When I was 5, I told all the adults I wanted to be a pianist by day and mermaid by night. Then I wanted to be a painter-figure skater. Then a writer slash Ben & Jerry’s taster. But somewhere along the way, I was forced to choose, and the choice hardly felt like a choice because it had to be realistic. And even if some of those little dreams I had are still in me somewhere, somehow, along the way, it was embarrassing to ever speak of them.
After a certain age, cynicism and realism are valued and sadly we learn them through the way others respond to our dreams. Sometimes I look at high-schoolers or even freshmen in college and my friends and I take pleasure in shaking our heads knowingly, and calling them “naïve.” But then I realized that when we laugh at someone because they’re so thoroughly and obliviously happy living their fairy tales, however blissfully ignorant, we’re actually the laughable ones in the equation. One of my friends who pursues acting made the very difficult decision of entering into the industry whole-heartedly after graduating from a prestigious college, without a part-time or backup job (much to the anxiety and despair of her corporate job father). On a coffee date, she ranted to me about a friend of hers—let’s call her Gretel—who works at some office job fulltime and who consistently badgers her, asking “what have you been doing?” but always with a tone of skepticism. “Gretel just wants to force me to say I’m not doing anything all day.” Gretel is miserable at the office job, and so to encourage the acting would be to somehow admit she simply never had the courage to pursue something she liked, even if it would mean relative instability.
But why should we be ashamed to love something that might be a little unrealistic? Why should we adamantly deny any association with something we once held so dear, like denouncing an ex boyfriend in front of our girl friends just to feign indifference when you cared so deeply just a month ago?
It’s as if there’s a deadline for our dreams. A five-year-old who wants to be an astronaut? Cute. A 45-year-old who wants to be an astronaut? Delusional.
Of course, a healthy dose of realism is encouraged—at some point we need to accept that eating a pint of ice cream a day will inevitably lead to a larger jeans size (Yes, I’m afraid it’s true). But cynicism should never be welcomed. In fact, issue a restraining order because you should never let it even get near your front door. Cynicism is simply reveling in being the grouch who gets to say “I told you so,” without actually benefitting from or being above the situation. If holding a grudge is drinking poison while waiting for the other person to die, then cynicism is both of you drinking the poison and you holding out on your last breath just to say “I told you so.” It means you get to be bitter for longer, and who does that benefit, exactly?
More often than not, cynicism stems from a place of fear, the fear of trying and failing so the safest thing to do is to despair in its inevitable failure. Whether they’ve simply never tried or have tried and failed multiple times, the cynic is afraid to feel. And personally, I’d rather be slightly crazy and happy than realistic and empty.