Consider a few alternatives. Let’s say I told you:
A. I want to remove every unhealthy habit, food, and mindset from my life, and I’m going to start tomorrow.
B. I’m going to eat less sugar, starting tomorrow.
When tomorrow comes, which one are you likely to hold me accountable to? Which might you help me excuse when I fall short? Which are you actually expecting me to do? Or even realistically try?
Let’s do a few more with those questions in mind.
A. It’s my goal to transform my country to 100% renewable energy.
B. It’s my goal to transform my local school district to 50% renewable energy.
A. My organization is going to end racism, globally.
B. My organization is going to help local people of color, and other disenfranchised people, register to vote and get to the polls.
That’s plenty to get the point I’m going to make, I think.
But first, here’s what I’m not about to say: that any of the As above — the lofty, admirable, pie-in-the-sky ambitions — are in any way bad, undesirable, or something I’m advocating against.
I want all of those things. I have, at different points in my life, said all of those things, in some way or another. And I don’t even like thinking of myself as ambitious.
Here’s all I want to point out: sometime we set the bar so high because it gives us an excuse when we can’t clear it.
Nobody will blame you if you don’t fully turn around your life and become the epitome of all things healthy. Nobody will blame you if you don’t revolutionize the energy system of your country. Nobody will blame you if you don’t dismantle a global system of oppression.
Everyone will understand. They’ll help you list all the forces you were up against. They’ll give you a hug for your good intentions.
But if you can’t eat a little less sugar; or change some policies at the school in your neighborhood; or register a few previously-non-voters and get them to the polls — well, now we’re in a different world.
Here, you’re not going to get as much understanding. They might instead list a bunch of actions you could have taken, but didn’t. They’ll say intentions aren’t enough, we need outcomes.
In this way, lofty ambitions give us a great place to hide.
They shield us from specific actions that we could do today. From the accountability, compromises, and personal discomforts the goal would necessitate. From the pointed finger that says we failed.
Being specific, staking a claim, arguing for a step forward — anything you might be held to — is vulnerable. And vulnerability is scary. It’s also necessary if you want to accomplish anything real.
This goes for changing yourself as much as changing the world.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” is a quote that someone might share with us, to comfort us.
But we didn’t actually shoot for the moon. We didn’t even build a rocket. Or draw up the blueprints for the rocket.
All we did was we said we were going to shoot for the moon. And we said it a lot, over and over, and got a lot of people excited for us.
And not just our moon, but every moon in our solar system. Hell — why not every moon in the galaxy?
If we’re going to not do this, we might as well not do something worth talking about.