Thursday, February 14, 2013

MOVING GOAL POSTS / The Myth of Sisyphus

I have fretted in other posts here that I was never going to be a rock star. I was a little surprised when few understood that remark. Friends know I have no musical talent or taste, can’t sing, and am an old bald guy. It seems obvious to any same person that I will never be a rock star. But I am just using the words “rock star” as a surrogate phrase to stand in for any number of enterprises and passions in which I could have given my all and been capable of making something out of my, now, very short life. Regret is a bitter pill to swallow and I imagine it is not pretty to watch me swallow it in public in this blog. I will not bore you or seem to brag by listing my list of notable un-accomplishments.

At the same time, in the fields in which I have chosen to make some effort, the goal posts for scoring a “success” have kept moving away leaving me at something of a loss. I will admit to lusting after fame, fortune and adulation for most of my life—all extrinsic measures of success to be sure, but still, how most North Americans measure their own careers and the careers of others. Money, and not just money but the legitimacy it confers on even the sleaziest of criminals (bankers and politicians come to mind) has ever evaded me.

When I had the most name-recognized studio in London [Ontario] for some several years running, I also wanted a storefront on the “high street” to go with it. I got that and wanted the billings to support it and my staff and lifestyle. Well the billings did support the operation, but my net income before, after and during taxes would always hover around minimum wage.

Actual athletic goals? No learning there for me either, until very late in life (last month)…

I have been distance running for 40 years, some of those years competitively at marathon. I bought into all the self-help (athletic self-help) book nonsense published at the beginning of the running craze in North America, much of which sounded like all the financial and personal growth self-help being published now. “There are no limits except those you impose upon yourself, “ they all said. Fooled me. Fooled Mr. Jim at the top 1% of intelligence brain guy types… A recipe for setting up ever moving goal posts… And the athletic goal posts did move from just finishing a race to getting into the top whatever percent in my category to finally training so hard, the injuries just piled up, and I spent more time rehabbing than training. Somehow, the inspirational self-help running books forgot to mention genetically inherited athletic ability as perhaps the primary factor in success, or I just didn’t read those parts. I chose the wrong ancestors to be a great or even a good athlete. Dang!  

When I began my writing career at the age of 60, my initial goal was to write a book. I did that, in fact I wrote about 6 of them. But soon it was not satisfying enough for me to write them, I wanted to sell them. The goalposts moving again… Away from me…

So I learned how to sell books, but never learned how to sell enough to make a real difference in my income. Damned goalposts… The pattern of self-defeat repeated over and over…

I imagine a better person would have learned sometime by the 7th decade of life that extrinsic measures of success would always be unsatisfying—that the goalposts would always move just out of reach.

Well, finally, illness has taught me with great brutality what I would not allow life to teach me in a more measured and gentle fashion. I know what my “real” goals are and how to measure success in reaching them. My goals are smaller and most are now very simple and some just on the level of achieving a state of animal comfort—sleeping, breathing, eating, shitting and freedom from pain. I am in my “animal comfort” zone now as I write this and can say I am proud to have achieved that goal through carefully controlling my activities and intakes to achieve a balance with the disease. We are in a cease-fire mode for now, and that is a victory. My athletic challenges on some days are trying to make it up the stairs without stopping (and only a month ago I was training for a road race in Florida). I am not moaning, I am bragging about climbing the stairs. It is a realistic goal these days, and I am proud to be able to do it. Fuck the road race.

And trying to be kind and tolerant of everyone around me no matter how badly the beast is attacking my insides… When I achieve that small goal, I feel better for not adding to my confrere’s misery because of mine. Adding to the good side of the world ledger of kindness, no matter how small the contribution, is intrinsically valuable. This is not rocket science. Thinking in terms of what I can do for other people and not how I can use them in some way to further my purposes is quite a revelation—a revelation I did not ask for or see any need for. The lessons I have learned about having righteous goals have come at a tremendous personal cost. I would much rather still be the charming superficial fool I have always been.