To be young and idealistic – with the whole world in front of you and nothing holding you back. Or to be older and more pragmatic- with knowledge of how the world works and bills to pay. Pragmatic vs idealistic is an internal struggle for everyone, myself included.
At heart, I’m a young idealist who dreams of a life of adventure, excitement, and exploration. But my brain is an old pragmatic soul obsessed with being responsible and ensuring the security of our future self. I’ve been working to find a balance – Does pragmatic vs idealistic have to be a winner take all fight to the death?
Can we have both?
Pragmatic Vs Idealistic
Although the pragmatic vs. idealistic debate often turns philosophical, we’re not going to focus on that. It doesn’t matter what Hegel, Nietsche, or Kant say about idealism’s virtues or pragmatism’s necessity.
The more critical aspect is the real-world effects of a pragmatic vs. idealistic attitude on your daily life.
Balancing pragmatism with idealism for a fulfilling life is a real challenge. The opposing characteristics fight for superiority in our heads, creating a constant battle about what we should do.
Pragmatism embraces realism. Pragmatic people do what they need to do when they need to do it. They live in a world grounded in reality.
Idealism is the dream. Idealistic folks do what they want with rose-colored glasses hoping everything will work out.
Pragmatism and idealism are opposite ends of the spectrum, but most people can relate to wanting both. Everyone wants to follow their dreams, but most of us are practical enough to realize it isn’t always possible.
Pragmatism Pays the Bills
Most people live in the real world of pragmatism. We can’t do what we want because we have responsibilities.
We have bills to pay and kids to feed. We need our jobs because they give us money to meet these obligations. Our insidious work culture forces us into cubicles, and the middle-class trap ensures no escape. If we don’t follow the rules, we risk our financial security and possibly survival.
Our society forces us to be pragmatic. Pragmatism pays the bills and helps us maintain our standard of living. It may keep us trapped, but at least we can survive.
Idealism Gives us Hope
Idealism is the opposite. Idealism makes dreams. It shows us the world of possibility surrounding us and entices us to take risks.
“Don’t worry about how to pay the bills or where to live,” whispers idealism. “Those are just details. They will work themselves out.”
Idealism drives us to climb mountains, embark on incredible adventures, start a business, and create art. It tells us the world is our oyster, and we just need to reach out and grab it. Things will work out.
Pragmatism and Idealism Can Work Together
Pragmatism offers safety and security, while idealism injects us with dreams and desires. Finding a balance between the two extremes is the secret to a fulfilling life.
We may abhor the nine-to-five slog, but we also know quitting without a backup plan is a bad idea. Pragmatism prevents us from making horrible decisions.
That doesn’t mean we can’t hope, want, and plan. It doesn’t have to be pragmatism vs. idealism. You don’t have to resign yourself to a life of boring misery to ensure your survival.
There’s a way to balance your life so that your pragmatic and idealistic sides can live in harmony.
Whether your idealistic side is begging you to climb mountains, save sea otters, travel the world, or pursue a dream career, balancing it with a pragmatic plan can help you achieve it while ensuring financial stability and security.
The two opposing sides can meet happily in the center.
How to Balance Pragmatism with Idealism
The pragmatic vs. idealistic struggle is real, but you can balance them and live a fulfilling life. Here are some tips for embracing both sides of yourself.
Consider Financial Freedom
One way to balance the pragmatism vs. idealism dichotomy is through financial independence. The pragmatic half would be happy to let loose and live a life of adventure if it knew that money would be no issue. Dreams of escapades to come may sate the idealistic side while in the building phase for financial freedom. Small treats along the way can also calm the impatient idealist.
Financial Independence can give people the opportunity to pursue their ideal lives. It provides a safety net to fall back on if the romantic endeavor doesn’t work out. Of course, we hope it will, and our idealistic side insists it will, but we still have to be realistic for the sake of our pragmatic halves. Financial freedom is a fantastic tool for achieving the perfect balance in the pragmatic vs. idealistic struggle.
The Pragmatic Approach
Financial freedom may not be attainable for everyone. You can achieve a balance between pragmatism and idealism without it.
Here are five steps you need to take to win the fight between pragmatism and idealism.
Understand You Can’t Have it All
First, you must embrace your pragmatism. You will not get everything you want unless you’re already a multi-millionaire.
Now you can let your idealism take over. What do you want the most? Which top three life goals are worth sacrificing, risking, or trying for?
Dream big in this step. Explore the entire world of possibilities and narrow it down to the things most important to you.
Make a Plan
After defining your top goals, bring trusty pragmatism back to the surface so you can develop a plan to achieve those goals. This step involves deep diving into your current situation, finances, and obligations.
Your plan should include goals, tasks, and estimated completion dates. A separate financial plan is also essential, as it will help you align your finances with your ultimate life goals.
Put Your Plan Into Action
When acting on your plan, it’s crucial to maintain a balance between pragmatism and idealism. Your idealism will provide fuel to keep going, keep dreaming, and keep trying. It will inspire you to work out kinks in your plan and motivate you to push through despite setbacks.
The pragmatic side will help you adjust your plan as needed and stay focused on completing each objective. The two sides must work in harmony during this process.
Why We Should Embrace Idealism
It may not be practical, but society should embrace idealism far more than pragmatism.
Pragmatism never wrote tales of intrigue, never painted grand masterpieces, and never discovered new worlds. Pragmatism is safe. It gets stuff done but lacks imagination and innovation.
Idealism changes the world. The irony is that most of us don’t have the freedom to pursue it. Millions of Americans are stuck in the middle-class trap, struggling with stagnant wages and making hard decisions due to inflation. There’s not much left to save for romantic ventures.
Take a moment to let your idealistic nature out. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone had the opportunity to pursue their passions. Envision the beautiful works of art we’d create, consider the advancements in clean energy and information technology, and picture a society filled with people who dedicate their lives to helping the less fortunate.
Only idealistic romantics can imagine such a world. The pragmatics think of all the reasons it won’t work and give us thousands of reasons not even to try.
The Dangers of Idealism
If taken too far, idealism can be problematic outside of the financial implications. People may have a set idea of how things should be and refuse to work with how things are.
In this scenario, it pays to be pragmatic vs. idealistic. A pragmatic person can work with what they have and figure it out as they go along. They don’t get stuck in the idea of perfection but make do with reality.
In the Real World, We Need the Balance
We have to live in the world the way it is now. We have to be pragmatic because we don’t have a lot of other options. We can either live in reality or fight for survival.
Idealistic people may choose to struggle in pursuit of their dream lives. They give up financial security for the hope that things will work out. It’s admirable. Most of us can’t do that due to our obligations or won’t do that because we crave security.
It’s okay to put your idealism on hold for the sake of pragmatism. But let it out now and again. Pursue your dream life while making pragmatic choices in the present. Dedicate time to your passions while saving for the future.
You don’t have to choose between pragmatism and idealism, and you probably shouldn’t. Balancing the two competing sides is the true key to a happy life.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.