The tail wagging the dog

I keep recalling conversations I had with some Professional Speakers Association members about goal setting. They were talking about the importance of having goals with a fundamentalist zeal; it was a given, irrefutable. This immediately made me feel uncomfortable. Where there is such conviction there is usually a closed mind.

Also I didn’t appear to have any goals. I tended to follow my nose; if something interested me I went in that direction. If something even more interesting came along then I would change tack and start to follow that instead. Having a goal suggested you knew where you wanted to be and that you could take a direct route to that place thereby bypassing or missing some interesting places which you might not have considered visiting but would have been of great interest to you. I was also suspicious of the overriding materialistic values inherent in most of the goals set by the majority of the visiting speakers.

So I asked my fellow members why is it important to have goals. They looked at me as if I was a mad man and actually asked “are you being serious?” “Yes,” I said, “give me your reasoning.” Unfortunately, time constraints prevented them form giving me their rationale.

From my standpoint though, the problem with goals is that they demand measure – otherwise how can you tell when you have achieved your goals? And that scale of measure has to based on something that is easily quantifiable.

So what is readily available, that is infinitely quantifiable and perceived by many to be the best measure of success? Money of course. Ultimately the goals set are a disguise for improving your chances of acquiring material wealth. Quite often this disguise is dispensed with entirely and the goals are brazenly materialistic.

But this is the tail wagging the dog. Goals were originally conceived as a vehicle for self development. Abstract achievements however proved difficult to quantify and so, over time, many people subtly changed their goals to accommodate the use of a yardstick – money. Somehow the introduction of an irrelevant financial measure has completely overturned the concept and the measure has become the goal.

What do we want from life? The real answer is to be happy and fulfilled but happiness is a complicated phenomenon. We don’t like complicated phenomena, we like things simple in this day and age so it is such an easy assumption to conclude that it is money that is the measure of happiness. Money equals happiness.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Money increases your options. That’s it. Nothing else. Any sort of emotional or egotistical benefits derived from the ownership of wealth is what that person has attributed to it and as such, are fickle and illusory. Take the money away and what are you left with?

Money was a means to an end but today we have become so hopelessly confused we see money as the end. If you question the assumption hard enough you eventually get to the truth; why do you want money? To buy things. Why do you want these things? To enjoy them, to make my life fuller. How will they make it fuller? They will make me happy and I will have more free time. Why do you need free time? To do what I want to do, things that I enjoy. Such as? Spending more time with my friends…

Eventually we have the answer, we hope that having lots of money will make us happier because it increases our options. And so we spend a lot of time in trying to make that money, time that in reality we could be spending doing something that we were interested in. If you are already doing something that you are interested in and it is making money for you as well, then the dog is at least wagging the tail. Money is a by-product of the process.

I remember reading about a famous astronomer. Such was his interest in his chosen profession that on many occasions he didn’t bother to cash his pay cheque. He had enough to enable him to do the thing he loved the most so what was the point of having any more?
With the global problems of climate change, overpopulation and resource destruction now more than ever do we need to address our fundamental beliefs about how society should be run and to look closely at our attitudes towards success and happiness.

2 Responses to “The tail wagging the dog”

  1. Peter says:

    Hello Ivor,

    very insightful article. Part of the problem is that the ‘goal’ industry is dominated by Americans. Americans always need the biggest, fastest, greatest, even if it is just the biggest hole in the ground. It can’t be just a hole. It needs to be the biggest. That frame of mind has penetrated success literature and goals are one of the shortcuts to materialistic achievment. Underlying that i.m.o. is a fundamental numbness and actually active avoidance of establishing any true connection to your fellow man, reflected in a proverbial emphasis on superficial politeness.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have met MANY Americans who are not this way. But even people I know for a fact ARE not this way, most of the time ACT this way in public. That’s where the ‘goal’ industry comes in. You are supposed to say the right things, to demonstrate you are part of the peer group you’d like to be part of. It creates the delusion of omnipotence, by saying things like “think yourself rich, slim and successful”. Ah, ok, that was simple. People want simple. Most people know it is not that simple. But it is nice to give in to the illusion, just for a minute. Oh, and walking over fire DOES NOT increase your income. ;-)

    Thanks for great stuff on your website. Very refreshing.

  2. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Hello Peter

    Thanks for dropping by and contributing to the debate. It’s hard not to feel isolated when your ideas are at odds with the dominant dogma of the time. To get a word of support from someone who is prepared to enter a dialectic, is massively appreciated – there is intelligent life out there! Thank you.

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