One thing getting into my forties has shown me is that a lot of the “ideals” of my twenties and thirties haven’t truly meshed with “the real”.
Now, when I say “the real” here, I’m not necessarily talking about “the real world” — not exactly. I’m talking about what is, when it comes down to it, real and true for me — for the whole of who I am.
It’s easy for me to hang out in the land of the ideal. I remember one time, in my twenties, I was explaining to my therapist how disappointed I was in someone I was dating. She nodded and smiled and said, “As usual, your standards are very high.”
She didn’t say it with judgment at all, but with love — in fact, because I felt very accepted by her, I took it as a compliment. (She managed to say this when she could finally get a word in — at least once a session she would have to hold up her hand and say, “Jill, excuse me, may I say something?” Introvert that I am, when I am feeling safe, I can talk and talk and talk.)
I did have high standards — but I think it’s more accurate to say I had certain ideals that I was absolutely certain I needed to live by. And, as life plays out, as we live it, sometimes those ideals crash upon the shores of the real.
It’s not that the ideals are ridiculous or naive (as certain adults used to tell me about my “big dreams” when I was a teenager). It’s not even that the ideals are unattainable (sometimes ideals are very possible for us, especially when they are in keeping with our essential selves).
It’s more that reality provides constraints for our ideals to push up against. And that who we think we are when we connect to certain ideals may not be who we truly are — or maybe it is, but we change, and our old ideals start to feel more punishing than inspiring.
And this is not a bad thing (though tell that to my twenty-five-year-old self!). In fact, creativity often thrives within constraints. (Why do we need to be creative if there’s nothing to work out, nothing to understand, nothing to make better or see more clearly?!)
When the ideal meets the real, that is when we get to know who we truly are.
I wrote several years ago about my early dream of being an actress, and how I discovered over time that the life of an actor was really not the life I wanted. If I hadn’t given it a shot, though, I never would have understood why.
The reality of me is that I’m much more a writer than an actor. And, as I’ve brought my “ideals around being a writer” into reality, I’ve also learned a lot about what kind of writer I am, and what kind I’m not. I’ve learned a lot about what writing means to me, and what it doesn’t. (In other words, I’m more than a writer. “Writer” is one aspect of me, and writing is a tool through which I express the whole of me. And I’m still learning here.)
Spiritual teacher Adyashanti has said that you can have all the ideals you want, but it’s your life experience — your daily reality — that shows you what is true for you.
I had to confront this in my relationships for a lot of years. Although I said I wanted to be with a partner who was fully there for me, the people I allowed into my life back then weren’t really partners at all — they were never truly available to me.
Reality for me clashed with my ideal — what was true for me, I came to see, was that I didn’t really want a partner who was actually there — I wanted the idea of a partner.
It took a lot of peeling back the layers of my ideal for me to comes to terms with what was real — and true — for me. (It’s extremely common in the work I do with clients for them to test out an ideal and discover that they liked the idea of it, but the reality of it is not necessarily a good fit for who they truly are. This is wonderful news: now they get to see what it was in the essence of that ideal that they wanted. Very often, it is the essence we crave, not the actual thing itself.)
If you find your reality pushing up against an ideal, ask yourself:
• What is it about this ideal that inspires me, that moves me? Is there a way I can have the essence of this in my life without needing particular external circumstances?
• Does this ideal even fit me — the real me — anymore?
• Do I simply need more support in order to really live this ideal in my daily life?
What do you notice about how your ideals mesh with reality in your own life? I’d love to hear how this works (or doesn’t!) for you.
This is tough stuff. If you’re in this space and needing support, check out my options for one-on-one coaching and see if you think we might be a good fit. I’d love to help.