You thought your parents, teachers, and friends wanted what’s best for you. From your earliest days, they told you “You can do anything you want. You can be anyone you want!” Though our cheerleaders may wish us well, in practice their statements have the worst of effects on us. Even when every hand would lift us up, still we are weighed down by others’ expectations when we make them our own. Better that we were nurtured by wolves than have our expectations raised to such heights.
The YouTuber who becomes a millionaire in their teens. The rapper who becomes a star in their twenties, flashing brilliance along with their golden chains and diamond watches. For every astronaut, celebrity baker, senator, or hedge fund billionaire, there are countless watchers who set their goals accordingly: I will be rich, I will be powerful, I will be famous. When you set any of these as your goal, you set yourself on a path of guaranteed hardship and likely disappointment. It is a lucky few who learn at the end what they should have asked themselves at the beginning: How can I be happy?
There are two problems with goals, Deuteros: the first is that in themselves goals do not contain the blueprint for success only the seeds of suffering. They are a marker for what you say you want, but they give no clue as to the roads you must choose and how steep will be the tolls you pay to travel towards your destination. The second problem is that goals guarantee dissatisfaction unless and until they have been reached, by which time the damage wrought in their seeking often outweighs the benefit you hoped for. How many unhappy professionals do we know who, upon reaching the pinnacle of supposed success, are plagued by doubts about whether the sacrifices were worth the prize? How many celebrities who decry the relentless intrusion of the very attention they so desperately sought to attract?
Conspicuous consumption is noticeably absent from the habits of the wise person with a well-ordered mind. If by wanting things you find yourself wanting for peace and satisfaction, leave off the setting of such goals and set yourself to understanding the value of things. You can never achieve that which you do not understand, even though the ingredients for your success may be stored away in your pantry to pick up at will. You cannot satisfy your hunger until you understand it is a sickness of the mind that ails you and not lack of nourishment. Cure your illness by cutting off the source of the pathogen that infects you: the expectations of others, and your own ill-considered goals.