Learn to crush your dreams

For any melancholic a vital skill consists in learning to crush your own dreams, and see through your ideals.

This might sound a little depressing and counter-intuitive, but for melancholics there is a real danger that the ideal will drive us to extremes of attitude and action, leaving us obsessed or even possessed by a single all-encompassing dream.

I’ve had it happen to me on numerous occasions: recently when I decided that I should put everything into my writing, and subsequently felt as though every moment was either a writing moment or a wasted one. I became productive, yes, but more importantly I became acutely conscious of the disparity between reality and ideal. As time progressed and my creativity inevitably slowed, the ideal became an indictment of my stupidity, laziness, ineptitude and ultimately my humanity.

There’s nothing wrong with having a dream or an ideal, and for melancholics it is essential. But we slip up when we allow ourselves to believe that if we attain the ideal everything else will change. The fact is that when or if we ever could attain our ideals, we would very quickly find ourselves bored, dissatisfied, and ready to move on to something bigger and better.

Crushing one’s dreams is really about reminding yourself -often painfully- that the idealised outcome is really not that wonderful. Good? Yes. Desirable? Certainly. Life-changing? To a degree. But only a degree.

I’m currently in the midst of another ideal: this time the ideal of creating ever more wonderful and satisfying products. I’ve made bread, beer, yoghurt, rice wine, coffee, limoncello, pasta and pasta sauce; but all I can think is that I can’t move fast enough onto the next round of magnificent consumables: bacon, soy sauce, tofu, sake, sea salt, mozzarella, fetta, and about half a dozen other ideas that elude me at present.

All of these take time, preparation, equipment; and all I can see is that I’m falling short on all three.

The problem is that I’m letting the dream take over. I’m implicitly accepting that the more I get these delicious products in play, the more my life will change for the better. The problem is that this is entirely true, just not as significant as it seems. This manic phase of urgent productivity is not at all healthy. It strips the enjoyment from the process, turning these enriching and satisfying products into a mere list of achievements.

Seeing through an ideal, crushing a dream, neither of these means repudiating the goal. It just means we need to remind ourselves that true happiness is distinct from these enticing activities, goals, or accomplishments. They are well worth having, but not at a cost to one’s genuine happiness.

When I feel the pressure of the ideal mounting, I try to remind myself that happiness, peace, and a relaxed state of quiet are achievable at any moment. There are no prerequisites, so long as I am not driving myself to distraction in the first place.

There’s no denying that my ideals are pointing me toward a better, more enriched and satisfying life. But it won’t be any of those things if I lose all perspective along the way.

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4 thoughts on “Learn to crush your dreams

  1. It’s easy to forget that humans have competing ideals which are often arranged in a hierarchy and may not even be well organised or coherent. Furthermore there is nothing to suggest that people are impervious to change over time. People develop, grow and mature as a result of the dynamic interaction between their environment and their innate predispositions. It simply does not make sense to define a person based on their predispositions alone. So in talking about food and ideals, I am reminded of a former employer’s attempt at figuring out what “kind” of a person I was through having me contemplate and address the dilemma of: “Which would you prefer? Pizza or lettuce?”

    Being the pop psychologists and intellectual plebs that they are, one has to be as charitable to them as possible. So I will admit that I can see how it might make sense if they are only interested in a person for the limited time in which they are employed (such is the extent and value of this type of relationship). They will want to know what “mode” I am currently in and will be in for that time. They won’t care that I might be a type A trying to develop into a type B or C or D or more. They’ll also be too ignorant to realise that I might be innately a type A but that I might be able to reliably manifest a type B personality. In contrast family/friends are interested in who I am as a person (as opposed to an employee). This means that they see me as existing over time (or at least as long as the relationship lasts) and are more willing to appreciate and tolerate the complexities of my personality.

    The fact that human beings have a narrative and are aware of that narrative means that the temporal dimension is a necessary ingredient to what makes us persons. So defining people in terms of a transient personality type for a discrete period thus has the effect of depersonalising them. It’s like removing one chapter from a book and acting as though you value the book and know its beginning and ending.

    In relation to the challenges you and I face in striving for our goals and trying to come to terms with our ideals, I am wondering if there is a risk that we might do this to ourselves as well (and others for that matter). That is, we might define the rest of our lives based on merely what we lived through in the previous decade or two. We might not realise the potential for our narrative to go in a direction that we didn’t anticipate. We might think we know how our story ends and what the moral of the story is but I doubt we have too much reason to be confident of this.

    For me, it might turn out that in the next chapter of my life, lettuce plays a much more prominent role compared with pizza. Running might also play a more prominent role. I would like to think so. Such is the ideal of health and fitness. But if the ideal is to be healthy, fit, pretty, or whatever, simply eating lettuce, or dieting or exercising, will not be enough. There are psychosocial and economic dimensions that influence health and beauty too. This can detract from the positive feelings associated with achieving the goal of eating lettuce because one will come to realize that there is a lot more to health and beauty than depriving ones taste buds. Likewise, I’m sure you’ll agree that while being able to make one’s own foodstuffs is a highly satisfying achievement, there is much more that needs to be done in order to be self reliant.

    Ultimately the fundamental ideal that all human beings seek to live by is the ideal of living a good life or the ideal of “eudaimonia”. Eating pizza may go against this ideal, but conversely, eating too much lettuce instead may also go against it (pizza is delicious after all and helps the taste buds flourish!). But what this dilemma actually demonstrates is that satisfying one goal can mean thwarting another (the Rubik’s cube analogy comes to mind!).
    Goals and ideals inevitably come into tension which then forces us to prioritise them and place them within a hierarchy.

    When I was a child I played with Rubiks cubes on a few occasions but never really put much effort into it. On the rare occasions that I did, I could never get anywhere near solving them and instead I was satisfied with being able to get one face of the cube to be all the same colour. One out of six is better than nothing! So for me, perhaps crushing one’s dreams means that one is to abandon the lofty goal of completing the Rubiks cube and instead settle for something slightly less, a type of “diet eudaimonia” or “eudaimonia lite” or “I can’t believe it’s not eudaimonia”!

    Alternatively, perhaps a more optimistic and worthy goal might involve abandoning the notion that one can complete the Rubiks Cube in one fell swoop or even after only a few attempts. Perhaps one needs to work on trying to learn and develop and take it step by step. Aim at getting two of the six faces of the cube uniform in colour and then aim for three, then four, then five and then all six. If this doesn’t work then I suppose it means one would have to try a whole range of different strategies over a period of time. This is likely to require some rearranging of the hierarchy of one’s ideals, and possibly even abandoning some and adopting some new ones. Suffice to say that if I was serious about solving the Rubiks cube this would probably involve having to completely revolutionise the way I think about approaching the damned cube somewhere along the way! After all I didn’t design the cube so I cannot assume that I currently possess all of the relevant knowledge to complete it. Neither can I spend too long meditating on the cube, simulating in my mind what I need to do to solve it and then attack it in one fell swoop! This might work for “naughts and crosses” but not for the cube.

    There will be unpleasant surprises, anticlimaxes, mistakes and failures along the way (our previous employment being a case in point). But I don’t think there is any shame in these types of mistakes or failures because they are in fact necessary in order to attain the ideal.

    • Some good points Matthew. I think your point about patience in striving for ideals is probably a sign of a mature attitude, or perhaps just a different temperament! I am extremely impatient, and I regard ‘crushing my ideals’ as the means of attaining some degree of patience and a more relaxed attitude to them.

      I agree there is a risk of trying to define ourselves too narrowly, and in a sense the current period may be one of slowly developing options and alternatives. I get the impression I’ll turn to half a dozen potential paths before I’m done, or perhaps I’ll never be done and instead become a kind of connoiseur of options I never pursued?

      So long as it is fulfilling, I suppose I won’t mind. Or should I say, if it is what ought to be.

  2. Thanks Zac! Yes, I’m open to the possibility of a type of temperament that consists of no definitive temperament!

    I’m starting to come to terms with the notion that it might not be attaining one or more ideals that is the ultimate goal for me, but rather being content in having the opportunity to explore and trial various goals and ideals to begin with. Like you say, a connoiseur of options. Does the wine connoiseur taste various wines because they wish to find the perfect wine(s) and be done with wine tasting? Or do they just like exploring and continuing to seeing what else is out there? I’m not sure, but perhaps there is a satisfaction in knowing that one can at least continue to explore. After all, a rolling stone gathers no moss!

    When I reflect on the fact that many people I know are settled in terms their careers, family, friends, lifestyle, it makes me feel like a vagabond or at least unsettled. Whilst I never envisaged my life thus far to be like this, I can’t say that I regret it or dislike it, but neither can I say I’m jumping for joy. The recent past, has resulted in some ideals being crushed but others being further galvanised and as I enter a new chapter in my career and life, I enter it with a sense of optimism that I can continue to strive to attain certain ideals that I still believe in (now stronger than ever).

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