S.M.A.R.T Goals

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story about someone feeling powerless.... view prompt


Drama Funny

As someone who’d always considered himself a shining example of an emotionally healthy, well-adjusted adult male, Rodger never imagined he’d land up going to a life-coach for help. But then, he didn’t expect to find himself a walking cliché – middle-aged with an expanding waistline and wandering wife at the age of 43. The whole concept had seemed ridiculous before. Rodger no more needed someone to coach him in the finer points of living than he needed someone to teach him how to grow his hair. Or so he had thought.

Now, his once luxurious mane was falling out at about the same rate his life was falling apart, which was to say: rapidly.

One of the common features of a standard mid-life crisis, along with the purchasing of a Ferrari, is the random assignation of blame. Lacking the funds for the former, Rodger had had fully embraced the latter. It was all his wife’s fault, he told himself repeatedly.

The confidence - the zest for life - Lauren had provided in the early days of their marriage was exactly what seemed to be lacking in Rodger’s life ever since he’d sailed past the event horizon that was his 40th birthday. What Lauren had once given him, she had now taken away, and, as he found himself watching helplessly as his life crumbled before his eyes, Rodger resented her for it.

Their inevitable breakup loomed large in Rodger’s mind, and he was certain the reason was alienation of affection (he’d looked up that legal definition and far preferred it to my wife is sleeping around). Lauren was having an affair. He had no proof, but the signs were clear. She’d recently shed a few pounds, she’d started wearing makeup again and buying expensive new clothes that were far too young for a married woman in her early 40’s (mutton dressed as lamb, Rodger thought but wisely refrained from saying), and she seemed generally happier and healthier than she had in years. Her only complaint in life seemed to be with her hopeless husband. If Rodger’s life was on a distinctly downward trajectory, Lauren’s was going the opposite way. The only logical explanation was the intervention of a philanderous third party.

At the same time as blaming his wife for his present woes, Rodger recognized that if he could just do something to win her back, all would be well. Unfortunately, he had no idea as to what that something might be. Asking Lauren outright if she was seeing someone else would only cause another fight. When he mentioned the issue obliquely, remarking on her sudden transformation, she’d said only that it was down to the new life-coach she’d started seeing. She’d even recommended he give the whole self-improvement thing a go, although she did so with some colorful phrases like 'man up' and 'grow a pair' thrown in for good measure.

Lauren’s remark might have been of the off-hand variety, but Rodger, desperate to do anything to resuscitate his dying marriage, decided to give it a try. So, he made himself an appointment with Lauren’s life-coach, hoping that even if results weren’t forthcoming, his effort alone would show his wife his willingness to change. He could ill afford the unplanned expense but, on balance, it seemed the only logical thing he could do. Besides, he told himself, what's the worst that can happen? A bit of life-coaching never killed anyone.

Rodger arrived punctually for the appointment, as was his habit. The office looked exactly like a doctor’s consulting rooms – a utilitarian desk, devoid of paperwork, with a single chair before it, presumably for clients. On the walls, instead of depictions of the limbic system and step-by-step guides to effective hand hygiene, was a collection of cheesy motivational posters. The only way to guarantee failure is to never try, stated one in boldface print. Beneath was an image of a boy rising out of a wheelchair as if overcoming physical disabilities was only a matter of persistent effort. Just do it, exclaimed another in what seemed a brazen flouting of copyright laws.

Not a big fan of the self-help stuff, Rodger was put off immediately, a feeling only enhanced by the figure seated behind the desk. One generally expects professionals in their chosen fields to look the part – personal trainers need to be in shape, teachers must have a scholarly air about them – so it stood to reason that a life-coach would look like he had his shit together. This guy, however, seemed to have stepped off the cover of GQ, right down to the wavy blond hair and winning smile. Rodger, sucking in his gut and acutely aware of how his bald-spot must be gleaming in the overhead fluorescents, hated the man on sight.

“Hey, buddy, you must be Rodger. Mind if I call you Rodger? I’m Brad, expert life-coach at your service,” he continued without giving his new client a chance to reply. “Come on, take a seat. I can see we’ve got lots of work to do.”

Rodger complied, wondering if he was being insulted. He decided it didn’t matter. He just wanted to get this over with. “Look, Brad, I’m not even sure why I’m here – “

“Oh, so your life is going swimmingly then, is it? No problems at all?”

Now Rodger knew he was being insulted. As if being married to the queen of sarcasm wasn’t enough, he had to deal with a pretender to the throne. And pay for the privilege! “I didn’t say that,” he replied through clenched teeth. “I’m just not sure if you can help me, is what I meant.”

“Oh, I can’t help you.”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s only one person in the world who can do that, Rog my man. You. My job is to give you the tools to dig yourself out of whatever hole you’ve landed yourself in.”

Rog? The only thing he hated more than unnecessary abbreviations were unsolicited nicknames. Rodger was tempted to shorten the guy’s name to Bra in response – fitting, seeing how he was a tit – but better judgment prevailed and instead, he asked, “How’re you going to do that, exactly?” Looking at his watch as if to say and make it snappy.

“I’m so glad you asked.” Brad displayed his annoyingly perfect dental work. “You’ve come to me because you have a problem, something that’s ruining your life, and you have no idea what to do about it.” It was a statement, not a question. “Let me ask you this, Rog,” Brad continued. “How’d you feel if you woke up tomorrow and found your problem had been magically solved?”

“Um… pretty good, I guess?”

“I doubt it, buddy. You see, we all have only one problem in life – lack of power. We long to feel in control; to be in the driver’s seat. When things happen to us beyond our control – even good things – we feel helpless. Like spectators. Powerless. Why do you think most lottery winners land up worse off within a year than they were before their big payday? You don’t want your problem solved, Rodger, you want to solve your problem. You want to grab hold of whatever’s bothering you and choke the life out of it with your own bare hands. What you want, in a word, is power.

Rodger had to admit, grudgingly, that this made a lot of sense. As emasculating as losing his wife was, he didn’t just want Lauren to come running back to him for no reason. He wanted to win her back, to feel in control of his destiny again like he had when he was younger and could still get up from the sofa without making sound effects. “And you can give me that… power?”

“Absolutely! That’s why you pay me the big bucks.” Brad brayed a laugh as if this was wit of the highest order. “Let’s talk about goals, Rog. You have any?”

“Not really… Oh, wait. I did kind of decide to try lose some weight back in January. You know, like a new year’s resolution thing?”

“Whoah, buddy, no wonder your life’s a mess! Are you hearing yourself? Kind of? Try? Thing? And phrased as a question like that? Hell, it sounds like you’re asking permission! No, no, no, Rodger. Goals are the key to success, but they have to be firm. Definite. They’ve got to be SMART.

“Smart as in clever?”

“Nope, as in S-M-A-R-T. It’s an acronym, stands for: simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, and with a time-frame.” Brad counted each on a finger as if his client needed a visual aide to grasp the concept. “Let’s look at your goal, your resolution thing. It’s the antithesis of SMART. Try lose some weight? That’s not simple, you can’t measure it – what’s some weight? An ounce? A pound? Ten pounds? Fifty? – which means it’s definitely not achievable and is therefore in no way realistic. And, most important of all, there’s no time-frame. No deadline.”

Okay,” Rodger conceded, “I see what you mean. But don’t deadlines just add pressure and ensure failure?”

“Putting down a time-limit introduces the possibility of failure, sure, which is why people don’t like to add them to their goals. No one wants to fail. But, Rog, if you rule out the possibility of failure, don’t you take any chance of success off the table as well? That’s exactly why precious few succeed in life – they’re afraid to fail!”

This was sounding to Rodger a lot like the spiel of the motivational speaker he hired to address his employees twice a year but, even so, he couldn’t fault the logic of what Brad was saying. Maybe, just maybe, he was on to something here. “So I need to set a SMART goal?”

“Right. That’s step one. Next, you need to frame your goal as a statement of powerful positive intent. A PPI, I like to call it.” Brad paused to scratch his annoyingly square jawline. “Let me tell you a story quick, Rog. Ever heard of Muhammed Ali?”

“Sure, he was that boxer guy, wasn’t he?”

“Yep, the greatest pound-for-pound fighter ever to live.” Brad gazed dreamily off into middle-distance as he said this. Mancrush alert. “Now, at the prefight press conference, Ali would tell the world exactly what was going to happen in the fight the next day. ‘I’m going to knock him out in the fifth,’ he’d say, for example. Then, come the fight, what do you think happened, Rog?”

“He’d knock his opponent out in the fifth round?”

“Bingo! You know why?”

Because he was psychic. Roger was tempted to show he was no slouch in the sarcasm department himself, but he wanted to hear where this was going, so instead, he just shook his head in reply.

“Because of his statement of powerful positive intent, buddy.” Brad flashed that grin again. “You see, when you say you’re going to do something with such conviction that it seems there’s no doubt in your mind then, inevitably, you’ll end up doing what you said you would. It’s all down to the PPI. It’s a universal law, works every time.”

“So I say whatever I want to happen and it’ll just magically come to pass?” Rodger asked, unleashing the sarcasm at last. He’d been afraid of this – some airy-fairy self-help mumbo jumbo with no practical value.

“ ’Course not, Rog. There’s no magical quick-fix involved. Once you’ve framed your SMART goal as a PPI statement, you still have to put in the work. There are no shortcuts, I’m afraid, but I can teach you a little trick.” Brad leaned back contemplatively in his seat behind the desk before asking, seemingly apropos of nothing, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Rodger was caught so off-guard he could only stare, wondering if Brad had lost his mind.

“I’ll tell you – one bite at a time! That’s exactly how you tackle your goals – break them down into simple, manageable, actionable steps. Just ask yourself, each day, what can I do right now that’ll take me a teeny bit closer to eventually achieving what I want? Forget the future, live in the moment, and embrace the belief that the small things you do today will shape your life tomorrow. Once you’ve got that, then all you have to do is – “ Instead of finishing, Brad pointed to the poster proclaiming the slogan of a certain popular sports shoe manufacturer to make his point.

“Okay… “ Rodger didn’t quite know what to say. It all sounded good in theory, but then, so does a pyramid scheme. He wasn’t sold just yet.

“I know it’s a lot to take in, Rog, so I’m going to help you out with a little good ol' practical application. Let’s make this work.” Brad then regarded his client carefully, before saying, “I want you to close your eyes for me.”

Rodger did.

“I want you to think about that problem of yours. The one that brought you here. That one thing you just can’t get a handle on.”

Eyes squeezed shut, Rodger thought about Lauren. How he didn’t want to lose her. How he’d do anything, anything, to win her back; to recapture the essence of what they’d had together in their youth.

“Now I want you to think of a SMART goal related to overcoming that problem. A goal that, if achieved, would not just take care of the issue but make you feel in control as well. Powerful. Okay?”

Nothing came to him at first. Rodger remained as clueless as to how he could repair his floundering marriage as before. But, as he thought carefully about all Brad had said; about what he’d learned during the session, something came to him. A realization. What that lame motivational speaker would have called a lightbulb moment. It was so simple - so obvious -  and it had been staring him in the face this entire time without his even realizing it. Suddenly, Rodger knew exactly what he had to do.

Brad continued. “I want you to frame your goal as a statement of powerful positive intent, just like Ali. I want you to craft it, Rodger. Polish it. It’s going to become your personal mission statement, the undercurrent to your every waking thought, the fuel to the engine of your ambition. You got it?”

Rodger nodded that he did.

“Good.” Brad leaned forward. “I’m going to count to three now, and when I finish, I want you to get up, proclaim your statement with feeling - really shout it out like you mean it – then break it down into bite-sized pieces and go out and do what needs doing. Ready?”

Rodger was. His hands trembled in anticipation. He could almost taste it – power, at long last. He’d never been more ready for anything in his life.

“One… Two…Three!”

Jumping up from his seat, Rodger opened his eyes, took in a deep breath, and yelled, “I will strangle the son-of-a-bitch life-coach who’s been screwing my wife! Right! Now!” Then, having delivered this exemplary example of a SMART goal framed as a statement of powerful positive intent, he took a few quick strides across the room – not exactly small steps, but manageable, actionable ones all the same – launched himself over the desk and onto the stunned man sitting behind it, wrapped his hands around Brad’s annoyingly smooth throat, and proceeded to choke the life out of him.

Rodger smiled as he did. He had to admit he’d been wrong - the life-changing session had been worth every cent.       

September 09, 2020 12:57

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Amy DeMatt
23:14 Sep 15, 2020

Haha! This is great! I must admit I had no idea where this was headed, and I traveled happily down the primrose path, until. . . This was perfect execution, I wanted to know what would happen next, it was gaining momentum, and the ending did not disappoint! Incredible job, keep it coming Jonathan!


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Amy DeMatt
23:14 Sep 15, 2020

Haha! This is great! I must admit I had no idea where this was headed, and I traveled happily down the primrose path, until. . . This was perfect execution, I wanted to know what would happen next, it was gaining momentum, and the ending did not disappoint! Incredible job, keep it coming Jonathan!


Show 0 replies
Amy DeMatt
23:14 Sep 15, 2020

Haha! This is great! I must admit I had no idea where this was headed, and I traveled happily down the primrose path, until. . . This was perfect execution, I wanted to know what would happen next, it was gaining momentum, and the ending did not disappoint! Incredible job, keep it coming Jonathan!


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Andrew Krey
16:23 Sep 15, 2020

Hi Jonathan, I read your story and really enjoyed it! There were great examples of humour; I especially liked that the sign of an affair was that the wife was happy, and that as soon as he walked in the life coach could see from his appearance he needed help! SMART-R was the exact acronym PwC used when I worked there (second 'R' being Reflect on how well you've been achieving your goals), but despite this horrible association with the title I read on anyway and wasn't disappointed! :) Happy writing.


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Elise Holder
11:23 Sep 15, 2020

Haha this was great, I am learning about SMART goals in school. Now whenever I hear SMART goals brought up in class I'll think of this story and get a good laugh.


Jonathan Blaauw
14:24 Sep 16, 2020

Thank you Fur Elise. Please try not to strangle anyone. It's illegal, apparently. Rather inconvenient... But anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the story. It's so rewarding to share and receive joy through writing and reading respectively 😃


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Charles Stucker
08:17 Sep 14, 2020

"The only logical explanation was the intervention of a philanderous third party." I'd go with philandering here. I like the end. Sharp, to the point, gives the protagonist agency, and is twisted. The level of dark humor is middling fair throughout. Not Bob Hope funny, but better than a 70's sit-com. OTOH this begs for a continuation- one with his wife who it turns out is having an affair with someone who is older and richer. And gets strangled by that man's second wife. Then you have a third where Roger and the woman who strangled ...


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Katina Foster
20:14 Sep 10, 2020

So funny & so clever! Just what I've come to expect from you. I have no suggestions, but here are some the lines that made me giggle: "Lacking the funds for the former, Rodger had had fully embraced the latter." "Rodger was tempted to shorten the guy’s name to Bra in response." "Mancrush alert." "Because he was psychic" Excellent work as always!


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Phil Manders
12:26 Dec 03, 2021

Give up your day job (unless you’re a writer) this was perfect. And shortening his name to Bra just so you could use the word tit is nothing short of genius. You could have written the whole story around that pun . . . maybe you did?


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Ruth Porritt
07:53 May 23, 2021

Yes! Thank you so much for writing this. (If it wasn't rude to do so, I would write in all caps to demonstrate my appreciation of this story.) Recently, I was dissatisfied with an episode of Inside No. 9--I normally love each episode--and this story was a genuine pleasure to read. (If I were the boss of the world, I would have you writing for this show.) Anyway, why did I enjoy this piece so much? 1. Amazing attention to detail. (throughout this work) 2. I am almost 40 years old and can relate to Rodger's mid-life worries. (I appreciate ...


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