Monday, May 31, 2010

Heresy! Stephen Fry Says: Don't Set Goals. Cool!

Discovered today at Open Culture, which offers all manner of free courses, lessons, audio books and so on, this video. "What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 18."

The British actor and writer Stephen Fry, now in his 50s, reflects on what he would tell his 18 year old self about life. Spoiler alert! He concludes that kindness will get you farther than talent or power.

He also says, "One of the worst things you can do in life is set yourself goals."

It occurred to me while watching that this is the equivalent of heresy in U.S. culture. Americans, as a group, have a more consistent belief in the importance of goals than we have in God. Even our atheists and agnostics share a faith in the importance of goal-setting, being ambitious and working towards something. (This could have something to do with our Calvinist history, but I'll leave the real historians and sociologists to speculate on that.) No one ever achieved anything (and achieving is what it's about, of course) without clearly defined goals.

Here's what Fry has to say: "Goal orientation is absolutely disastrous in life. Two things happen. One is that you fail to meet your goals so you call yourself a failure. Secondly you meet your goal and go, 'Well, I'm here now what.'... Because you're going for something outside yourself."

The whole interview (speech?) struck a chord that resonated well with what I was trying to articulate in Broke is Beautiful about working in flow, and valuing relationships and social capital over financial capital.

STEPHEN FRY: WHAT I WISH I'D KNOWN WHEN I WAS 18 from Peter Samuelson on Vimeo.