Thursday, November 08, 2007


Recent surveys reveal that an alarming number of college students answer "famous" to what they want to be when they grow up. Not a doctor or a teacher or even a movie star (who has some talent to offer) but just plain famous.

I find this disturbing and puzzling. Anyone truly famous will tell you that fame is often the price one pays for having achieved a high level of success in his or her given field. It should never be an actual goal, partly because it isn't a very nice thing to have (it turns out) but mostly because it is supposed to be a by-product of something worthy.

Look at Brittney--as soon as she started focusing on her fame and let her actual (though minimal) talents slide, she lost everything. Quite literally. She lost her looks, her husband, and worst of all her children.

All of this has got me to musing about how many things in life go wrong when we focus on the wrong thing. And since I am self-righteous, it got me thinking of just how messed up a lot of people can get when they focus on the wrong goal and that got me thinking about my own philosophies and anyway, it all led up to this essay which I may just turn into a best-selling self-help book but here it is in a nutshell. I'll call it the "Don't Focus on the ByProducts" philosophy.

If you focus on the right thing, other nice things will come to you as happy byproducts. But if you focus on the happy byproducts you will fail miserably or worse, get the byproduct but miss the point entirely and never find happiness.
Let's look at this point by point. Let's start with the biggies---

Money vs. Hard Work: Everyone I know who talked about making a ton of dough right out of college (versus those who talked about finding a good job) are no better off than we are right now. Actually, most are not as well off. As they scrambled to find a quick buck and spent as if they already had a bunch of money, we worked slowly along and saved and saved and saved. Turns out the proverbial ant and grasshopper story is true. Money should never be a goal unto itself as it turns people bitter and there is never enough to make that person happy.

Find a mate vs. Find yourself: If you go out looking for a mate you will scare off any potential partners. Desperation and neediness are not attractive. If you go out into the world looking for adventure, fun, or to serve those in need you will be very attractive to the opposite sex. I do not need to give examples of this, you've all seen it many times.

Good grades vs. working hard and learning: When I was in school I know that those kids who focused on good grades, only took classes they knew they could get an "A" in and worried endlessly about their GPA were not the brightest kids in my class. In fact, some of them were kind of stupid. The smartest guy I knew (he had a perfect SAT score) was not our valedictorian because he challenged himself to take things he wasn't very good at (the arts, shop, PE) and didn't whine when he didn't get good grades. He's also a hell of a lot more interesting than a lot of other "all A" people I knew. Despite peer pressure on this topic from other kids and other parents, I have stuck strongly to this philosophy for my own children and I am happy to report it seems to work. Because they focus on learning and working hard they do get good grades, but that is not what they aim for. As a result they are critical thinkers and good learners but not always all A students.

Doing things because they look good on your resume vs. doing things you like: I wonder what happened to Marty "it looks good on my resume" Schwartz. That was his nickname in the dorm. Let's just say I haven't heard his name on any who's who lists or winning any Nobel prizes. The poor boy was dictated by that one mantra. This approach of trying to please a future employer who does not even exist yet is absurd in the extreme. The acquaintance we know who took up golf to impress future bosses languishes in the third circle of hell mid-level management. I have never seen this pay off. On the other hand, my friends who followed their passions, took chances, never worried about gaps on their resumes, and did what was right have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. When Jeff and I took a year off to live in Europe out of grad school the wags repeatedly told us "that gap on your resume will be hard to explain". That did not prove to be the case.

Eating/living to look good vs. eating/living to be healthy: Oh I could go on and on about this topic. Well,actually I already have in the essay I wrote about how to stay fit. People, this is so simple--if you want to look good you have to eat really healthy food and you have exercise. Yes. Fruits, vegetables, whole foods not processed crap. And you have to get up and move your body as God intended. Unless you are farming the fields you need to exercise. Regularly. Not just a long walk around the block. You do not need surgery, or drugs, or diets. Those are all quick fixes that will not result in long-term change. That is focusing on the wrong thing.
I have to add that this was reinforced at church yesterday (yes the self righteous housewife is a church lady too) when the minister read this passage from 1 Timothy 6:17-19

"17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."

Okay, enough preaching for today. I'll finish with one more quote, this from an earlier essay about Jeff the golf pro--"Hit the ball straight, don't try to hit it as far as you can. In the end, the ball will go much further."

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