‘Buy the ticket, take the ride.’


Of all the loaded words in the dictionary, here’s a candidate for the biggest artillery: “goals.” Everybody says we should have them but nobody seems to agree on how to land them, since if they did agree, everybody would have landed them already and we could stop talking about it.

Fortunately, in the great schoolhouse of life, I always sat in the back of the class, staring out the window and daydreaming about my favorite subject (lunch), so I’ve usually been left out of any discussions on this matter.

“Usually” doesn’t mean always though. Sometimes there’s no escaping this goal thing. When I get the chance I’ll often walk through a big city bookstore just to get a feeling for the hot topics. Here’s one that never, ever goes away: The secret-to-success genre. Which is to say: goals. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. At least it shows that the notion of ambition is still a going concern.

I might be a heretic on the goal thing, because one of my goals is to have as few of them as possible. Me, I’ve entertained a smattering of them, but outside of that, well, I’m content to put my toes in the sand and watch the world go by.

As for the big goals, notably the professional ones, they often require decades of striving. That’s all well and good, but, from what I’ve seen, those who endure the competitive imperatives of such realms aren’t usually inclined to talk shop in general company.

Besides, it’s tricky turf. Goals are sneaky things, and the bigger, the sneakier. If a person has the goal, the goal might also have the person. Furthermore, one very unpopular (but true) notion is that randomness plays a large role in everything, so we only have limited steering authority over our paths. And here’s another furthermore: I’ve known surgeons, airline pilots, and attorneys who, while in the notionally prime years of their careers, have decided to change course and do something else.

Overall, as Hunter Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” There’s no guarantee here, and no refunds.

On the other side of the ledger, I enjoy indulging situations in which I have no goals at all. This side of the ledger doesn’t soak up any conceptual capital and it never depreciates.

So I am a fan of road trips that have no schedule, pick-up football games that don’t care about the score, and camp outs that have “nothing” as the highlighted activity.

When I dropped an engine by a machine shop to rebuild, this for a personal project and not a work thing, the date I specified for completion was “whenever.” I’ll never get into the amateur mechanic hall of fame with that attitude, but I’m not gunning for it anyway.

Along the same lines, many people go fishing not really for the fish, but for the excuse to sit around and relax. That’s a long tradition right there.

Long, maybe, but not universal. If you were admit to anyone that your goal for the week is to not have a goal, you might get some strange looks. But the other side of that equation can be even worse, and here we come to a little story.

I had a pal who was a hotshot real estate agent. He was riding an even hotter market. Eventually, however, the market cooled, and he found himself on an ever-hungrier prowl for new clients.

Although he usually didn’t “talk shop” in normal, non-working situations, he found himself trying to ingratiate himself with people in hopes of building up his client book. People, of course, eventually noticed this. They couldn’t be sure if he was being friendly to be friendly, or if he was being friendly to further his professional goals. As for the agent, he told me that he, himself, was sort of losing the distinction in his own mind, too. He was a solid guy, and very popular, and somebody found him a job in a different industry, where he has become quite a big success.

Of those dark real estate days, he told me, in retrospect, that it was stressful to interact with complete strangers or casual acquaintances while secretly hoping for something from them. His professional goal had become a hidden agenda.

And this is probably a good place to leave the matter. As long as we can keep our goals in perspective, maybe we can wind up better off. As for me, my only goal for the day is to convert the hamburger of my daydreams into reality, and I am happy to report imminent success. Buy the burger, take the fries.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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