30 July 2010

I'm (No Longer) Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

Have you ever (like me) thought that once you finish your book/get an agent/become a published author/become a worldwide bestseller everything will fall into place? If so, I am here to crush your dreams (but I will do my best to build them up again afterwards).

Theorem number one: I will never be happy unless I live out my dream.

This is a plausible assertion in today’s world, where we are expected to “find ourselves”, to be unique and to kick butt at being just that. In the olden days, when people were expected to stay put in their village/class/profession, this was not so much the case. Lucky them.

Theorem number two: I will never be happy living out my dream unless that dream requires certain sacrifices.

This is also plausible. Have you been told that the best things in life are free? Well, you’re in for a surprise. The best things in life come from hard work, and the only reason they are so great is that you can compare your success to the terrible feeling you had working your way towards the goal. A vacation never feels as great as when you know you’ve deserved it. Receiving a raise is sweet because you’ve been paid absolute crap for years. We constantly compare ourselves to ourselves. Me now is better off than me two years ago = life is good. Conversely, if me now is worse off than me two years ago = life stinks.

Assuming that theorem number one and theorem number two both apply, what happens when we combine the two?

Theorem number three: I will never be happy unless I live out my dream, but achieving that dream will make me feel so crappy I go mad in the process.

The conclusion? Either you remain unhappy not living out your dream, or you become unhappy in the process. And, if all things fall into place after all, and you by some miracle manage to live out your dream without toiling yourself to death in the process, the prospects aren’t any better…

Theorem number four: Once I achieve my dream I will be unhappy because I no longer have a goal in life.

This has a name: Storeulvsyndromet. The Big Bad Wolf Syndrome, for non-Norwegian speakers. The Big Bad Wolf spends his entire life chasing those clever little pigs. But what happens the day he actually manages to catch the pigs? Putting the pigs in the pot and putting the pot to a boil, something should occur to the wolf: what will he now do with his life?

The Norwegian sociologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen has written about this, extensively. I have not actually read his book, but since I live quite close to him I feel I am competent to interpret his scientific findings for the use of this blog post without having done so.

What Hylland Eriksen is claiming is that in a society like Norway – where we have every material need we could possibly want – we have lost sight of the goal, because every goal we can possibly think of has already been reached. He probably has a more articulate way of explaining this, but again, I would have to actually read his book to know, and I am not planning on doing that. Besides, I am not trying to say something clever about modern societies, I am merely warning you that reaching the dream of writing books or being published might not be as sweet as we all imagined.

Now, don’t worry, things aren’t entirely bleak. There are two important life lessons to be learnt here. I won’t even put them in theorems, I swear (but italics are not to be avoided, I’m afraid).

First of all, have more than one goal. If it is your dream to go scuba diving in the Pacific, then fine, do that. But make sure that it also is your dream to have a family, or a big house, or a fantastic collection of rubber chickens. Otherwise, you, like the Big Bad Wolf, might end up realizing that your life has no direction the second you dive in.

Secondly, try to make the means a goal in itself. Sure, the road to fulfilling a dream might be paved with insanity, but only if you let it. If your dream is to write a novel, try to do it in a pace that suits you. Find your way, hopefully one that won’t make it impossible to also achieve other things in life (again, avoid becoming the Big Bad Well-Fed-But-Bored Wolf).

Third, don’t let your final goal be the ultimate goal. If your goal is to compose a symphony, chances are it won’t be the best symphony ever written. Besides, even if you are Beethoven, there is always the possibility of topping your own achievement. Try to make your next symphony even better. Or improve the one you already wrote by making the world’s top performers lift it to perfection. As long as your dream isn’t to be the first one to reach the South Pole (sorry, it’s already been done), there is always room for improvement.

I think I wrote an entire self-help book in one blog post. Now what will I do with my life?!


M.J. Nicholls said...

"Thomas Erikson" anagrammizes as "Mistaken Heros" so I wouldn't believe a word he says. "Cruella Collet" comes to "Electoral Cull", so I believe you to be a fascist. Then again, I omitted the final T, so technically you are a "Coal Cell Turtle."

Very wise post. I have recently adopted a less manic approach to my WiP.

Natasha said...

You have stolen the post I was supposed to write next Friday *grrrrrr*

But this is so true. I had a friend in school who's one and only agenda was to get into a top engineering college. She was bright enough that she could have achieved her aim, but I often wondered what would happen to her after she did so. As things turned out, she didn't make it that year or the next or the year after, and went into manic depression before she was 20.

BUT, would she have been happier had she achieved her aim, when it was only a single aim.

CA Heaven said...

I think Theorem #4 is true, so it's good to get some new goals from time to time, maybe in a completely different field >:)

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

"but since I live quite close to him I feel I am competent to interpret his scientific findings..." *snarfle*

It's so true, isn't it... I like tiered goals--write the book, publish the book, become a best seller, become a NYT best seller, have a book made into a movie, buy a private island, achieve total world domination... though once I've achieved that last one, I'm not really sure where to go...

Cruella Collett said...

Mark - you've been over researching anagrams lately, I suspect... "But an anagram never proved anything!" (quote the Coal Cell Turtle)

Natasha - oops, did you also plan on writing about wolves and Norwegian social scientists? ;)
And that anecdote is scary. Goals that destroy us are not good goals!

C.A.H. - that is a good point. We all need some variation in life.

Tami - what, are you questioning my scientific methods? ;) And don't worry, we'll work on your digressionary ways so that by the time you master that ultimate goal we'll have found another one. How do you feel about universal dominance (the world is not enough, after all)?

Natasha said...

@ Cruella - phased goals is what I was planning to blog about, though it would not have been nearly as entertaining as yours.

@ Tami - after world domination, there are other planets to dominate. What after the Universe? I'll worry about that when the time comes.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My entire life does not hinge on the goal of success with my book.
And I think I'd be more unhappy not pursuing my goals, because the things we regret most in life are the 'what ifs.'

K A B L O O E Y said...

Fantastic post. And I love your physical proximity = interpretive license postulate. The "try to make the means a goal in itself" part is one I should stick on a post-it on my computer. Because that's where I put the wisdom of the ages. There, or on a note page on my iphone.

Deb and Barbara said...

For someone so young, you are very wise! Goals are great as far as goals go, but even success can bring trouble, so the journey must be the "thing".

Cruella Collett said...

Natasha - of course it would be entertaining! And there can never be enough blog posts about phased goals (for instance, I am really terrible at taking my own advice, so I might benefit greatly from reading your post...)

Alex - I agree with you there. At least as long as our goals are somewhat realistic, the "what if's" are way worse.

Kablooey - I used to do the post-it thing, but since I have a teeeeeny-tiny laptop it took no time at all before they sticky notes covered my screen completely. So these days I have no idea what's actually written on the screen (it is merely my physical closeness to the screen that makes me able to guess what's behind the post-its).

Barbara - or maybe I'm just *really* perceptive to what that professor man living in my neighbourhood figured out after years of research?
But I agree - the journey is "it".

Unknown said...

Good thing I read all the way to the end because I was starting to feel down. But I love Number 2 at the end. Let every step along the way be a goal. I do that and I feel great!


Hart Johnson said...

Wahoo for Universal Domination! Then we can bring Nudity and Digression to all! (and little miniature giraffes)(and maybe an otter)(and we will have a llama farm, and harvest the wool so Leanne can knit us silly hats)--so many goals! We will NEVER be depressed!

Cruella Collett said...

Clarissa - hehe, don't say I didn't warn you ;)

Tami - NOW we're talking!

Erin said...

Reminds me of Inigo from The Princess Bride. :D

ViolaNut said...

If I get otters and llamas, then no, I will probably not be depressed anymore. Wolves, though, they can go away. :-P

Unknown said...

I like your "Third, don't let your final goal be the ultimate goal." I whole-heartedly agree. We have to keep striving for higher goals and push ourselves a little past our comfort zones.

Great post!

Long live nudity and digressions!

Anonymous said...

Good advice. I don't ned to finish first. If I finish in the top ten consistently, then I'm doing okay.

Stephen Tremp

Cruella Collett said...

Erin - yay Princess Bride! Wish I could see it right now, but my European DVD player can't read my American disk :(

Leanne - if we manage to stick to these rules there will be no wolves :)

Chary - life is a journey, isn't it?

Stephen - that is a good goal. And if you should happen to finish first, that's a bonus, isn't it? :)

Powdered Toast Man said...

How did you know one of my goals is to have a collection of rubber chickens? Stop reading my thoughts!!