Some people that I’ve consulted were very excited when we started working together but over a few months their excitement slowly faded away, eventually died altogether, and was replaced either by boredom or frustration. Those were the idealists – people who are guided more by ideals than by practical considerations.
These are the kind of people who have this perfect picture of how things should be or will be even before they’ve had any kind of experience. Idealists are almost always elated when they are thinking about their ideals but when they actually start executing them they quickly become disillusioned because reality and an idea are two completely different things.
Idealists are basically wishful thinkers, which means they form their beliefs based on what might be pleasing to imagine. We’ve all been guilty of wishful thinking but for an idealist that is the predominant point of view. If a situation is not exactly as they have imagined it then it loses meaning for them because they aren’t interested in adapting to the situation.
The idealists I have worked with were at the beginning full of forced enthusiasm because they’ve pumped themselves up with their distorted ideas. Some of them used sentences like: “Wow I can’t wait!” or “This is going to be great!” or “That’s exactly what I need.” That seems to be working for a while but the further down the road they venture the more disillusioned they become because their fantasy is breaking apart.
The more reality starts to clash with their expectations the more resistant they get. Until finally they arrive to a complete disappointment from which they then try to break out with a new fantasy and so the cycle begins again. Some people spend a majority of their life in this vicious circle never actually acknowledging who they are or where they stand in life.
Realists may seem boring to some with their pragmatic outlook and balanced approach, but most idealists sooner or later become realists; it just depends on how stubborn or attached an idealist is to his or her ideas. It depends on the number of disappointments an idealistic person has to have before getting too tired of his or her own ideals. George Carlin said: “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” And cynicism is one of the worst vantage points for life.
When our life seems bleak, boring, or meaningless a fantasy may provide temporary relief, energy boost, or distraction but we pay for all that with dire long-term consequences, loss of precious time, and of course a weakened character. So the biggest challenge an idealist has to overcome is to be able to accept himself or herself and his or her current situation in life. The paradox is that only with acceptance can we initiate change.
Photo by Andrew Keymaster