Your goals suck

I’ll bet almost anything that you define success incorrectly.

Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. Today, here and now, in our world of internet and TV and McDonald’s and the Jonas Brothers and that Cling Wrap shit, it’s hard to figure out when you have it right because everyone is always shouting at you about how you have it wrong. This isn’t a conspiracy; it’s human nature. And it’s marketing. I mean, look at me: I’m telling you that you have it wrong too. You big fuck-up.

But here’s the thing: I can almost guarantee you that what you think would make you successful or happy or complete or rich or whatever isn’t what you really want. I’ll bet you’re shooting for the wrong goal.

Let me step back a bit.

I was talking to Lee Stranahan the other day (I did an interview with Lee for a series that includes Seth Godin – check it out!), and Lee has this thing about UN. Not the United Nation, but UN as in the prefix, as in “not” or “different.” As in UN-marketing and UN-schooling. And also as in UN-assisted birth, which he and his wife are into but which he’s not going to convince my wife about, ever.

And Lee and I, we share a lot of the same beliefs about freedom and about what you could, I guess, call UN-jobbing, or getting people out of the 9-5 pressure cooker and into something they love. Lee wanted to partner up on something where we’d create a program to get people out of their jobs and into their own thing in six or twelve months or whatever, but I resisted.

Because I’m like, “People are going to fuck it up. And then they’ll quit their jobs on some half-assed dream and then they’ll lose their house and be all miserable.”

See, I have this whole thing where I try to tell the truth about how — let’s be honest — not everyone is going to make a go of their big dream. A lot of people are going to fail. A lot of people are going to fail repeatedly, in fact. So to promise to get them out of a job in a certain period of time is going to be an issue for me.

But then it dawned on me: This unjobbing thing isn’t really about getting people out of their jobs, or about teaching them how to start a business that makes X dollars per month so that they can replace their income. It’s about getting them into the life they want. We sort of assume that the way to get there is to find a new source of money, then quit the job, then keep on truckin’ to Shangri-La. But there are other routes to meet a goal, and other ways to define success.

For instance.

I’ll bet you think you want money. But really… do you? Do you want green slips of paper with photos of dead presidents on them the way you’d want an original Monet if you were a collector of impressionistic art? If you got a million dollars, would you make a special box for it so that you could display it? Would you iron that cash so that it looked its best, and admire it constantly?

Or would you spend it?

I know what you’re thinking, you bastard. You’d spend it. After slaving away for that million dollars — after all the blood and sweat and tears and striving for it daily as if your life depended on it — you’d just piss it away in exchange for other stuff. You finally got your million, and now you’re letting it go again.

So yeah, you didn’t really want the million. Too bad you sacrificed so much to get it.

Nobody wants money. Money sucks. People use the bathroom and don’t wash their hands and then pick their nose and then the cat barfs on the rug and some cat barf gets on their thumb and then they sow manure into their garden and then they grab a twenty out of their pocket and hand it to you.

If you’re shooting for money, stop it. Look at the real goal. Maybe it’s getting out of your job. Maybe that takes money and maybe it doesn’t, but at least be clear what you’re really after.

It’s like in the movie Office Space. Lawrence asks Peter what he’d do if he had a million dollars, and Peter tells him he’d do nothing. He’d just lie around all day and do nothing. And Lawrence says, “Hell, you don’t need a million dollars to do nothin, man. Look at my cousin. He’s broke, don’t do shit.”

See, Peter hates his job. He wants out, but thinks he needs a million dollars to do it, to sit around and not go to work and do nothing. But doing nothing is our default. It takes work and initiative to do something, but nothing happens automatically.

Tony Robbins tells this story about going to Fiji, and seeing Americans arrive on the island in awe, and they’ll say things like, “I want to live here. I’m going to work really hard to accelerate my retirement and make enough money that I can come back here and buy some land and live in Fiji year-round.” And the Fijians just look at them like, “Dude, why would you do that? Why not just drop your old life and stay here right now?”

We don’t even know what success, or happiness, or our ideal really is. We think it’s something outside of ourselves, and that if we want to be successful, we need to get what the “successful people” out there have.

Maybe you look at Brian Clark of Copyblogger and you think you’d like your blog to be as big as his. Really? Why? Maybe what you actually mean is that you want his lifestyle, but of course that’s a joke because I doubt you know him and have any idea what his lifestyle actually is like. Maybe he lives under a bridge. That may be the case, too, based on what Sonia says*, like, “Oh, Brian lives under a bridge with some hobos.”

I think Lee, who I mentioned earlier, is pretty damn successful. He writes for the Huffington Post. He conducted an interview with director Kevin Smith that Smith says is the best interview he’s ever given. He knows this long list of celebrities that he’s too humble to name-drop unless you weasel it out of him. He made a movie. Every day, he works at home, working with film and video, with his kids and wife around him, because they home school.

But Kevin Smith isn’t impressive to everyone. As pleased as Lee is to have that “success,” other people wouldn’t care about it. I met Blake Schwarzenbach from Jawbreaker once and exchanged a few emails with James Brogan of Samiam. You probably don’t care, but those are successes to me.

Success and happiness are relative. You can’t chase role models because their values are different from yours, and what is vital to you is meaningless to others. If you refuse to give yourself credit for achieving things that matter to you and won’t feel successful until you achieve things that matter to other people, you’re going to be one confused and unhappy motherfucker.

Me, I think I’m really successful. It’s not because I’ve started making a great income lately, because honestly, most of that went down the toilet thanks to my really terrible real estate investments. It’s because of what that income is starting to afford me, which is freedom from those hideous investments and peace of mind. And it’s because I have this great family, and because we’re all healthy, and because I do stuff I like every day.

But… dude. I could have gotten the exact same results — the same criteria by which I’m currently defining success — by moving to a small town in Nepal. If I picked up with my family and moved there with virtually no money and left everything here behind to rot, I’d have peace of mind. I’d have a great, healthy family. I could find something to do all day that I’d enjoy.

If that sounds like a ridiculous scenario, look at Baker from Man vs. Debt. He didn’t move to a hut in Nepal, but his family sold almost everything and travels the world. You’d think you need millions to do that, but that’s only the case if you’re holding on to a mortgage and attachments back at your home base. You can earn and earn and save and save with the hopes of one day traveling the world, or you can set your priorities straight and do it now.

So I was talking to Lee, and we’re discussing how ideas — especially big ideas — are like Stephen King’s definition of stories as things that already exist and need only to be unearthed. And it kind of occurs to us is that in our discussions, we’re beginning to unearth something very cool, that feels new and exciting to both of us. And maybe, what we should be working toward is a way to show people how to get what they really want, not how to do something objective and externally verifiable like quitting a job or making X per month.

That, I can do. That, WE can do. From where you are now. With the resources you have, the people you know, the situation you’re in, the connections you have. It’s a thing that’s just starting to be unearthed, but holy shit is it cool from what I can see already.

* May be a total libelous fabrication


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  1. This is freaking huge!!!!!! I used to think that I was supposed to make a bunch of money so I could afford to have an awesome life.

    Then I decide to just have an awesome life right now.

    And I’m finding out that parts of my life are a bit expensive, but parts of it are free. And most of it … I didn’t really give a crap about it anyway, so I can sell that part of my life on craigslist.

  2. Totally agree. It’s all about making the decision to just do what you want. If your income doesn’t match your passion right now, just make some life changes to make it all doable.

    My “goal” is to have enough income to not have to “worry” about money, be able to do what I love from home, and hang out with my wife and kids as much as possible.

    Getting there – slowly but surely!

  3. Jess says:

    I used to LOVE choose-your-own adventure books when I was a kid and can recall actually saying at some point in my 20s how I wish real life was like that. While most of the story is fun, we get trapped. We pick the wrong page and end up in some cave with a dragon, at which point our only choice is to die or teach him to sing.

    My life’s been a lot like that, only I didn’t realize it at the time. Thanks to you, I’ve been trying to see through these supposed barriers (in a life that many, many people would gladly trade for in an instant) to get to what I really want:

    A singing dragon. Because really, how freakin’ cool would that be?!

    Keep on rockin’…

  4. Do you want to be a rich person, or do you want to live a rich life? That’s the question I keep asking myself and I wish more people would ask it of themselves.

  5. Jenny says:

    Great post. I’m signed up and ready. I appreciate when posts about upcoming projects are informative and not full of highlights and bright red “YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE” only to find out it would take 2 paychecks and apparently no bills for that month for my LIFE TO CHANGE. Thank you good sir. *sigh of relief*

  6. Johnny says:

    @Jess – I used to cheat at those books all the time. I’d be like, “What the fuck? A dragon ate me?” And then I’d go back to where I was and choose differently.

    @Jenny – How do you know it won’t take two paychecks for this one? 🙂

    Honestly, this isn’t a product post. I had this discussion with Lee a few days ago, so it’s been in my head and I wanted to write about it. But since it ties in with what we’re doing? Well, might as well go with the lead thing, anyway.

  7. Morten Juul says:

    Fantastic! Taking that step towards where you really want to be (whether you think it’s all about the money or not) takes guts. Yes, it seems like a risky decision and yes, your friends are SURE to think it’s a (too) risky decision.

    However as you say, it’s important that the jump is made for the right reasons. Do it for freedom, do it for adventure, do it for love, but don’t do it for money or a dream of “basking in the sun at Copacabana beach”. If you make the jump for reasons that you can’t regret, then you’re sure of success no matter what happens (even if you end up right where you started)… but MAKE the jump.

    @ Jess: Great, great comment… and yes, it’s the best kind of dragon 🙂

    PS. Unassisted birth? Nope, not seeing myself adding that one to the dinner conversation any time soon.

  8. Giovanni says:

    A person who is a master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their mind and their body, their education and their recreation, their love and their religion. They hardly know which is which and simply peruse their vision of excellence and grace, whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing. To them they are always doing both. – A Zen Poet

    I think its OK to have a goal of being financially successful as long as the path to that goal is one you love being on. If reaching your goal involves being two people, the work you and the not work you then you are fighting against yourself as well as all the external obstacles.

    On the other hand I wouldn’t dismiss the ‘failing your way to success’ model since achieving any worthwhile goal is a process and not an event. Plus as we’ve all experienced our mistakes teach us much more that our successes.

    If you and Lee can help people get to a place where their friends can’t tell if they’re working or playing I say go for it.

  9. Johnny says:

    Good point. I guess I should clarify that I am NOT advocating a stark life without money in ANY way. I like money just fine. It’s just that you need to have some perspective and realize that where you want to be may not be that far from where you are.

    I guess that’s the key thing. For so many people, the ultimate goal feels very far away. It simply does not have to be.

  10. Jeff says:

    Not kissing ass here, but you damn sure can write. That is as solid a post on figuring out what to do with ones life as I have read. I, like most people, do not have a f**king clue as to what they really want. The real tricky part of life is figuring out what you want, while keeping the tuition paid and lights turned on.

    Laugh Often,

  11. Dude,

    A part of us wants the money=happiness thing to be true so badly. I spent the entire decade of my 20’s chasing a buck, and I actually caught it. I was miserable most of the time (try to imagine a 24-year old guy making $100k+ a year and still miserable back in the early 90’s when $100k+ was still pretty stout) and, towards the end, I literally rolled out of bed every morning and said, “God, I hate my fucking job.”

    The whole time I just wanted more money to be the answer, because making money is easy and can be controlled. In the meantime, I got married and divorced TWICE, and spent much of my last year as a commodities trader puking blood into a trash can on the trading floor. But I made a shitload of money.

    Turns out, the money doesn’t change anything. Sure, you’ve got nice shit and you can take stout vacations, but I was WAY happier owning a bar on an island in the West Pacific than I ever was making $80,000 in a month trading commodities.

    It’s a hard lesson to learn, though, especially for Type-A personalities.

    Great post, as usual.

  12. Giovanni says:

    That’s a good point about how far away goals seem to be. It reminds me of a saying about the differences between sailors and power boaters, the latter being about the places they go and sailors being about the getting there. My goal is to be on the right course and so I’m enjoying every day.

  13. Laura Roeder says:

    Absolutely beautiful post. Another thing I see in myself and others a lot is that we think we want things just because they are on the typical “goal list”. Something I’ve seen with a lot of my peers is that they think they want their own TV show. Because people think well Oprah has her own TV show and she’s rich and famous, that must be a good goal. But the lifestyle that comes along with having a daily TV show is actually something that’s appealing to very few people!

    Or sometimes I think I want a house on the beach because that’s what people say right? That they want a house on the beach. But I have to tell you, right now I have a place one block from the beach and its just as good! But “have a tiny place a block from the beach” isn’t on that Big Goal list so I think people glaze over it. But really it makes me just as happy.

  14. Resonating big time . . . great post!

    I hope this can spur readers to action. A huge step so few take is to describe their lives as if they had $100M in the bank already. Most people have trouble making this leap – in particular the details. “I’d be rich.” “I’d have nice stuff.” But after 2 weeks, this person would lose touch and go insane . . .

    I’m mired in Ferriss (4 Hr. Work Wk.) right now . . . so I hope I can synchronize all this borrowed wisdom into an actionable plan . . because where I am right now is just plumb weird. Thanks for helping me make some sense.

  15. Kara J says:

    I like the ideas behind your post and I kind of see the point you are making. But I don’t see any way that my goals don’t involve having rather a lot of money to spend. I don’t want to move to Nepal, that’s not one of my goals

    My major goal is I want my home here in Auckland to have enough rooms that I’m not keeping my computers, sewing equipment, facepainting kit, band gear, tv, sofa and social life all in the same horribly cluttered room. Gosh, I do believe I am going to need money!

    What I’d really love is for someone to walk up and hand me a million dollars, even if they are grubby and ewwww. Oddly enough, though, that’s never happened. 😛

  16. Great article.

    I chased money for many years and the problem with that is that it just doesn’t work.. The more I had to more I needed. I finally had to kick the habit.

    Downsizing and getting my “belongings” down to the bare minimum is my new goal. The more stuff I unload the happier I am becoming.

    It ain’t about the money. The sooner we learn that lesson the better off we’ll be. It took me 50 years. I’m pissed it took so long.

  17. The problem is it’s just a lot easier to tag along and adopt someone else’s vision than to actually follow your own path. Has a damn high price though.

    “If you refuse to give yourself credit for achieving things that matter to you and won’t feel successful until you achieve things that matter to other people, you’re going to be one confused and unhappy motherfucker.” – best line I’ve read in a long time dude: )

  18. Raj says:

    You are wrong !!

    u can not expect everyone who is reading your blog not to be happy with their lives.

    whoever reads your blog may or may not be successful, If he/she is successful, it could be because he/she made the right goals and the right moves in their lives to be what they are today.

    I have been making Goals for myself and have been very happy with achieving them.

    I am living the life I want to live and am helping others do the same through my blog.

    u said – speak your mind and thats what I am doing here.

  19. Sanford says:

    Coming up on 61 years old and on the edge of losing what little I have left, I can still say that “life is good”.
    Yeah, there’s a lot of anxiety at times, but if I’m meant to pack a few favorite books and some clothes in a backpack and hit the road before I find my way, I guess that’s part of the learning process too.
    The journey to this point has been full of its ups and downs. It has been full of love and tragedy and humor. And, I know that that will continue and that money alone would only help, not “solve” my situation.
    Life, itself, is THE Grand Adventure. And, to spend much of it chasing money for its own sake is boring and toxic.
    I believe in dancing and playing with life as much as possible. And, taking time to laugh, appreciate beauty, and help where I can. You can “work” to do these or just let them happen.

    Live Happy and at Peace

  20. James says:

    Dammit Johnny. You’re always right, you bastard 😛

  21. Yeah, I did the ‘perfect work day’ thing the other day, and realised that it meant either speaking to groups or typing for a few hours each day, the rest spent napping and reading and shit.

    Then I looked around and went, ‘Oh..’

    Yeah, I’ve *got* that life.

    No idea how.

    By typing and talking for years, I suppose.

    (Choose Your Own Adventure! You can still get some of them, you know. I was the kid wanting to obsessively MAP them so I could see how it all worked.

    Still that kid.)

  22. Johnny says:

    Yeah, I think goals are awesome as things to strive for… and I think it’s equally important to recalibrate them, and recalibrate how we’re doing in moving toward what we actually want now.

    Interesting that we miss that stuff so often.

  23. Archan Mehta says:


    If memory serves–although in my case, usually it fails me–this is the first time I have read one of your posts. Wow: you are such a fabulous writer.

    You have a delicious sense of humor. It is a gift. You had me in splits. And you are eccentric, which is the part about you I like the most. What a departure from reading posts by other, less talented writers. I will have to read more of your writing. Man, you are like no other writer I have ever come across on the web.

    Your writing reminds me of Woody Allen, Dave Barry, Steve Martin and mad magazine. Also, it reminds me of Saturday Night Live and the Comedy Hour.
    It’s like going to the circus and you are the clown and happy with that role.

    As for goals/objectives, who cares? People have been living under bridges in tears and tatters for years. And living in a cave ain’t so bad either if you’ve got no money: heard those lizards on the wall are tasty if you boil them really nice and add some spices. As for the snakes, well if you ain’t got no towel, guess what you can do? Man, Fiji sounds like a plan for us homeless folks. Cheerio, dude.

  24. Didn’t quite make it through all 25 comments. I appreciate comment #9 acknowledging money is OK (even if it came from a hand that wiped ass and played in manure). Liked Jeff’s #10, if I was reading his comment correctly. I have no clue either and I keep wondering and searching.

    Finally, if Nepal and Fiji were such wonderful freaking destinations they’d have skyscrapers, monorails and a Starbucks on every corner by now. 🙂

  25. Debra says:

    Very interesting. Life is for the living, yes?

    I had my dream job. Gave up the money job after my kids were old enough where I didn’t need to support them anymore. Took the hardly paid job, the one I thought was for me since I was a young thing.

    Just up and left that dream job for another dream which reared it’s head my way. Living on the road, without an address. Money, haven’t figured out where that;s coming from yet. Any idea’s? Where will all this lead me? What is my goal? Don’t have a clue, but do have the desire to find out.

    In the mean time, loving this life on the road and the people I’ve met along the way.

    Maybe I’ll see you out there.

    Before you help people get what they want, you’ll have to help many find out what it is they want. Most of us don’t even know.

  26. Johnny says:

    @Ken – Woah, hey… I guess I should be really clear that I don’t have anything against money, or think it’s bad, or anything like that. Quite the opposite. What I meant was that I think too many people get in the habit of thinking that money is the end instead of yet another means. i.e. “I want a million dollars so that I can quit my job and paint all day long” when in fact what they may really want is to paint all day long… and the million may not be necessary for that. It’s like my dad… not living life in luxury, but all he wants is to paint all day. And that’s what he does.

    But no, I like money just fine. It’s a means to a whole lot of ends.

    Just figured I should clear that up. I don’t want to be that guy who is anti-materialism.

  27. Debra says:

    I got that and agree with what you wrote in your post. It is good stuff.

  28. Melani Ward says:

    Love this post. It reminds me of my favorite part of the movie “Office Space” when Peter and Lawrence are talking about what they would do if they had a million dollars. Peter says “I’d do nothing…I’d relax..I would sit on my ass all day… I would do nothing. Lawrence replies, “Well, you don’t need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Take a look at my cousin: he’s broke and he don’t do shit. ”

    Brilliant, right?

  29. Johnny says:

    Melani – Does the post remind you of that scene in Office Space because I described that scene in the post? 🙂

  30. @@@@ says:

    Sorry, bro, but “achieving” anything, be it for yourself or others, is the trap.

    Good try though.

  31. Johnny says:

    Umm… okay.

  32. Ed - The Mindsmith says:

    First time here. Kim, “The WordPress Chick” mentioned that your blog is one that she keeps up with (or not), so, I figured that I’d take a peek.

    Really glad that I did.

    I tend to be a bit “tongue-in-cheek” myself generally. With the saying, “Life is too serious” in my hip pocket and the finger for those who blow me shit about it, I’m happy to see that it looks like you’ve got some solid advice to give. Granted, its not for the faint of heart (language, not content. Well, maybe some content too.).

    From what I’ve read so far, the only thing that seems to be missing is THE CALL to action. That action being : Stop right now, right where you are, and really LOOK at where you are in your present situation and compare that to:

    1: What you’ve been doing that got you here in the first place.
    2: Is “THIS” where you believed you were headed?
    3: Is this what you “WANTED” in the first place?
    4: Were you “CLEAR’ enough to “YOURSELF” about what you wanted or too vague?

    Blog posts like yours also make me wonder what everybody is being taught anymore. Movies like “The Secret” and so on, only half answered how things possibly work in our reality, but it seems that if it’s promoted by Oprah, it’s gotta be Gospel. QUICK, let’s go get some!!!

    Bottom line: If where you’re at ain’t where you wanna be, change your mind – change your life. Nuff Said

    Just for ha-ha’s, when it’s finished, I’m going to send you a copy of my new book, “The Human Mind – An Owners Manual”. Hell, somebody had to write the thing and I wasn’t involved in anything too pressing at the time, so…

  33. Amy Harrison says:

    True true true.

    I’ve never been more miserable and stressed when chasing money, and more fulfilled and chilled out when I’m chasing the things I just enjoy. From work to play to the people I spend time with.

    You only have one shot.

  34. Johnny says:

    I think money has a ton of value in helping to create freedom… but it’s important to keep in mind that for most people, it’s a means, not an end.

  35. asdasdasda says:

    Good post. I previousally to spend alot of my time water skiing and watching sports. It was possibly the best time of my young life and your post somehow brought back me of that. Cheers


  1. […] the role of visual effects in film. And my friend Johnny B. Truant wrote a really phenomenally great post called Your Goals Suck that mentions me. Reading Johnny’s post makes me feel like my writing sucks. But it’s […]

  2. […] Your goals suck | Johnny B. Truant – Really good article on getting your priorities right. "You can earn and earn and save and save with the hopes of one day traveling the world, or you can set your priorities straight and do it now." Share and Enjoy: […]

  3. […] the point of my “Your Goals Suck” post was supposed to be that you’ve gotta be clear about what you really want when you define […]

  4. […] I particularly enjoyed a recent blog post by Johnny B. Truant (new member to the list) about setting the right life goals for the right reasons. It’s entertaining as hell and after you read it through, you don’t doubt […]

  5. […] Lee Stranahan and I started talking about doing a project together (that story is in this pretty awesome post), one of the things that probably annoyed the piss out of Lee is that I was immediately dead-set […]

  6. […] Johnny B. Truant uses the same example in one of his blog entries. It’s a great post that points out the fact that money is not what people want. People don’t want the money itself and the things money can buy don’t really make anyone happy. At least if people are being honest and true to themselves. People have asked me why I want to make the million dollars […]

  7. […] Johnny B. Truant blogs at and tweets at @johnnybtruant and is featured on blogs like Copyblogger and ProBlogger. If you only read one blog post by him, make it his post stating that “Your Goals Suck”. […]

  8. […] Lee and I first talked, we wanted to create a networking course. Or maybe something about how to find and go after your real goals, because it seems like so many people are chasing things that are really far away and that they […]

  9. […] read about Johnny B. Truant (again, not his real name) who sells goal setting,life choices and marketing advice (some paid, some free) and is now rolling in cash (he would […]