Nothing makes me more defensive and my skin crawl as much as the statement “be realistic”. Even, and often especially, when it is said to someone other than me.
I will do my best to start by quieting the naysayers. I understand that yes, sometimes we must “be realistic” in a very broad sense of the phrase. For example, I should not budget as if I am going to win the lottery tomorrow. There is a 1 in 250,000,000 chance of me winning the lottery, so OK, that may not be realistic. But beyond that, who am I, and who are you, to say what is or is not realistic. What is realistic for me is not ever going to be the same as what is realistic for you, and vice versa.
The idea of realism, being a realist, is very different for each of us. And I think too often it is used as a form of judgement against each other. I have grand plans for my future; I believe in a fairytale romance; I believe in work that is fulfilling; I believe in family that loves to be together; I believe in opportunities to see and travel the world without going into debt. Whether these are things you believe in or not, and whether or not they are possible for you or possible for me, “be realistic” is not something I consider useful.
To me, the phrase “be realistic” equates to:
– I don’t believe in you
– I don’t believe in your dreams
– I don’t believe you should aspire to the things you desire.
– I think you should settle for something less than what you want.
Be Realistic is another way of saying You Should Settle.
It was September 2001 and I wanted to move to Boston. Boston was my stepping stone to then move to Europe. Then September 11 happened. I still wanted to move, but now America was plunging into a recession, Boston being one of the hardest hit. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t know anyone in Boston, and I had no prospects for creating a life there. Yet I still was determined to move; without a job, without a place to live, without knowing a single soul, and I was determined that I would succeed.
Most everyone I knew, with the exception of my gracious and loving parents, told me to “be realistic”. That I was crazy. It was a bad time to move, and it was stupid to move without a job. I would fall flat on my face and be moving back home to live with parents within weeks. But I made the leap anyway.
Without a job, without any contacts, without a perfect place to live or even a great savings, I picked up and moved. The fairytale version of this story would be that within a few days, or weeks, I had a job and an apartment and a boyfriend and a great community. And yes, in some ways I did have some of those things, but mostly I struggled. I worked hard, and I hustled, and I interviewed – as much as I could. It took more time, and hard work, and a bit of debt – but yes, I did eventually do it. I found a job that was right for me, that fit my reality, that worked for my life.
I am my own harshest critic. And I would guess that you are your own harshest critic. You don’t need someone to tell you that you might fail, because you’ve already thought through the hundreds of ways that you might, you’ve come face to face with your own limitations and the things that you stumble over, that hold you back. And you’ve already had the “be realistic” conversation with yourself, and possibly tried to rationalize your dream or talk yourself into something that seems more approachable or convenient. So to pile on top of that someone saying “be realistic” tends to be a hurtful thing.
God knows there are enough critics in the world today. There are enough people that want to judge, limit, take the guise of caring to say that I don’t believe you’ll have what you want (i.e. that you don’t deserve what you want).
What we need more of is cheerleaders.
We need more solution finders. We need people that will be in our corner no matter what… even if we are being a bit unrealistic… even when we are reaching for the stars and it seems unlikely we will touch them…
Yes, there is a time and a place to have conversations about reality… but we throw those conversations around more readily in dashing someone’s dreams than in lifting them up. And those conversations should be about solutions and alternatives and plans for reaching those dreams, not about replacing them with settling.
I shouldn’t put all the eggs in one basket that I’ll win the lottery. Ok, I accept that. But if I want to be ridiculously rich, let’s talk about that. Let’s change the conversation to why I want that. Let’s figure out how I can do that. Let’s make it a chance to build each other up, instead of tear each other down.
So I say NO, do NOT be realistic. Be a dreamer. Be an optimist. Be a builder. Be an encourager. Be a believer. Both in yourself and in those around you. We could all use a little more faith.
In what ways do you feel like you need to “be realistic”, but every part of your core being is telling you otherwise?
What would NOT being realistic look like for you?
What’s stopping you?