Ambitions

How do you make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.

That’s probably my favourite joke of all time, and I remembered it today while looking through thousands of other people’s life ambitions on a goal-tracking website called 43Things.

That’s right. I am God. Sorry about your funny-shaped head.

43Things is a fascinating glimpse into the minds of humans (or at least the minds of the kind of humans who like to record and monitor their life ambitions).

I’m not really laughing at other people’s ambitions, but as someone who has thought a lot (perhaps too much) about ambition and who has learned to embrace absurdity somewhat, I did feel rather like the God of that joke and couldn’t help but be charmed by many of them.

Look at the all-time top-ten ambitions:

1. Lose weight (41565 people)
2. Write a book (30944 people)
3. Stop procrastinating (30322 people)
4. Fall in love (27197 people)
5. Be happy (24782 people)
6. Get a tattoo (22003 people)
7. Go on a road trip with no predetermined destination (21484 people)
8. Get married (21292 people)
9. Travel the world (21005 people)
10. Drink more water (20255 people)

They’re all perfectly admirable goals, but I’m left thinking “What’s stopping you?” for each of them. I’ve done eight of these ten by accident. If you want to get married, do it. It’s an afternoon.

I’ve identified three main problems with people’s goal-setting techniques:

– Poorly Defined Goals;
– Lack of Ambition;
– Unrealistic or Fantastical Goals;
– Conflicting Goals.

In the case of poorly defined goals, we see things like “Revise my Health Routines” (to what end? in what way?) and “Learn constellations” (How many? All of them? Which pantheon? Which hemisphere?). There’s also an annex to this problem in the form of poorly-phrased goals, which includes things like “installing a new doorbell” (it should be “install a new doorbell” – phrase it as a command and you might actually do it).

In terms of lack of ambition, I refer you again to “installing a new doorbell”. Not really a life goal is it? Or perhaps it is! Perhaps that person has already swum with dolphins or simply doesn’t want to.

But at least a new doorbell isn’t as ill-founded as those goals we can find in the “unrealistic or fantastical category”:

– fly
– be indistructible for a day
– go on a date with Ron Weasley
– be with Jesus
– be queen for the day
– learn to talk with the animals
– own a penguin
– meet a fairy
– wish on a star and have it come true
– learn telekinesis
– time travel
– become a mermaid
– become invisible
– control water
– meet the sandman

Good luck with those! A wonderful thing about this kind of ambition is that the people who have them usually also have quite normal interests alongside them, so “meet a fairy” sits alongside “learn to knit”.

Maybe the fantasists will achieve their ambitions in a weird sort of way. Perhaps the woman who wants to meet the sandman will meet a highly dedicated cosplay guy at a fan convention. To most intents and purposes she’ll have met the sandman. I wouldn’t want to stop these people from living charmed lives.

In the case of conflicting goals, I refer you to the poor fellow whose entries, “end it”, “give up”, and “be forgotten” are a cry for help that could be taken seriously if one of his entries was not also “learn Japanese”.

See also, the gentleman who wants to “be a famous rapper”, “be a famous model” and “walk on the surface of the moon” all seemingly in the same lifetime.

Something lacking on 43Things is a way of breaking these goals down into actionable tasks. If I want to own a penguin, I have to buy a net, travel to the Antarctic and, most importantly, develop my lunging skills.

Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.
Buy Issue 3 on PDF for £3 for a limited time only.

Work Less

Faced with systemic economic and environmental threats, we’ve been told we all have to work harder and find new technological fixes. Could it be that, instead, the best solution might be a simple, social innovation, an option we’ve had all along? If working less and better can reduce pressure on public services, create a healthier society and cut greenhouse gas emissions, is it time for national “gardening leave” for all?

Yes! A thousand times yes!

An excellent article in the Guardian by Andrew Simms.

One day, I hope, the proposal that we work fewer hours won’t seem so revolutionary. Why don’t we decrease our working hours with every passing year of human civil development? With today’s technology and such a massive workforce at our disposal, that part-time employment isn’t a worker’s normal circumstance is insane.

In the time they claimed back, the couple helped build gardens at their children’s nursery in Flitwick, Bedfordshire.

In her spare time, Cassidy has helped former prisoners with their rehabilitation, built a community garden for a housing association and been an activist

The commonest question to the part-time or unemployed person: what do you do all day? Well yesterday, for example, I sat around on my arse and read comic books, thinking “I might use my spare time to change the world one day. But not today”.

I do whatever I like. Because I can. And you can too.

Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.
Buy Issue 3 on PDF for £3 for a limited time only.

Escapological Vocab (Part 2)

From Bill Bryson’s smashing book The Mother Tongue, English and How it Got That Way, I learned the origins of the following Escapological terms:

– “Absurdity” was coined by Sir Thomas More;
– “International” was coined by Jeremy Bentham;
– “Decadent” and “Environment” were both products of Thomas Caryle;
– “Superman” was coined by George Bernard Shaw.

I also came across three words new to me:

– Buckshee (something that is free), which comes from India but was adopted by Cockneys;
– Slubberdegullion, a seventeenth-century term signifying a worthless or slovenly fellow;
Velleity, a mild desire, a wish or urge to slight to lead to action. How familiar a notion that is to idlers!

Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.
Buy Issue 3 on PDF for £3 for a limited time only.

Embracing Idleness

Idleness is the backdrop, the warm embrace to which everyone sinks back in the end.

Five days left to listen to Oliver Burkeman’s BBC Radio documentary about the joys of idleness. A particular joy is listening to a young boy talk about his “ideal island”. Nice appearances from Tom Hodgkinson and Bagpuss too.

(Thanks to Richard S. for putting me onto this.)

Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.
Buy Issue 3 on PDF for £3 for a limited time only.

Party in the Past

wonderful

Here’s a thought. It’s a thought I had about seven years ago while paying £500 a month to live in a drafty townhouse loft that would once have housed a maid or a nanny.

It’s a thought I had last year when reading that a stony-broke Patti Smith was able to buy a modest breakfast with a quarter dollar she found in Central Park.

It’s a thought I had at Christmas while watching It’s a Wonderful Life, in which George Bailey sells brand new houses for $5,000 in the same year that the average salary was $3,150 (so you could completely pay for a family home in two or three years).

It’s a thought I frequently have when flicking through Emily Post etiquette books, books that give the impression of a roaring 1940s social society in which people had parties often and watched television never.

It’s a thought I had just the other day when looking at the sunken staff entrances to Montreal town houses which have now been divided economically into expensive little apartments and offices. Hardly anyone can afford a house like that now, let alone staff it.

The thought: did the people of the technologically unsophisticated, gap-toothed, commodity-impoverished, disease-ridden past actually have a better quality of life than we do today?

Is that possible? Can that possibly be possible?

They never Tweeted anything to the effect so I guess we’ll never know.

Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.
Buy Issue 3 on PDF for £3 for a limited time only.

Managers: an explanation

officespace

One of the major objections of going to work (though probably not as major as the early rises, the commutes, and the general act of submission) is that you have to face managers.

These sentinels — remunerated snitches of the workplace — are constantly looking over your shoulder, insulting your humanity, and questioning your progress while simultaneously impeding it.

Today I read an intriguing theory (or at least an explanation) for the existence of their caste:

It begins – steel yourself – with a quick lesson from the economist Ronald Coase. In a free-marketeer’s perfect world, Coase said, companies would not exist: we’d all be free agents, joining up and splitting apart on a daily basis, as each new task required. But it’s hard to build (say) cars that way. Searching for the best-priced parts and qualified workers every day costs money and takes time. Companies bring it in house. This has its own inefficiencies: firms won’t always get the best prices, they’ll inevitably end up with some slackers – and, above all, they’ll need to hire managers to co-ordinate their activities, via meetings, paperwork and the rest. But to the owner, that trade-off’s worth it, because the alternative’s worse. What employees see as “pointless bureaucracy” is a company acting rationally to survive. There are bad managers, of course – but at least some of the bureaucratic crap, from this perspective, is intrinsic. Remove it and the organisation collapses.

Basically, civilised society needs an economy, an efficient economy needs organisations, and organisations need managers. The aforementioned downsides of this system are an unpleasant side-effect that we’re forced to go along with if we’re to enjoy the benefits of civilisation.

Personally, I don’t see that the end justifies the means. A bored majority slaving beneath these white-collar tattletales negates the benefits of having a civilisation in the first place. We might as well just all live in the woods.

But the theory offered at least allows us to understand why we have managers and, as Burkeman says, we can now enjoy a “better-informed cynicism”.

Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.
Buy Issue 3 on PDF for £3 for a limited time only.

Latest issues and offers

1-7

Issues One to Seven

A bundle of our first seven issues. Featuring minimalism, Houdini, Leo Babauta, Bohemianism, Alain de Botton, Sartre, and Tom Hodgkinson. 567 pages. £35.

8-11

Issues Eight to Thirteen

A bundle of our last six issues. Featuring Luke Rhinehart, Flaubert, Mr Money Mustache, part-time work, Will Self, home life, Richard Herring, and E. F. Schumacher. 593 pages. £30.

Issue Thirteen

Our final edition. Featuring an interview with celebrity mortician Caitlin Doughty; Matt Caulfield on zen fool Ryokan; and Reggie C. King on David Bowie and Sun Ra. 122 pages. £7.

Escape Everything!

A hardbacked guide to scarpering. Essential reading for wage slaves and slugabeds alike. Published by Unbound. 230 pages. £12.