The Fantasy that Never Arrives

Posted on September 9, 2017 by Robert Ringer


Volumes having been written over the years on the subject of goals, and, indeed, there’s no question that goals are important.  But the more I reflect on the subject of goals, and the more I draw from my own experience and the experience of others, the more convinced I am that striving toward goals is not a means to an end.  I long ago became convinced that the healthiest way to live life is to make striving an end in itself.

Those who wish their lives away in anticipation of achieving some long-awaited goal do themselves a grave disservice.  Often, it isn’t even a specific goal they are seeking.  Instead, they embody the future in the shadowy allure of some undefinable promised land down the road.  Promised lands, however, are hard to come by.

Perhaps you’ve read Robert J. Hastings’ essay “The Station,” in which he metaphorically described all of us as being on a mythical train of life, rolling relentless down the tracks toward the future.  As we travel on this train of life, we keep believing that just around the next bend we’re going to arrive at the station, a beautiful little red station house that will signify the panacea moment when all the pieces of our lives will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle.

When we arrive at the station, there will be a big crowd cheering, flags will be waving, bands will be playing, and that’s when all our goals will be achieved and all our desires fulfilled.  Finally, we will have reached a permanent state of euphoria, of pure joy.

But there’s one problem with this picture:  It’s a fantasy — a pure fantasy — because the reality is that there is no station.  It doesn’t exist.  And if there is no station, you had better enjoy the trip down the tracks.

The truth is that the moment never quite arrives.  There’s always one more deal to close, one more goal to achieve, one more hill to climb — which is why it’s wise to live in the present.  The best day really is today.

Voltaire gave us wise advice when he cautioned, “Do not anxiously expect what has not yet come.  Do not vainly regret what has already past.”  Kay Lyons put it much simpler when she said, “Yesterday is a cancelled check; tomorrow is a promissory note; today is the only cash you have, so spend it wisely.”

Forget about today being the first day of the rest of your life.  With Harvey, Irma, and North Korea dominating the headlines each day, it makes one all too aware that today could be the last day of the rest of your life.

To the best of my knowledge, no one ever said on his deathbed, “Gee, I wish I had spent more time thinking about the future.”  I’ve got news for you, the future doesn’t need your attention.  It has an annoying habit of arriving ahead of schedule — without your help.

Like most everything else in life, moderation is the best policy when it comes to goals.  No matter how admirable and exciting your goals may be, day-to-day life loses its meaning if your main reason for living is just to look forward to the day when those goals are achieved.  When you reach the top of the mountain, you don’t want to be asking yourself, “Is that all there is?”

All this by way of saying that it’s possible to achieve all your goals in life but miss out on life itself in the process.  Better to live in the present (not for the present, but in the present) by finding meaning and purpose in your daily life.  To be sure, the achievement of goals adds happiness to life, but it’s the journey that provides the greatest amount of joy.

While it’s true that you cannot change the inevitable, you can change your attitude toward today.  Cherish the moment by concentrating on whatever you’re doing every second of the day.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

30 responses to “The Fantasy that Never Arrives”

  1. Robert says:

    Great post. I like Scott Adams' philosophy. It is better to have system than goals!!!

    • Johnny Mayonnaise says:

      This is NOT Scott Adams' philosophy. Like may other things he says, he has borrowed the concept from others, and has then PERSUADED you that it is original to him.

      Adams predicts dozens of things but only points out the ones that actually come true, without mentioning the many failures. Don't be gullible, and don't be a sycophant. He's not as prescient as he claims.

  2. Paul Carter says:

    This reminds me of the chapter in "Looking out for #1", (I think) where you closed a big deal and it was anti climatic. I try to smell the flowers everyday. Each time I reach some self imposed goal, I move the goal post. I wish I could be satisfied, but it never seems to be what I thought it would be. Sometimes I think it is a curse, however, I do thank my lucky stars everyday, and never forget where I came from, and how quickly it can go the other way.

    • Phil says:

      The "today is the only cash you have, spend it wisely" aphorism has gotten me through many tough periods…I came across it via Mr. Ringer's works.

  3. earl adkins says:

    I had a goal when I was a young man to pay off my fixer upper house in my late twenties. I was never a big money earner but it open all types of doors for me. I travel around the world, I never worried about a boss. I was able to save more. It was the best goal I ever set. We should all have goals.

  4. Lana says:

    Excellent article, and somewhat timely for me. Thanks for posting this. Daily life is truly your life, not what you wish your life would/could/should be.

  5. bobburg says:

    As Harry Browne taught in his magnificent book, "The Secret of Selling Anything"… the one – and only – thing common to all human beings is that "everyone seek happiness" (according to their own definition of happiness and based on their perceived choices – parenthetical remarks paraphrased). Robert, in this article, you have provided us with a powerful way to live in happiness. Thank you!

  6. Rick G says:

    This is a great thought provoking article, Robert. Happiness is all about present moment living, enjoying the ride of life as it moves along day by day. There is never going to be a time when we reach that ultimate summit where all our hopes, dreams, needs, and desires are going to be entirely satisfied. I found that out from first hand experience. As I was reading this article, I could not help remembering and thinking about the Volcanic Ash Theory you talked about in Looking Out For Number One. A lot of our goals, when reached, turn out so differently than we thought they would, even as volcanic ash. I learned quite a few times in my life about this which lead to great disappointment.

  7. Blank Reg says:

    This is a very Zen/Taoist kind of article. Well done.

  8. Ken Overcast says:

    Great article, Robert. That's good advice, son. I think the longer in the tooth we get the more we tend to put things in perspective. Young folks think that life is forever … that's a good thought, too bad it isn't true. An old guy just told me not long ago, "I knew this old age stuff was coming, but I just didn't think it would get here this fast."

    Like everyone else probably, I've had material goals that will never be achieved. Oh, well. It's actually a little freeing for me to finally face that reality. I guess that's probably the result of setting the bar a little higher than it ought to have been in the first place. It seems I'm still swinging for the fence, but the realization that "we ain't gettin' out of here alive anyway" helps me to enjoy each day. Repeating that little phrase to myself every day sure helps, too. Thanks for the reminder.

  9. Jon says:

    I'm wondering if I'm confusing your term "goals" with my term "bucket list?" I wrote my first bucket list when in my mid-30s and then put that list on my entropy pile. It was 10 years later when I unearthed that list. I hadn't even seen the list for 10 years. I noted that I'd accomplished everything on that list (about 100 items) except getting a pilot's license (I realized I'd outgrown that desire). My "take" is that I converted an intangible to a tangible simply by writing down what was of interest to me. Life took care of the rest. Now I have a bucket list as long as my arm and every time I cross-off something, I seem to add 3 or 4 more items to that list. Frankly, I think it's been a fantastic tool to help me attain (if you will) "goals."

  10. Richard Lee Van Der says:

    Yes, NOW is the ONLY time that exists! While writing a book, several new book ideas & plans come to mind. During every NOW, new potential realities are born, and that feels so very good! When I return to my Home in the World of Spirit, I will have a lot of WAS to be happy about!

  11. larajf says:

    I finally learned what true happiness was when I decided to be happy right now with who I was and where I was. It didn't mean I can't want more, but at least I'm not walking around with a constant black hole in my belly.

    • Scott theczech says:

      Hey larajf, welcome back…,missed you. This is perhaps the greatest struggle in my life – the pursuit of happiness. I do suppose that practicing being content with the struggle and the present is the key. Your comment about learning to be happy with who you are and where you are struck a cord with me. I'll work on it.

      • larajf says:

        Been so busy bringing the kid back to university and getting some new habits going to build up my business.
        Let your smile be your umbrella, my friend.

  12. Richard Lee Van Der says:

    I just remembered "The Myth of Sisyphus" by Albert Camus. The GOOD or VALUE of life is in ROLLING THE ROCK, not end-orientation or getting it over the top. So, Rock n Roll!

  13. John Van Epps says:

    Life tends to hand you 'twists' over the years. The 'best laid plans' can evaporate in an instant. When it happens (it will), take a moment to regroup and see your next move. My epiphany happened about six years ago, in the prime of my working life. Suffice to say things went a far different direction than I'd planned – or planned for. You have the choice to regroup and re-align yourself with the new reality – or wander aimlessly and bemoan the past. I chose the former path.

    No it's not been perfect. Yes I've made mistakes – countless ones. But giving up/giving in was never a very attractive option.

    Despite setbacks, I've found a new happiness by thinking outside my tiny box, and expanding my view. Anyone can do this – you just have to want to…

    • Phil says:

      Great post, thank you. I have had a similar experience, realizing that I was straying from my core principles and having to hit the reset button. In doing so, I have had the most rewarding 6 years or so in my life, if also the most challenging – seeing places around the world, becoming more spiritually aware, and learning what is truly important. Good luck to you!

  14. Harry Hagan says:

    Like those people who can't stop taking pictures of the wonderful things they're seeing; waiting to show everyone where they've been, but putting a camera/phone in front of the places they're supposed to be seeing and experiencing.

  15. Don Searles says:

    Life 101
    By Don Searles
    It is each person’s responsibility to organize themselves, obtain the knowledge needed to understand how the world works, so they are prepared to take advantage of, or cope with, whatever may happen by, personal effort, mistakes, accidents, luck, or an act of God, and be thankful for what they have and who they are and be happy in every situation.

  16. JOE says:

    Life is just a PROCESS. And, the idea of having goals is to have a direction in which to go and to choose to do the things that you really enjoy. So, it is not the goal itself that is important, but to enjoy the PROCESS of achieving that goal AND the person you become in the process of achieving that goal. That is the purpose of goals. So, choose the goals that you know you will enjoy doing and when you get there, you will know you enjoyed yourself fully while you achieved it and the person you became when you achieved it. I cannot think of anything more important than this. To say this another way, when you are enjoying the Process you are LIVING.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      Well-said! "Life is what happens to us while we make other plans", so we cannot be addicted to the goal, but rather must enjoy all of the present moments, even those that cause a detour or delay from our goals. I try to keep in the present moment as much as possible – meditation daily does help – but we are so conditioned to want more, to do more, and the focus on a better future can be quite alluring, especially if our present seems not to stack up so well. Part of the mastery of life is learning that NOW is the only time that anything can happen, so if our focus is on the past or the future, we continually miss out on the ability to create in the NOW. Having a "bucket list" as someone else mentioned above is a good way to get one moving in a certain direction, but it is important to enjoy the whole process, and not just be interested in checking off an accomplished list item.

  17. Ernie Zelinski says:

    Great article. Kinda in the same vein, these word of wisdom apply:

    "It's better to have a short life doing what you like doing than a long life doing what you don't like doing."
    — Alan Watts

    "The worst days of those who enjoy what they do, are better than the best days of those who don't."
    — E. James Rohn

    "To safeguard one's health at the cost of too strict a diet is a tiresome illness indeed."
    — François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

    "If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all."
    — Anna Quindlan

    "The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure."
    — Henry David Thoreau

    "Do not fool yourself about the benefits of working long and hard hours.
    The most productive (and smartest) worker is the individual who makes the smallest amount of work go the furthest."
    — from "Life's Secret Handbook"

    "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
    — Leonardo da Vinci

    “Sometimes it's important to work for that pot of gold. But other times it's essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.”
    — Douglas Pagels

  18. TERRY RAINEY says:

    Interesting topic and very relevant in today's fast paced world. Goals have their place in life's structure but they are only plans and should not be mistaken for daydreaming or fantasy. A goal, or plan if you prefer, is not meant to be cast in stone. On the contrary, it should be open and flexible enough to allow for any sudden change in life's circumstance.

    People who adopt rigid goals tend to become fanatics, developing traits and habits that grate against the natural flow of life. There are many historical examples of dictators who set goals resulting in dire consequences for humankind.

    There are many elements required for achieving goals but two very important elements are focus and action. This is not the place to discuss the merits, or otherwise, of goal setting and getting. Still, it is a fascinating subject, well worth the study.

    One final observation on Robert's article. He is correct when he advises not to dwell on the past or worry about the future as there is only the now. If anybody would like to follow up, or learn more about this subject then I highly recommend Erchart Tolle's work, "THE POWER OF NOW." I have the audio version and it is my constant reference companion.

    • Angedur says:

      Started a new career and for some silly sally reason, some clown shoes like to be slap happy and act like chumps living in the past.

      Weirdos for sure and I wonder how does such behavior create good will and better friendships and be beneficial to all concerned?

      Theres no good in that. Indicative of peeps being ni99ards and no angels that they choose such despicable behavior.

      Good reminder to enjoy the day and when starting anew with goals and ambition, always some peeps being a donkey and getting in the way.

  19. Jean says:

    One of the downsides of setting goals is that once one is reached, it triggers the impulse to set a bigger, grander one. In essence, a person can be content for the moment, but is never satisfied, which is why enjoying the journey is critical.

  20. Mic says:

    I am definitely guilty of that waiting for the station thinking. For most of my adult life I have been very goal oriented and waiting for "that day" when everything is complete, I can check the last goal off my sheet and then I can enjoy everything I created. Your article is just another reminder that this is a false fantasy. Thank you.

  21. Houston is back ! says:

    Robert you are my favorite person in this world, followed by Rush Limbaugh, Reagan, and Trump. God bless!

  22. Ivan says:

    Setting and then accomplishing goals brings a certain amount of self confidence, self respect, and a new perspective on life. Besides, it teaches new methods of time management, resourcing and opens us to new possibilities. After the arrived state, it is time to set new goals. Goals can be tailored to each individual and varies from chilling all day to becoming the President of the US.