Bad Advice Wednesday: Hold Onto Your Delusions

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour


           When I played Ultimate Frisbee, I sometimes billed myself as “the greatest player of all time—by far.” Of course I wasn’t. It was meant mostly as a joke, an Ali-like brag and also a parody of some other Ultimate players I knew who, unrestrained by coaches or media or reality, could imagine they were the greatest that had ever played.


But it wasn’t entirely a joke either, at least not in my mind. Not that I ever objectively thought that I was the best player, either at the time or of all time. But I sure as fuck wanted to be. And I would contend that it was that desire, and the corresponding internal exaggerations of the glory that would befall me as my greatness was achieved–and, it went without saying, became clear for all to see–that was part of what drove me during those years.


It goes without saying that lofty ambitions are painful, especially when you fall short of them. An argument can always be made for a more “realistic” commonsensical approach and that is an argument I understand.

But there is something to be said for the fuming, fretting, planning, obsessing, worrying and of course constant working that is required to attain more. Obviously I am not talking about just Frisbee any more. One of the fascinating things for me about the writing program where I teach is how infrequently the idea of ambition is discussed among the grad students, as if it were a dirty word. But if they are honest they will admit that there can be no reason for them to have given up their lives someplace else, sacrificed other possible careers and a good deal of money, if not in hopes of doing something big. Big of course is scary. Small is safe. Big can be intimidating, which is why we like quotes like Isak Dinesen’s “Write a little every day without hope or despair.” This sort of thing calms us.

But there is something to be said for the opposite of calm, too. For being riled up, roiled, almost too excited to work.

Just because it is embarrassing to say it out loud doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make something great. That your swan dive off the high rock might turn into a thwapping, humiliating belly flop makes it frightening. But it sure isn’t boring.

Good advice might be to trim and prune your delusions. Today’s bad advice is to hold onto them.

  1. Bill writes:

    Just after college my mother asked me what on earth I planned to do with my life (I was working for an electrician). I said, “I’m going to be a great writer.” Her reaction was the strangest combination of pride and amusement. But here I am, 40 years later, the greatest writer who has ever lived. By far!

  2. Suzanne writes:

    We all hate to admit it, but there’s really something to what you’re saying. “Good” delusions actually fuel motivation. Then again, I’ve known some really deluded people who remain upbeat because they don’t know their limitations . . . .