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Find your voice, and then use it

'When you wake up tomorrow morning, make believe you are another person -- an artist, a musician, or a doctor. It doesn't matter, as long as it is someone other than you. You will begin to see things over the course of the day that you never saw before. Then the next day, be someone else."

This advice comes from an intriguing new book, ''Goal-Free Living" by Stephen Shapiro. Its premise is that goals are not the path to happiness but a hindrance to it, that we should be open to life as opposed to being Captain Ahab in pursuit of the great white Mercedes.

What got me thinking was the notion of being someone else for a day. Isn't it the goal of our culture to make us all feel that we ought to be someone else? Perhaps pretending to be someone else might be an antidote. So I decided to try Shapiro's exercise right here and become someone else to write this column. I decided the right person for the job was Garrison Keillor, one of my writer-heroes. So, here I am, a self-appointed honorary Minnesotan for a day:

Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown. We had snow . . . day after day after day. I shoveled the driveway half a dozen times but finally just gave up. If Nature didn't want me going out, OK, fine by me -- I can take a hint. Sometimes you need an excuse to just sit and watch the snowflakes drift past the window. Big as my hand, some of them. They piled up like flapjacks at the Pancake Breakfast over at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, waiting for the crowd that never came. I confess I was glad to not be there, just this once, glad to have a chance to just sit under the blanket of winter, to have a cup of coffee and . . . reflect.

My mistake, the reflecting. A Midwesterner ought to know better, because it felt so good doing nothing that I started to think, ''I think I'm happy." Dumb, dumb, dumb. We have good schools in the Midwest, ones that teach us to always see both sides of an issue.

So, instead of sitting peacefully alone, wrapped in a warm lefse of solitude, I automatically find myself captain of the debating squad for the other team. And instead of sitting alone, all of a sudden the room is filling up with the Less Fortunate, crowded with all the Not Happies. In comes a line of the starving children of . . . of . . . wherever it is they're starving now. Why don't I know where they're starving? How did I get so out of touch? How jaded am I? Have I finally been given a full and irrevocable membership in the Society of Old Fartdom?

And then into the room came all the fund-raisers for public radio, shaking their lists of fund-raising goals like tin cans, pleading with their eyes for me to do public-service announcements for their stations. And then there's my old shop teacher, Mr. Firchenstall, holding up eight fingers . . . all he has. Back in high school, whenever anyone would complain about anything, he'd hold up his hand to show us what wasn't there, and we'd stop our whining quick; our complaints sucked into the vacuum of that empty space above his index and ring finger stubs. That was all he had to do to make us contemplate all we ought to be grateful for if we'd just shut up for a minute and think.

I tell them all to go away, to leave me in peace, but Mr. Firchenstall says that they'll leave only if I contemplate the list of goals I made last year: 10 Things I Want to Do Before I Turn 65. I tell him I will, and hope he doesn't want to shake on it, a thought I immediately feel guilty about, and he senses that and gives me a tight-lipped smile and waves out the starving children and the fund-raisers, who grumble but go.

And then, alone again, I have to face up to the fact that I don't know where I put the list of goals, even though one of the goals was ''get organized." So I start to search, feeling shamed and miserable, and contemplate the Midwesterner's version of ''I think, therefore I am"; it goes, ''I think I might be happy, and therefore I am not."

You get the point. My apologies to Keillor and to all those fans who will write to me to tell me how I screwed up on being Keillor-esque. But isn't that the great thing about a Keillor or any other genius -- that they are ''esque-able"?

It makes you wonder about their goal-setting. Does any genius have any other goal than the one that somehow got etched on their brains and is the only one that really matters in the end? BE ORIGINAL.

Dale Dauten is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at

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