“RATIONALIZATION,” SAID AUTHOR AYN RAND, “is a process of not perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotion.” We’ve all been there and often regretted not proceeding with something we felt we should achieve.
There are occasions when we don’t take something on because we have reasoned that it wouldn’t work anyway, even if we feel it was important to others or ourselves. We’re not talking about excuses here, where we didn’t want to do something anyway and manufactured reasons for declining. This is different. This is where we experience the desire to take something on, but have developed some reasons, often through experience, that make us hesitant. It’s not because we’re looking for an out; we just think the odds against us are too great. This is where Ayn Rand’s observation is helpful. It just might be that we have read the circumstances wrong or underestimated our own abilities. Here are some of the things that hold us back.
“I just don’t have enough time.” This is totally valid, but perhaps not fully accurate. We all have commitment, important ones, and that thing we really want to take on we know will take some real effort. Whether it’s volunteering, learning a new language, helping something through a mental health episode, wanting to write a book, or even just go on a special trip with our kid – all these will require real resolve and, yes, time. In a recent commencement speech, comedian Jim Carrey noted, “The decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. Many of us will choose the path of fear based on practicality.” Sometimes we are afraid to take something on because of the effect it will have on other important priorities we have. Yet if it leads to a better community or even a healthier view of our own capacities, then those other important issues will be benefitted by our willingness to take the risk.
“The time just doesn’t seem right.” People who are always busy doing good things often voice these very words. But the time will never seem appropriate if our lives are taken up with so many responsibilities. Those of us who have used that rationale for inaction – haven’t we all? – often ruefully regret it in later years because we understand just how we might have been bettered by taking the leap when we had the chance. In most cases, the “right time” isn’t a period of time at all, but a concern that we might neglect something else, or that we don’t have the ability to accomplish it. The best thing is to go for it when we sense it; we can always change our plans later if it doesn’t work out.
“I’m too young.” That is likely true when it comes to the perspective of others, but our modern world is showing that it’s simply not true. It was a conversation with a 28-year old Londoner that prompted this blog post and it was easy to sense her frustration. We could trot out countless examples of those under 30 who have launched successful tech businesses or who, like Malala, instigated a human rights revolution, but the real issue for many is the belief that the world isn’t open to the efforts of the next generation and it holds us back. Picasso said that, “it takes a very long time to become young.” Know why that is? It’s because who are older wish they were young again, had the energies of youth, or could collaborate with their peers the way the did in earlier years. Yes, there are systems and institutions, prejudices and opinions, but these will yield way to someone with a dream, a vision, who is dedicated to bettering their world. It’s contagious and people have great trouble turning down empowered people.
“All I have is an idea.” Well, that’s plenty. There is so much of what goes on in life and in organizations that reflects the mundane and the same-old, same-old. Often such systems suppress ingenuity, innovation, or new ways to do old things. The great author, Victor Hugo, thought that it was ideas that surpassed everything, or as he wrote, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” But it will never come if we don’t act on those impulses. People aren’t starving for old bromides, but new and exciting perspectives. Entire systems can run on old concepts, but only ideas can change the world.
The list of those things that often hold us back is endless. They are real and, at times, intimidating. But no one can make you lose confidence without your consent. Our world needs to chart new courses for the journey humanity must take in order to solve its biggest and smallest problems. It’s time for all of us to step out and play our part. The world is looking for ingenuity and authenticity, not platitudes and empty words.