Perhaps I exaggerate a bit. After all, you might wonder if a single word can really create that much difficulty. Well, I’ll tell you that it can. When I’ve got a tough decision to make, this word can really nag at me, cost me a lot of emotional energy and seriously undercut my confidence. I wish I could just get the word out of my mind, but sometimes, I need it. I’m afraid it’s here to stay.
What is this word that causes me so much trouble? The word is realistic, which the dictionary defines as, “having or showing a sensible and practical idea of what an be achieved or expected.”
Granted, it sounds benign enough, and it’s actually a good word for most uses. For me, however, it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can lead me to be careful and well prepared. That means researching and considering my options, gathering and assessing whatever information clarifies what my situation is and what it could be, and patiently thinking things through. It means, most importantly, a measured, level-headed and competent assessment of any risk involved. That’s when realism is sensible and practical, and it leads to productive results.
But when I’m thinking of moving out of my comfort zone, that one word can really turn against me. It makes me guarded and timid and fearful. I’ll be telling myself “be realistic”, and even think that I am doing just that, but I’m really giving it to self-doubt. I keep checking and re-checking my facts and plans, certain that I am missing some flaw. Inside I’m fearful that I’m going too far out on a limb. I wonder if I am committing myself to a plan that is actually beyond my skill level, that I’m foolishly convincing myself to do something for which I am actually woefully and obviously unprepared.
That’s to say that the same word that at other times keeps me sharp, focused, and detail-oriented gets hijacked by my insecurities. I hate this. An adaptive and necessary impulse (to be thorough and organized) gets corrupted by some pocket of self-doubt inside me and I end up like one of Dr. Doolittle’s Push Me Pull Yous, with two competing halves, one pulling me forward and the other dragging me back.
And the truth of the matter is that I am not being at all realistic. It almost never turns out that this results in good. Usually, it keeps me safe and secure, but stagnant. I lose what I could have gotten because fear and doubt hide behind realism and I get conned into settling for what is familiar, but no longer satisfactory.
It’s not a bad thing to have one part of you that puts a check on another. Recognizing the mental tricks that some part of you can play on another does help keep all parts in balance. Security competes with growth and change at times, but both have their place. As for me, I too often cop out in favor of security (it’s just as imbalanced to do it the opposite way), and maybe you do, too.
Maybe your word isn’t realistic. There are plenty of others that can serve the same purposes. Hopefully you can recognize what your word might be and fight the tendency to misuse it like I am learning to do.