Saturday, October 21, 2006


I was reading a blog post the other day by Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic. He advocates using what pop-psychologists and self-help gurus call affirmations. He writes down his goals 15 times a day and says it has an almost a magical effect.

I don't believe "affirmations" are anything new. They were probably invented around the same time as stone tools. People used to call it prayer. Repeating something often enough, in a positive way, obviously has an affect. It keeps the goals in the forefront of our mind and alert to opportunities. Adams certainly has a long track record of achieving his.

But Adams's post brought up a troubling thought: I don't have any idea what I would write down as goals. I have wishes -- I want every member of the family to be happy, for example -- but those are mostly out of my hands, more the domain of prayer than affirmations.

So what would I write down, assuming (and this is a big if) I'd have the patience and the self discipline to do it several times a day? On this side of 40, the question has become more difficult. I wanted to be a journalist and I succeeded. I could always be better, of course, but I've definitely achieved that one. Marriage, family, buy a home? Check. Travel and live abroad? Doing that. Most people at this stage just carry on as before. I'd rather have a more definite destination in mind for the second half of my life. It shouldn't just be a 40-year winding down.

Financially, I don't necessarily want to be rich, but I do want the flexibility to trade money for time. I want to be able to work less and spend more of my time with the family, to pursue my interests, to get involved in causes I'm passionate about. At the moment, I spend the great majority of my waking hours on making money, all of which goes right out the door again to house, feed, clothe and entertain a family of seven in one of the most expensive cities in the world. The rest of the time is spent taking care of -- fixing, filling, emptying, watching, listening to or cleaning -- all of that accumulated "stuff" that seems to gather around us like dust bunnies. Life is upside down. The important is crowded out by the mundane.

Of course, it's not really a finance issue. If I were richer, the ratio of my time spent on "taking care of stuff" and on food and shelter would just shift a bit. It's really about priorities -- setting them and sticking to them -- and then I'm back to the problem of goals.

I started out writing this thinking I'll just list some, but I'm realizing now that it isn't that easy. I'm already making choices -- every time I buy more stuff or stay late at the office -- but with no definite plan. I'm just going with the flow, unsure of where it's taking me.

Answering that question is tougher than I thought -- a worthy goal.