Sometimes it almost seems as though the melancholic idealist is drawn to things because there is no money to be made from them.
There’s an element of truth in this: money attracts all types of people, and the utility of wealth tends to degrade the subject matter, whatever it may be. Money is the lowest common denominator; when the idealist sees the crowd scrambling for money, he naturally wonders what else there is to life.
In a society fixated on money, this can be self-defeating, because no matter what our ideals are we do need a basic wealth in order to survive and a more than basic wealth to flourish and be meaningfully engaged in society. Hence the idealist dream is to find a way of earning a reasonable living without compromising his ideals.
But what if, by his early thirties, an idealist has somehow managed to invest himself almost totally in financially useless skills and interests? What if, perversely, the very things that attracted him to those skills and interests are the same features that repel others and make them monetary dead-ends?
The rare, gruelling martial art that must not be taught commercially; the ancient religious chant rejected as foreign and elitist by the religious mainstream; the difficult philosophical quest for meaning and purpose neglected by mainstream culture — it’s hard to market yourself to people who fundamentally have no idea what you’re talking about, and no real interest in finding out. But lest we fall into the melancholic Catch-22 -twisting ourselves in knots trying to monetise the ideal- it is vital that we remind ourselves of the context of our ideals, and why we were drawn to them in the first place.
The context is, after all, a little humbling: you left the popular, commercialised martial art in part because the new art was rare, exclusive, and not commercialised. You pursued the ancient religious chant in part because it had been rejected, forgotten, and overlooked. You delved into philosophical inquiry in part because your society and culture could not readily provide the answers. To complain at this point that your interests are not feted by the wider community would be a little embarrassing, wouldn’t it?
The other part of the ideal is even more important: the first impression, the beginner’s point of view, the ideal of the ideal, the perfect form that drew you in from the start. It faded and waned over years of practice, but is still there in the background and still has the power to inspire and restore.
We get bogged down, somewhere along the way, and lose touch with this source of inspiration. We forget to take a step back and consider our progress: how far we have come along the path to our ideal, whether it be the power, form, and self-mastery of the rare martial art, the haunting beauty of the ancient chant, or the wisdom, knowledge, and clarity of the philosophical search for meaning.
In some sense these ideals will never be achieved, and the beginner’s first impression naturally gives way to the realisation of the adept that there is always farther to go and more to learn, and others whose knowledge and experience dwarf anything you have attained. And so there is a risk of ending up with neither wealth nor a sense of accomplishment, perhaps regretting our seemingly naive idealism and wishing we were more money-minded.
Such doubts are normal, but if the melancholic temperament is real then holding such regrets is a pathetic place to be. Just accept that you are not money-minded. Just accept that you are an idealist, and ultimately your ideals mean more to you than money ever will. You will have to make a living somehow, and it is impossible to say whether you can find a means of income that satisfies your idealistic temperament. But you stand a far, far better chance of doing so if you pursue your ideals unashamedly, and without reserve. Ideals are, after all, what you are good at. There is an inherent dignity and enjoyment in doing what you are good at, even if the rest of the world neither cares nor understands.