Keep Calm and Grow On

Transition is Hard, but it’s Still the 21st Century

Partisan politics have shut down the U.S. government, nobody really knows who launched chemical weapons in Syria, hackers and big media are systematically dismantling the Internet from both ends, and men still must be told to put down the toilet seat.

Don’t let the world get you down. It’s only the 21st century, what do you expect?

My personal life, lately, is short on reasons to cheer. My freelance income fell almost three-quarters this year. I’ve had to shelve dreams in progress, and resume offering tech services, from which I’d thought I had permanently freed myself. Every time I think things are changing, the tide recedes, and I’m left looking at a water mark, drying where signs of progress once were.

As above, so below. In times like these, a reality check is in order.

These disappointments aren’t relative to some past ideal – they’re relative to expectations, and nothing else. We humans are funny about expectations and demands, and I don’t mean with respect to entitlement. We think we know how things should be, and if reality doesn’t measure up, then we believe reality is flawed.

Here’s the reality check that keeps me in perspective:

1. Life wasn’t better before – it was worse.

There isn’t more bad news in the world today, than 50 years ago – we’re simply better-informed than ever. Life wasn’t simpler when we were younger – no, we are less naive and foolhardy than ever before. While some people avoid doctors and believe ignorance is bliss, another choice is to quell reactionary glooms. Remember: scary knowledge, and mindfulness of implications, don’t doom us. Fear and anxiety propel healthy responses, and this is true whether we like the feelings involved, or not. Ignorance might be bliss, but blissfully stepping in dog dirt won’t protect you from the smell.

2. Sometimes our feelings are the whole problem.

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to reconcile a conscience, with pragmatism. We should care what happens in the world – passionately. We should feel driven to do more, be more, and live better. At times when passion and empathy cause us to halt or regress, instead of push forward and make progress, a reality check is in order. If your noble or justified feelings become a distraction, then those feelings are the problem. The cause of those feelings? It’s still a thing, but only a martyr views pain as a solution.

3. Things are improving as fast as they can

Imagine everyone on Earth woke up tomorrow feeling so capable, and so driven, that we all decided to dedicate our lives to the things that matter most to us. That, my friends, is a recipe for World War III. You don’t shove change down the world’s throat – nor should you force-feed change to yourself. Whether it’s a tiny existential goal like advertising yourself every day, or a global sea change such as an unconventional hero being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, we have to measure ourselves objectively if we want our feelings to mean anything – and pat ourselves on the back, even if it’s just for remembering to put the toilet seat down.

So whether it’s the world at large, your spouse and kids, or the person in the mirror who frustrates you today, just remember to keep calm, and grow on. Improvement is a transition, a lifestyle, not a scheduled event. Unless lives are at stake or someone’s time is running out, there’s just no such thing as being tardy with progress. You, and those around you, can only intend to grow, intend to progress.

The adage goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I’d like to clarify that point: don’t let fantastic expectations steal the smell of flowers from beneath your nose.