The Best Goal He Never Reached

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by Melissa Face

***Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Resolution – Copyright 2008

I love making lists. I enjoy accomplishing tasks and being able to see my progress on a sheet of paper with lines marked through it. I make shopping lists, lists for chores around the house, and projects at work. I find it incredibly motivating to put my goals on paper. And that is why, at the end of each December, I sit down at my kitchen table with paper and pen and write “The Mother List.”

My New Year’s list is as important to me as any other holiday tradition. Like watching the ball drop in Times Square, or making a midnight champagne toast, my New Year is not official without a complete, updated list.

I make annual financial goals, career goals, fitness goals, and educational goals. Some are very realistic and easily reached. Others are a bit more far fetched and require a lot of wishful thinking. But that’s okay. January is the perfect month for high hopes and big dreams.

About seven years ago, my New Year’s list included going back to school for a graduate degree. I knew it would be a difficult task for a working adult, but I had to go for it, especially once my goal was on paper. I took courses on Saturdays and Sundays and worked Monday through Friday. I was quickly reminded why I was so happy and relieved when I finally completed my undergraduate degree. The stress was overwhelming: working on papers until 3:00 a.m., sitting in class for eight hours, and dreaming about oversleeping and missing class. That actually happened once. I finished the degree and crossed it off my list.

Four years ago, the first item on my list was to become a published writer. I had always been passionate about writing, but my credits were limited to a few high school publications and a local poetry contest. At the time, I was working for a company that published a weekly newspaper. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, so I proposed a column idea to the publisher. He liked my proposal and my first article went to press in November of that year. I reached my goal.

I wrote for that paper, The Myrtle Beach Herald, for a little more than two years. I wrote a business column, covered a Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan concert, and interviewed numerous officials in the Myrtle Beach area and surrounding counties. But no one of political importance or celebrity status made a bigger impression on me than a lady named Rennie Lansberg.

I interviewed Mrs. Lansberg, a recent widow, for the obituary section of the paper. It was my job to find out all I could about her deceased husband and write a piece that truly captured his essence. It was the most challenging assignment I had ever been given. How do you write, in 400 words or fewer, a person’s life story? How do you determine what to include and what to leave out?

Mrs. Lansberg told me that her husband, Fred, was a religious man who treasured his family and his friendships. He loved to travel, especially on all-inclusive cruise ships, and his favorite food was Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. In fact, that was his last meal.

Fred Lansberg was the type of man anyone would be proud to call a friend. He cooked for the homeless, donated blood regularly, and worked tirelessly for his church. He was a former accountant, and though he was a dedicated employee who was named “favorite bean counter”, he was equally dedicated to his social life. Fred Lansberg was often found surrounded by friends, wearing a t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops, and a broad smile.

Towards the end of the emotionally draining interview, Mrs. Lansberg told me that her husband was a very goal-oriented person and that he made many lists. She said his most recent goal had been to read his father’s entire collection of Charles Dickens novels. “He didn’t do it though,” she said. “He was too busy enjoying his life.”

As it turns out, it was the best goal he never reached.

The brief time I spent interviewing Rennie Lansberg has made a lasting impression on me. I think about her story often, especially in December when I sit down to write my annual list. I have not stopped writing my list, but this experience has changed my perspective.

Last year, I accomplished most of my goals. I paid down the credit card balance, exercised more, and cut back on sugar. But I did not get around to organizing my home,  labeling my digital photos, or reading all the books stacked on my shelf. I planned to, but I didn’t have the time. I was too busy enjoying life.

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