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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Get Rich Slowly, Michael Phelps, Christopher Marlowe

A strange line-up: a fabulously successful blog (25,000 daily readers, over 75,000 subscribers), an Olympic medal winner in trouble over a bong, and a 16th century playwright, who was killed at age 29 after getting stabbed in the eye in a tavern brawl. What do these unlikely colleagues have in common? Each reveals something about goal setting.

Get Rich Slowly was, by the account of its blogger, J.D. Roth, an accidental success. He began the blog a few years ago to chart his progress out of credit card debt, fueled by careless spending and an addiction to comic book compilations. En route to his goal, he attracted scads of devotees, got out of debt, and was able to quit his job in a family-owned box factory to pursue his dream of full-time writing.

I’ve been busy and so haven’t kept up with his blog. I enjoyed the energy of it as he worked to achieve his goal. By chance, I read his blog yesterday. He lamented that though he was out of debt, had made a lot of money in 2008, and was a full-time writer, he wasn’t happy.

Roth reached his goal.

Then, I read a bit on Michael Phelps, whose success and recent troubles are too well-known to need repeating. But even before the tell-all photo and suspension and loss of endorsement, I was struck by how aimless Phelps looked in photos.

Phelps reached his goal.

And here is Doctor Faustus, of the play by Christopher Marlowe. He is in his study (an enclosed space, very important, given the themes of frustration and desire in the play) and surveys his accomplishments. First, he thinks about philosophy and then medicine:

Is, to dispute well, logic's chiefest end?
Affords this art no greater miracle?
Then read no more, thou hast attained the end;

The end of physic is our body's health.
Why Faustus, hast thou not attained that end?
Is not thy common talk found aphorisms?

He then goes on to survey law and divinity and realizes that he has reached the limits of those pursuits.

Faustus reached his goal, or “end.”

And so…he sells his soul to the devil, with very bad results. The repeated word here is “end.” Once you reach your goal…well, all the energy disappears. You need a new goal. I remember my teacher said of Doctor Faustus that, like many plays of the 1580s, its underlying message was “I can’t get no satisfaction.” That got a big laugh in the 1970s, but only gets a little laugh now.

By this definition, I suppose I should be pleased with the decimation of my retirement accounts, since I now have to work harder to achieve my goal. (Just kidding folks!). Children provide a goal. My children have not reached the age of independence yet. When they do, it will be time for more goal-setting on my part and it is an anxiety-provoking prospect.

To chart Roth’s progress with his goals old and new, check out his blog, if you’re not already among his many readers:

For Phelps, well, I think we should leave him alone for a while.

For Doctor Faustus, drag out that old Norton Anthology of English Literature or read on-line here:

And so, dear readers, did reaching a goal cause both happiness and panic? What’s your goal now? Do you have a next goal lined up? Do share.


lei said...

Great post! A very good reminder of a lesson learned long ago. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Goal: to pay off the mortgage within two years, thus shaving a decade off indebtedness--so that I can even THINK about retirement.

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

Fantastic blog and I am more than thrilled to find someone on the coast. I was born and raised on the Gulf Of Mexico......God's country. Lived on Dauphin Island for almost 38 years.
Enjoyed the peek into your world. If you have a spare minute, please take a peek into mine.
(See you in the gumbo right?).

Steady On,
Reggie Girl

Frugal Scholar said...

@lei--I need to remind myself periodically! Thanks for the comment.

@Terri--We paid off our mortgage a few years ago, during the refinancing boom. People thought we were crazy. Truly, it is one guaranteed return in these times.

@Midlife--Thanks for the kind words. I will be stopping by...Hope you return!

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

I love making goals for myself. Adjusting them is almost as fun. I can't imagine the point if I didn't have something to work towards.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Cubicle--From what I've read, you are a model goal setter. I've been enjoying following your decluttering adventure.

Chance said...

Amazing post and so literate. I am swamped with goals right now, but I remember well my "post-partum" depression when I got my doctorate, after focusing on my diss so intensely, a sort of now-what? moment. Without the discipline of a new goal, I was lost. New goals and challenges were my salvation.

Duchesse said...

Great post. A few comments:
1. The assumption that we "should" have "goals" is a certain approach, very Western. I'm not saying it's wrong. My own preference is for investigations; areas I want to explore (health, joy, community, finding where to do my best work), but not with a specific outcome. More focus on values than metrics. Believe me I'm not criticizing someone like Chance, I too have short term goals like paying off a loan. You do not have to be goal-oriented to achieve.

2. Phelps: The world of elite athletic performance is a rarified, unusual. (I've been close to it.) Seductive, distorting, all-consuming and one is used by many people. It often creates barriers to maturation, judgment and caring about others.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I realize that I don't have the kind of goals I used to have; I like what I'm doing at work and at home. But I did want to explore some other things--hence this blog.

My son, a little younger than Phelps, said he didn't mind the bong as much as he minded the frunk driving of a few years ago. He may have a point.