“I definitely have huge benefits to how well I’m doing, but you do find yourself missing the climb. It’s a little like Mount Everest. When you summit, you spend about 20 minutes up there, and you do a little dance, but if the 20-minute dance was really it, would you really risk your life for the amount of work it takes to get up and down?” – Louis C.K.
The other day I heard a podcast guy say that his Life Goal was to own the Cleveland Indians.
People say this kind of crap all the time, especially young business guys with stubbly beards, but this time I was struck by what a bullshit goal it was, and how, if the poor bastard actually succeeded in achieving it, he might well have wasted his life. Because it’s certainly a very unlikely thing to own the Cleveland Indians, and it would be almost impossible to achieve without investing all of your time and effort – maybe even one hundred and ten percent – assuming you weren’t born alarmingly rich.
Oddly, the young man himself illustrated the main reason his Life Goal is such Bullshit. He was talking about “thinking big” and how to be rich you had to think like rich people, which is probably true if not particularly illuminating. As an example he told how a friend of his, test-driving a BMW he was too poor to own, had to pull over after a few minutes, apparently overcome by the feeling that he was “not the sort of person who owned a new BMW.” However, it seems the friend went on to learn the attitudes and practices of the kind of person who owns a new BMW because, having since accumulated bagloads of cash, he now owns more than one.
So owning a BMW is no big deal to him any more.
Do you see?
The dude got his BMW, he even got another one, and now he needs something else in order to feel like he’s moving forward.
Getting his BMW was a Bullshit Goal.
Now of course the podcast guy doesn’t see it this way. The podcast guy thinks becoming the sort of person who owns a new BMW is just a step on the path to becoming the sort of person who owns the Cleveland Indians. Except, of course, there are many more people who own BMWs than there are people who own the Cleveland Indians. So somewhere along the Bullshit Railroad some BMW-owners fall off the caboose or get left on a siding somewhere or end up in Indianapolis instead of New York, goalwise, probably because they just DIDN’T THINK BIG ENOUGH.
But, whatever, I didn’t come here to make fun of the kid (well, maybe just a little bit) and I don’t want to mock the idea of thinking big AT ALL.
Bullshit Goals aren’t bullshit because they’re big, they’re bullshit because they’re bullshit.
You all are gonna hate this…one, because so many of you like cars.
Plus there’s a whole thing now about setting Big Goals and Going For It and Being All You Can Be and shit like that. Reach for the top or whatever, as if any pursuit was worthwhile if it kept you busy enough for long enough. And everybody loves the idea of getting rich because getting rich is the ultimate signifier that you’re okay, that you did good, that you deserve to be alive.
But don’t go getting all self-righteous about poverty. Accomplishing anything requires resources: accomplishing Big Things requires A Lot of Resources. Poverty is powerless, and breeds resentment. The history of resentful poverty is not an encouraging one, and when the poor rise in a “successful” revolution (usually directed by an elite drawn from the well-to-do) the results are almost uniformly disastrous.
It’s because wealth and poverty are not the point: they’re distractions.
Rich and poor alike are misguided, dazzled and inflamed by the spectacle of their Bullshit Goals.
People talk a lot about being happy. I talk a lot about being happy. The venerable Buddhist practice of Loving Kindness turns around the wish, “May all beings be happy.” The Ramones wanna get shock treatment to be “Happy happy happy all the time.”
And, seriously, what the fuck else are you going to do with your life?
The thing is, people use the word “happiness” to mean quite different, even contradictory states (the same goes for “love,” and the resemblance is not coincidental.) People mistake the kind of deep, abiding contentment that comes from living a wise life with the shallow, temporary “happiness” that comes from getting something nice, from things going your way.
But here’s the thing: almost unbelievably, since people have been kicking this idea around for fucking ever, and every major religious tradition warns against it, and there’s Citizen Kane, and Mad Men, and The Great Gatsby and, well, there’s everything, people are still seduced by the glittering delusion that material wealth and selfish gain will make them “happy”.
And it never, never does.
It never does.
I’m not suggesting sell all your shit and move to the slums of Mumbai.
I’m not doing that! And it’d probably be a Bullshit Goal, because what the fuck am I going to do over there? There are a billion Indians and most of them are probably smarter than I am and I’m sure a bunch of them are at this moment in the slums of Mumbai trying to help people out.
But if your goal is all about you and your success, if it’s about self-aggrandizement and material wealth, if it’s about being “happy” in the small sense of being in a good mood as often as possible, then it’s a Bullshit Goal, and a waste of your precious time. And your time is precious, because there’s no one else like you, and we’re depending on you to be there with us, all the way.
We need you with us, all the way to the end.
A Representative Selection of Bullshit Goals
- OWNING THE CLEVELAND INDIANS Unless your intention is to immediately change the name, apologize to everyone concerned and then dissolve the whole enterprise as a pernicious waste of resources.
- BUYING OR OWNING ANYTHING You need some clothes and a place to live. Nice stuff is nice. But none of it will make you happy for long. Everybody knows that, dummy.
- BEING A ROCK STAR I used to have this goal. It combines the empty status of great wealth with the needy narcissism of celebrity and throws in some drug abuse and sexual self-indulgence to boot. It’s a Bullshit Goal Grand Slam!
- ABSOLUTE PURITY/PERFECTION “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” And we could use a lot more good before we start dicking around with perfect.
- ACHIEVING ENLIGHTENMENT Enlightenment is a process, not a permanent condition. Then again, so is everything else.
- IMMORTALITY “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
Of course this is just a dusting off the top of the Bullshit Pile, and I picked some of them just because a funny catchphrase instantly popped into my head. But, regardless: THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS!
Bullshit Goals eat up resources that could be devoted to Useful Goals. They contribute to a general decay in culture and threaten the continued existence of the human race. Eventually we’re going to have to get our shit together to get OFF this planet, and that means not wasting time on a bunch of Bullshit Goals.
Note: the title of this post was inspired by On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, which I haven’t actually read but which comes very highly recommended and has a great title.
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