Frustrated Idealism

“There are teachers, social workers and clergy who work incredibly hard until they are 80 years old and never suffer ‘burnout’ because they have an accurate view of human nature, of our potential and limitations. They don’t over-romanticize people, so they don’t feel the great psychological stress when people let them down.”

{Peter Senge quoting Bill O’Brien in The Fifth Discipline}


It is said that if you scratch the surface of most cynics you will find a frustrated idealist.

I am re-reading The Fifth Discipline right now both for an independent study project I am supervising and as a refresher in preparation for a new project kicking off this fall. When I read the quote above I find myself both encouraged and humbled. That is to say, my “frustrated idealism” has come a long way and still has a long way to go.

I so appreciate O’Brien’s and Senge’s matter-of-fact commentary about this. “Yes, people will inspire you beyond your imagination,” they seem to say, “and they will also leave you banging your head against the wall and tempted to give up.”

The great gift – and this can only come to us through a deep dive into our own development – is to find the space where we maintain a positive, even soaring commitment to what is humanly possible while also steadying ourselves for the reality that elevating to those heights regularly results in some tough and painful landings.

We best support others and we best support ourselves by remembering Wilferd Peterson’s admonition to:

“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it…”


boy child clouds kid

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

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