"There are always a million reasons not to do something" - Jan Levinson on The Office
We miss a million opportunities in our lives with a million excuses for inaction. Maybe it's not the right time. Or I have no time. I don't feel like it. There's too much on my plate. etc. etc. There will never be a more perfect time than now to open doors for yourself — or walk through already opened doors right before your eyes. Because whether you think you're ready or not, those doors are quick to be locked shut and then you end up losing the keys.
Enough with the cliche door metaphor: each minute, each hour, and each day cannot be taken for granted, but we still hold back because of fear. We are afraid that if we take action, it won't live up to our greatest expectations, so we don't take action. In a rather simple example, how many times have you thought about taking up, say, meditation, and never found the time? Maybe we imagined some hour-long session full of insight and relaxation that wouldn't be achieved in a few minutes, so we don't even attempt — or we always put it off until tomorrow. Maybe we have such high expectations for the practice that we want to achieve absolute perfection or not bother at all. This is super low-stakes, but it applies to other scenarios that could have ended up much, much different.
For example, I wanted to have the perfect first date with my current boyfriend--I wracked my brain trying to come up with the perfect ideas so that everything would run as soon as possible. What's the best possible restaurant? Should we go to an arcade, movie, event, etc. too? I had so much anxiety about this first date that I wondered whether I should cancel, which would have been a horrible mistake because he's an absolutely wonderful boyfriend. I wouldn't have known that had I canceled out of fear — the real problem was that I had such lofty ideals for what was supposed to happen on a first date that I almost didn't have one. What did happen is that we talked for a while over tea, scrolling through memes, and slowly broke through the awkwardness of first getting to know someone. It was uncomfortable at first — which is reasonable — but soon I became more comfortable with him than with anyone else.
We're always told to "dream big"--whatever that really means — but that's simply giving us the wrong idea. We're told to dream past our wildest imaginations, dream further than we ever dared to dream, etc. We encourage ourselves to be idealistic, not realistic. If you "dream big," nothing will ever be enough for you. You can meet a million different people with a million good qualities with idealism, and no one will ever be enough for you because idealism tells you to continue to amplify feels of joy, excitement, content, pleasure, etc. And then you don't appreciate someone who is everything for you already, bringing about love, affection, and all of those feelings that already make them absolutely perfect. After experience dating a lot of people with this sort of mindset, I knew quite soon that I had stumbled upon someone different from the rest, someone who understands realism (and no, realism isn't about settling, it's about appreciating what's here).
Have you ever procrastinated because you wanted to do the absolute best on an assignment? Have you put off seeing your friends because you would only see them for a little while? Have you put off reading all those unopened books on your shelf because reading a few pages at a time seems too dissatisfying? These are only a few of the places where we fall short of what we want because we become too idealistic, even if doing a little bit of the assignment right now would help you do better, or even seeing your friends for coffee would be nice over this busy week, or even if you could find some life-altering idea in the first few pages of that book. There is much to be gained in the littlest of actions, even if they fall short of your wildest expectations.
To paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki, we become discouraged when we become too idealistic. For example, I could have almost all A's in a semester and not be proud of my achievement because of idealism: why don't I have all A's? why can't I have a 4.0 GPA? If it's a 3.5, I'll want 3.7; if it's 3.7, I'll want a 4.0. Even if I had a 4.0, I'll live in fear of dropping below that, or look to other ways to validate academic achievement--it'll never be enough if I'm too idealistic. No matter what I do, it'll never seem like I'm good enough, which can hold me back in other areas of my life that matter more. Even if you can't achieve absolute perfection, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try if that means you have poor outcomes.
To paraphrase Suzuki again, we also have to pay attention to the following: if it is our desire to ____, then we have to do it. Don't amplify those desires more than need be — the feeling of content is severely underappreciated, and we can only feel content if we adopt realism and acceptance. There have been a lot of ideas in this article, but if at least one idea hit home for any of you, that's enough for me.