A reality check for idealists

by | June 16, 2014

My 14-year-old son wears a Nike t-shirt that says, “It’s supposed to hurt.”

It’s fantastic advice — especially for idealists, those of us who live in the Land of What Ought To Be.

Idealists are often crippled along their journey to improve the world by a pernicious, usually subconscious belief: “Because I am doing a good and noble thing, my efforts should be blessed, my path should be smooth, my barriers should be lifted, everything should go my way.”

If only wishing made it so…

History and the nature of reality say otherwise. In the Land of What Is, the most fervent idealists are battered by the most furious storms and are forced to climb the highest mountains.

Reality spares no one — no matter how pure his or her intentions — the trials that come from commitment.

For every achievement in life, there is a fixed price to pay. Reality offers no discounts to anyone — not even to the starry-eyed dreamers who want to save neglected puppies, starving children, even oppressed nations.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Joan of Arc paid the ultimate price for their achievements. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers paid a staggering price to secure our freedom.

The subconscious wish for an easy path based on one’s worthiness is the reason why so many idealists quit and sell out before getting even close to the mountaintop.

In that mindset, opposition is perceived as a sign that you’re on the wrong path. After all, if you’re doing what Father wants you to do, shouldn’t He open doors and fight your battles for you?

Contrary to subconscious wishing, the more idealistic you are, the more opposition you can expect. Opposition marks the narrow path of great achievement; the broad path of mediocrity is evidenced by ease.

From time to time, Father may open doors and fight battles for you. But when He doesn’t, it’s not because He doesn’t care or because you’re on the wrong path — it’s because He wants to build your strength and endurance. Whatever you think you’re building, His ultimate purpose is to build you.

In other words, it’s supposed to hurt. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to test your limits and take you to your breaking point. It’s supposed to take everything you have and then some. It’s supposed to cost a monumental sacrifice of blood, sweat, and tears.

Because it’s only at your breaking point that you become truly useful to Father. It’s only by repeatedly slamming against your limitations that you stay humble enough to be shaped for His work. It’s only by dropping to your knees in utter weakness that you can be made strong enough to bend the universe.

It is only by grappling with inexorable reality that you can manifest lofty ideals.

As Thoreau said,

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

In other words, dream about ideals. Envision them. Feel them. Imagine a better world.

Then, get out of the clouds, plant your feet on the ground, and begin digging in the trenches.

Don’t expect the universe to “conspire to assist” you — expect more opposition than you’ve ever experienced in your life. The world will not bend to your naive wishes, but it will bend to your relentless work.

As Shannon Alder said,

“You will face your greatest opposition when you are closest to your biggest miracle.”

The higher your ideals, the harder the path to achieve them. And climbing that path is supposed to hurt — because your ideals are birthed through your pain.


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