Criteria for failure
Jordan Peterson says that every ideal is a judge. He says that goals establish the criteria for failure.
That’s why I’ve avoided setting well-defined goals.
In “Maps of Meaning” he argues that the unknown always produces fear.
It might seem logical, he says, that we should not react to the unknown until we have enough information to know how we should feel about it. It is unknown. It might be good. Or it might be bad.
But that’s not the way animals respond, including human animals.
Faced with the unknown, we react with fear, unless we have good reason to think otherwise.
I set vague goals—like “improving myself.” But that’s cheating. I can count anything that I do—even random shit that does not matter—as an improvement.
But if I announce goals—like blogging every day, or getting my weight below 175 in a month—then it’s pretty clear that I’ve failed.
And the bigger the goal, the bigger the failure.
Let’s be clear: a goal is not a wish, and it’s not a dream. It’s something that is not impossible to attain—just very hard.
Failure is hard. But so is an unprecedented success.
A writing goal
I want to write things. And I do. I want to write things that are read by people. And they are. I want to write things that are read by lots of people. How much is lots?
Last month this blog had 640 pageviews. I’d like it to be in the tens of millions.
My most popular post last month had 24 views. My most popular post of all time had 456. I want my most popular posts to be in the millions.
It’s possible that I could achieve that. There’s no reason—other than discomfort—that I couldn’t try.
I might fail.
Or I might succeed.
The threat of the unknown
Let’s suppose that I write a post that gets a million page views.
Let’s ignore the unknown and unfamiliar and scary things that I’d have to do to get a million page views. Let’s imagine success.
Success on that scale is unexplored territory—unknown and therefore frightening.
I know how I deal with my current life. I know how I’ve dealt with setbacks. I even know I’ve dealt with some pretty rough failures.
I pulled through. I behaved with less than perfect integrity, but I wasn’t a complete asshole.
But how would I deal with massive success?
I don’t know.
Other people have had had enormous successes and turned into assholes. I might be one of them. I’ve never been a huge success. I’ve never been tested. So how would I know?
Huge failure sucks, too. But failure to meet an audacious goal is not failure the way failure to keep something valuable.
I’m comfortable with modest failure and modest success. I’ve been there. I’m comfortable with failure to achieve a big goal.
But huge success? That’s the one that bothers me.
I can see it.
I’ve been writing and posting with regularity, and my anxiety has been growing. Unpublished drafts are building up. Ideas for content have been piling up.
This is not new. I see that it’s part of the pattern—the pattern of running away.
When I have small successes that betoken much greater success, I get anxious.
I start to run away.
I break the pattern and exchange the dangerous unknown for the comfortable—if annoying—known.
Can I change this one
I see the pattern. Perhaps I can change it. I can certainly be on guard.
My goals—the dangerous successes that I want to avoid—are getting clearer.
I’ll write about them in the next post.
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