Goals in life

I was talking to my friend Wes over the weekend, and he mentioned a talk he’d seen by Charlie Munger, right hand man of Warren Buffett. Munger apparently has a background in economics and law, and mentioned in his talk about how he had benefitted repeatedly from having a broader background than most in his position. He said that it was valuable to have a variety of different perspectives such that one could choose among them to find the most useful one to use for a given problem.

Wes brought this up because we were talking about the ups and downs of being a generalist in this ever more specialized world. Munger was suggesting that collecting more perspectives is always a good thing – it’s like expanding one’s toolbox. With only one perspective, one is like the proverbial hammer owner, to whom every problem seems like a nail. With a variety of perspectives, one can pick and choose. So we kicked around the idea that maybe one possible goal in life is to collect a variety of perspectives.

But that’s not the only possible goal in life, of course. A while ago, I’d speculated that the goal in life was to collect as many interesting stories as possible. Stories are what bind people together, so having more stories means more ways to connect. And who doesn’t like hanging out with people who have interesting stories to tell?

Another possible goal is to have as many interesting experiences as possible. This is closely related to stories; after all, having interesting experiences often means being able to tell interesting stories to tell afterwards. I do try to keep my mind open and try new things: I’ve been bungee jumping and sky diving, I’ve been to Burning Man, I’ve sung at Carnegie Hall, been in an Emmy award winning production of Sweeney Todd, I’ve lived for a year in Europe on the Swiss-French border. But I’m not as good at this goal as I’d like to be – I don’t seek out new experiences as much as I could. So that’s something for me to consider – a friend is trying to talk me into trying a kundalini yoga class, which I might give a shot, just for the experience.

While I was sitting at my housewarming party last weekend and marvelling that I had gotten ten people to show up less than a month after moving to New York, I realized that another thing I like to do is collect interesting people. I really enjoy finding smart articulate people who challenge me to think. So that’s another possible goal in life. I always liked Bujold’s description of Miles Vorkosigan in A Civil Campaign: “Miles seemed to collect friends of wit and distinction and extraordinary ability around himself as casually and unselfconsciously as a comet trailed its banner of light.” That’s a state to which I aspire.

I’ve listed several possible different goals in life at this point: collecting different perspectives, stories, experiences, and people. Fortunately, they’re not exclusive by any means. Spending time with a variety of interesting people means learning about their various perspectives. Doing things with interesting people often leads to interesting experiences which lead to interesting stories. It all fits together.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my life recently and what I want to get out of it. I’m starting to realize I am no longer as young as I once was, with my whole life ahead of me; at my new company, I’m an old geezer compared to most of my coworkers. And yet there’s still so many things I want to do. Alas, my time and energy are limited so it becomes a matter of prioritization. Putting together this list of possible goals helps me to think about how to evaluate possible opportunities – will it introduce me to new people, perspectives, or experiences? Not a particularly standard set of metrics compared to fame and wealth, but I think it will be more satisfying. I’ve tried the materialistic life, and it just doesn’t do much for me; heck, my little sports car up and died as a physical manifestation that it was not the way I should be living my life :). Time for me to consider some alternative perspectives.

6 thoughts on “Goals in life

  1. “…who doesn’t like to hang out with people who have interesting stories to tell?” Well, the problem is, you have to be good at telling them, right? Telling them in person, I mean. I tend to put in a lot of detail that I think will make the story more interesting, when what it really does is lose the thread of the plot. Is this why people join Toastmasters?

  2. Good point. Story telling ability is another key component in addition to having good stories to tell. My coworker Sumana does stand-up, and wrote a primer on how to put together a stand-up routine, which I think applies to story telling as well.

    The other part is just repetition. Stories that I’ve told hundreds of times, I know what details to include and what to leave out, because I’ve tried it all different ways. Which may be an advantage for something like Toastmasters, because you can try stuff repeatedly. Or you can just annoy your friends, like I do.

  3. Those of us that can’t remember anything have a lot of trouble with the collecting stories goal; doesn’t help with collecting people either. That said, I think I’m also a little rudderless right now in terms of goals. Some days I’m pretty sure that I’m becoming a curmudgeon since my localized goal seems to be the opposite of yours; “try to spend time by myself”. Let me know if you come up with some good ones for me!

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