I am a dreamer, but an unapologetic pragmatist. What gives?

Pragmatism: a person who is guided more by practical considerations than by ideals.”hardheaded pragmatists firmly rooted in the real world”

I believe in playing the hand that I’m dealt, and the fact that not everything will fit nicely into ideals. While watching The Good Place recently (highly recommend!), a scene dealing with Kantian ethics reminded me of my pragmatism. Kant’s Categorical Imperative can be stated as follows.

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

In a nutshell, only act in a way such that your action will always be ethical and valid. I reject this notion because life is nuanced in a way that will never be fully captured in a set of universal laws. If there are multiple universal laws, there will be scenarios that pit them against each other. Even if there is only one universal law, there’s going to be a situation where it is pitted against itself.

I prefer to ground myself in reality instead of clutching lofty ideals. However, this does not mean that I do not dream. My dreams are ever present, but rarely pursued directly.

For example, I have a dream of one day turning the writing on this blog into a book. Perhaps a collection of essays, the topics of which are developed and explored on this blog. Pragmatically that is not going to happen, but it is in the back of my mind every time I write. There is nothing I can do today to affect that dream, except to continue to write. So instead of focusing on my dream, I focus on the article at my fingertips. I focus on the next step in front of me. The success of this blog does not depend on it turning into a book, and I believe that is important.

This is just one example of a dream I have. When I say that my dreams are ever present, I mean it. Every aspect of my life has a lofty idealized future associated with it. I can’t really help myself when it comes to imagining the future, but I also enjoy it because it contextualizes my current actions as stepping stones to something bigger than myself.

There’s an interesting phenomenon surrounding talking about dreams, or more concretely goals. The more you talk about a goal you have, the less likely you are to achieve it. This is probably because the rush you are craving from achieving the goal you get from people affirming how wonderful of a goal it is. I have personally experienced this a couple of times. I signed up to run a marathon a few years ago, and diligently trained for a month before telling anyone. Once I let it slip, it started coming up in every other conversation I had. It felt good to talk about it. People would say “oh I could never do that”, and that made me feel special. So special that the urgency to train declined. I ended up getting injured and not running.

The common wisdom is to tell people around you your goals so that they can hold you accountable. Nobody held me accountable for not running the marathon. Maybe one person brought it up and was super understanding that my hip pain prevent me from running. Not running that marathon didn’t make me feel bad at all. The craving that drove me to train was satisfied by my friend’s reactions to my intent to run, not the run itself.

This is one of the reasons why I don’t like to focus on long term goals / dreams. I will always have them, but holding them front and center in your mind just isn’t productive. That being said, my non-running of a marathon isn’t the best example. Yes, I had to train every day, and while running I wasn’t thinking about the marathon, but I very much had the marathon front and center in my mind. I argue that running a marathon wasn’t on the same level of a dream. A dream is something that I have no clear path to accomplish. It wasn’t a stretch goal, but instead an accomplishable milestone that I could very well achieve. In this way my marathon is a great example and an awful example. Life rarely lends itself so well to metaphor so hopefully you take what I intend away from this example.

At the end of the day, I will keep my feet firmly planted on the ground while allowing my head to frolic in the clouds. It helps that I am tall.