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.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

One Response to “Ambitions”

  1. Mark Wentworth says:

    I’ve done all ten, although the tattoo was by injury rather than for decoration.

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