People’s obsession with goals, mission statements, work objectives. I never got it.
Me, I followed the path of least resistance. I went to the first college that took me and accepted the first job offer. At the office, I did my work competently, didn’t push for more responsibility, and accepted the small pay increases as adequate for my limited needs. And then…
The ticket that fell out of the birthday card my workmates gave me was not your run-of-the-mill weekly Lotto win for a few hundred bucks. This one got your picture in the paper if you won. And I did. The winnings were just short of LeBron kind of money and with most of my life still to come, I had no idea what I was supposed to do next.
My decision to try something new was by no means the result of the desire to push myself to greater heights. Rather, I wanted to avoid the daily questions about why I was continuing my rudderless path given my almost-limitless financial resources. So, I gave notice and began to consider what I could do to transform my life.
What was I good at? Could I develop a desire to excel? A passion for something new?
I had tried to play drums as a teenager. Frustrated after realizing I had little sense of rhythm, I gave up the instrument and was too disappointed to attempt another. But that was then and this was now. So, I paid for the best guitar lessons money could buy. When my instructor confirmed that my musical ear had not improved much over time, and persistence not being a strong suit, I quit and considered my next challenge.
Having played a bit of recreational tennis in the past, I decided to try again and joined a league. Unlike my musical forays, I was moderately competent at the game. My takeaway after a number of matches: moderate competence does not necessarily lead to passionate enthusiasm. Strike 2.
Tennis, though not earning my dedication, did at least lead me to consider the benefits of physical activity. If I had all this money, I should at least try to live long enough to spend it. I commenced a running program.
To begin, one need only get off the couch, buy shoes, go outside, and get at it. Many people are fortunate enough to not only increase their overall health, but can practice mindfulness while running, and if they continue for long distances, can even achieve a type of euphoria. I quickly discovered that I am not one of those people. I was simply not motivated, as the books recommend, to push through the pain.
I felt that I should have been more disappointed with my lack of progress. Mentioning this to my former colleagues and friends met with little sympathy, given that my “problem” was one that any of them would love to have. My next pursuit should be better companions. My method: online dating.
Being a lottery winner certainly improved my online desirability score. This led to quite a few dates, and although I hadn’t yet found anyone with whom I felt a close bond, I enjoyed the company. I was in a fine mood and ready for my next meet-up, which was conveniently located nearby. My date expressed a fondness for home-cooking in her profile, so I baked a lasagna for us to try (cooking was a new venture), and made my way to her apartment on this calm summer evening. As I rounded a corner, I saw Helen and Ed coming my way. I rolled my eyes, anticipating an unpleasant encounter.
Helen and Ed had lived in my neighborhood for years. Helen was always happy to see me, always a big hello. Ed, not so much. Always temperamental, and over the years he’d become grumpier. The times that we would pass each other on the street, my greeting often went unheeded, or worse, I was the recipient of something of a sneer. I was determined to not let Ed spoil my evening and as I turned my head away, I neglected to notice a rut in the sidewalk. I tripped and my lasagna pan tilted just enough for red sauce to seep under the plastic wrap and onto the lap of my khakis. I was awfully close to Helen and Ed now, when I heard Helen scream, “Ed, no!!!” The mutt was charging fast, and was on me in seconds. That little dog has extremely sharp teeth, I thought, as I fell to the ground screaming. While Ed was enjoying my perfectly seasoned pants, the ambulance arrived.
As I lay in my bed recuperating from the Ed-initiated surgery (Helen felt terrible), I took time to ponder my plunge into my new non-work lifestyle. Helen visited me quite often, and I shared with her my challenges and plans. Should I devote some time to volunteering? Giving back. Work with rescue dogs, perhaps. Or more likely just accept that not every generic platitude on striving for more applies to all. Not only can’t everyone plan and practice for a free-solo climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan’s 3,000-foot vertical rock face… not everyone wants to. There’s a place in the world for those of us who choose to plod forward, uninspired but content. And then it hit me. I had been wrong. Goals, missions, objectives… they were achievable, and mine would now be within reach.
I was excited with the plan, and painfully sat up in bed to reach for paper and make notes. I will self-publish on the subject, create blogs, distribute newsletters and present Ted Talks. I will become the guru of the goal-less. Leader of the lackluster, perhaps? I shall be the primary influencer in the space of the unremarkable and humdrum. I have found my purpose, and will help those like me find theirs. And if they do not, under my guidance and with my encouragement, they will not particularly care.
Stewart Gisser is a recently retired corporate in-house attorney living in New Jersey. Having had a short story published a number of years ago, and a few personal essays published recently, he hopes to spend much of his new-found freedom writing fiction.