I’ve been experiencing the cliche of running into ‘reality’ as I get older. When I was 20 or so, it was much easier to have big dreams for the world. I had ideas for what society should be like and what civilization would look like if it were improved. The question of doing it was always a given, meaning, it was obvious to me that it was possible and that I was going to do it. I could build a huge corporation that did good for the world and made a profit.
Now I have just turned 34, the world is a much heavier weight on top of my dreams. It’s much harder to believe that my vision is possible. It feels like the weight of reality – the billions of people, with their organizations, their habits, their distractions and lack of interest in my idea – push down on me, and it feels like I have very little airspace for my vision. What changed? Partly working a capitalist job that I was only moderately good at, and largely ignorable. Partly having years of various projects that have ‘failed’ – or sputtered and failed to get off the ground. The world is much more stuck in the mud than I imagined.
The switch is so sudden, and demoralizing. One year the world is there for the taking and the only question is how to change it. The next year it feels like there is a gigantic weight crushing you. But I guess it’s useful to realize that many people face this transition, and it’s not easy. Many people give up on the ambition of their early dreams. So how to survive and come through it? How to come up against the intractability of reality, while still remaining an idealist?
The way I am thinking about it is: building blocks. Yes, I need to trust myself more. I need to believe in my ideas. I need a stronger sense of self. But this all really does begin with minor steps. Making a small world for myself – like on this blog. Making a plan for this month, and then the next. I can’t know what the future will hold on a large scale. But I keep coming back to an idea of Goethe’s: that action, even small action, is the most valuable thing. The key is to just do something to make progress. Putting one small thing on top of another. And even though most things in the world don’t succeed, what ultimately succeeds and fails is not up to us. Our job is to hold onto the intention, and act on it. As T.S. Eliot said: “for us, there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”