Quite a few years ago, a co-worker and I made a bet: The first one of us to become a millionaire would receive $1,000 from the “loser”.

When we made the bet, becoming a millionaire seemed inevitable rather than insurmountable. Not lacking confidence, we believed someone young, smart and hard-working could certainly amass that much money pretty quickly with single-minded, 24/7 dedication.

And so off we went, in different directions and in different parts of the country, bound together by our common goal: Forgetting all else, who would become a millionaire first?

It’s not unlike what many of us do this time of year: We identify something we want to achieve, and we start talking about how we’re going to do it.

Some of us set a goal of losing weight, and we join health clubs and chow down on Lean Cuisine meals. Others resolve to find a new job, one that pays well and actually is enjoyable.

Some resolve to spend more quality time with our families, promising to throw in the towel on working late nights and weekends. Some pledge to become more spiritual, joining a church or becoming more active in teh one we already attend.

Whether we write ourselves a (currently uncashable) check for $1 million and hang it on our wall for all to see, or whether we keep our goal hidden and refer to it quietly and without fanfare, the effect is the same: We’ve set a goal, and by gosh, we’re going to achieve it.

And then as the days and weeks and months roll on, it becomes more difficult to turn down an extra donut or a Saturday of overtime pay. We fall back into what aren’t necessarily bad habits, but they’re our habits, and despite our best efforts and better intentions, we end up the year not too far from where we began: Not quite happy and not quite rich and not quite sure what to do about it.

And then the new year’s resolutions begin again, as we hope for better luck this time on achieving our self-appointed goals.

Over the years, my life has worked out pretty well: My family and I generally are happy and healthy, if not wealthy, thanks to years of unintentionally forsaking my big million-dollar goal for plenty of smaller goals involving things more important than a bank account. I’ve about given up trying to become rich in favor of trying to become rich in favor of trying to be happy and relevant, having watched too many people fail at all three over the years.

And as for that long-ago million-dollar challenge: Well, like so many cash-motivated goals, this one turned out to be a sucker’s bet. Turns out the other guy was a millionaire to begin with, thanks to a number of well-to-do relatives, and he just didn’t bother to let me in on the secret.

So now I know he achieved his goal. I wonder if he had any others?


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