and success is like climbing the steps of a ladder. Achieve one task then achieve another, meet a goal reach the top step and move on to the next target. The theory is that it is this attitude that creates the competitive spirit that fuels innovation and economic development; and that leads to a successful life.
The converse of this however is the pain that arises when the goals are not achieved. If we fail to achieve our goals then the biblical prophecy of Mathew comes true and “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We see this is in the increase use of analysts and therapists. We are unable to cope with failure because, I suspect, we were not meant to be so focused on short-term targets.
Sitting alongside the day-to-day effort for success is the horrible phrase work life balance. Our over emphasis on goals has driven people to forget the fundamentals of their family and happiness. I do not understand the work life balance as for me work is part of my life and it is important to see work as part of my whole being. I do not live to work but I work to live the fullest and most satisfying life I can.
Whether we talk of goals or hopes and aspirations failing to achieve is not necessary failure. While laziness is often a serious problem I like to think that other interests have taken over. Each day we discover new opportunities as the world around us changes. We need to stay flexible and open-minded to what we face. We need to be malleable and open to new opportunities. Normally we have only one chance to say yes and these need to be taken. It is necessary to think yes first and then no.
And so as I think about my life what I think about most is always putting myself in a position to live a life which four main objectives. When I finally reach the time in my life when I reflect on what it has been (I don’t like to think I am there yet) I want to be able to say:
- To the very end I have been healthy;
- I have felt secure;
- I have been loved and I loved with passion; and
- I have listened, learnt, understood and become wise.
And if I manage to achieve all these then I might just be able to say I have been happy, smiled, laughed and lived a life full of joy and purpose and for you reader, if you can use his words to guide your decisions, retain flexibility and remember your real long-term objective is to be happy and loved, I hope like Danielle you will have a long and fruitful life.
Tread each step of the ladder surely with the excitement of not knowing what the view will be when you reach the top. Life is all about small steps turning into large strides.
A very merry Christmas to everyone and may all your hopes for 2013 come to pass.