How to Deal with Disillusionment as You Grow Older

Man on the cliff

(Image: Juan Arreguin)

“How do I deal with disillusionment as I grow older? Disillusionment in the sense that I now perceive the world to be a rather cold and harsh place, filled with people who only mind their own interests. This is in stark contrast with what I used to see the world as: a place with immense potential for good, lots of opportunities, negligible discrimination, etc. People used to be warm but now human interactions are diminishing. The hope and happiness that I used to have just by thinking about the world have turned to cynicism and depression.”

This is a question that I saw on Quora and I decided to write a post on it as it resonates with how I’ve been feeling in the past year or two.

I can understand feeling disillusioned as you grow older and in fact have been feeling this way lately. For the past few years, I’ve been really disillusioned with the coaching/blogging industry. While people used to create websites out of the love of creating back in the late 1990s when I started my very first website, today blogging seems to be all about profiteering. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making money — it’s part and parcel of making a living, and we should rightfully earn money for our work — the industry seems to have changed from sharing and giving value as priority, to now earning money as the primary and sometimes singular goal. (Read: The Difference Between Profit and Value)

I’ve been pretty disillusioned with how toxic the internet has become. Sometimes I just stay away from posting anything as it just feels easier to hide rather than deal with people’s negativity. I’ve no issues with criticism — I’ve dealt with many critics in school and at work — but we could do with more appreciation and less shaming in today’s world. Snark, sarcasm, and anger seem to be centerfold of the internet these days, and it’s difficult to go anywhere online without some kind of attack going on.

I’ve also been really disillusioned with our world:

  • As a society, we generate more waste than ever — we create 3.5 million tons of solid waste daily and billions of pounds of plastic end up in the ocean yearly. These are creating serious issues like ruining marine ecosystems and creating air pollution.[1][2][3] Instead of fixing these issues, world powerhouses (i.e., capitalistic economies) continue to push people to buy more, spend more, and create waste at shocking speeds.
  • Human rights are lacking even in some developed countries. Human trafficking, child trafficking, and child prostitution remain serious issues, with an estimated 21 million victims trapped in modern-day slavery and 1.2 million children trafficked each year.[4][5]
  • There are still so many people in poverty — nearly 1/2 of the world’s population or more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day[6], despite our world being richer than it has ever been. Income disparity continues to grow as the rich become richer, often at the expense of the poor.[7][8]
  • In almost every country I’ve been to, there are always very poor and old people struggling to make ends meet. To me, this means that somewhere along the way, something has failed for people to be struggling this way.
  • When you dive deep into society’s structures today, many seem to exist to serve the super-rich, not humanity or the world.
Old woman beggar in Afghanistan

An elderly woman beggar in Afghanistan (Image: ArmyAmber)

An elderly cardboard collector in Singapore

An elderly cardboard collector in Singapore. They earn about 10 cents for every 1 kilogram of cardboard collected[9] to earn a total of S$2 (around US$1.40) per day[10], which is insufficient to get one meal in Singapore. When you see such things happening in a first-world country, we need to ask ourselves what exactly has gone wrong, where old people, after sloughing the best years of their lives for a nation’s prosperity, cannot retire with dignity. (Image)

Yet despite these feelings of disillusionment, I believe that everyone does the best they can, within the limits of their consciousness. People are often stuck in the matrices of the society, hence becoming victims of forces around them. A country’s leaders may be apathetic to the sufferings of their people because it’s simply not in their consciousness to comprehend that, and it is up to us to educate them or elect better leaders, or better yet, become the leader we want to see. People may appear uncaring but perhaps they are struggling with their own issues that they can’t break out of at the moment. And the problems we see today do not reflect the beliefs of everyone in this world.

Being disillusioned doesn’t change anything. It will only make you feel worse until you wither and die. So how do we deal with disillusionment and stop it from paralyzing us?

1) Recognize that Disillusionment is Better Than Ignorance

Firstly, know that disillusionment (while unpleasant) is far better than ignorance.

So you’re disillusioned because you discovered the issues around you after living in an illusion for a while. This is a good thing because as opposed to living in an illusion, you have broken out of it. Yes, you read that right — it is a GOOD thing. While it may feel really jarring at first, this is normal as you come to terms with reality.

For me, I would much rather know the ugly truth than hide in a cobweb of falsehoods. With the former, at least I know what is happening, after which I can do something about it. With the latter, I may be “happier” but the fact is I don’t know what’s going on. This was exactly what was happening before, when I was “happier” but the issues were really there. I was “happier” because I didn’t know the problems that were going on in the world. This doesn’t mean that the problems weren’t there — they have been there all along, just that I wasn’t aware of them.

By knowing the problems now, it is better as I have more insight into reality and what’s going on. Knowledge is power and knowledge gives you the information to plan for a better future. Even though change may not happen right away, awareness is the first critical step.

2) Turn Your Disillusionment into Action

When you first know the truth, especially a very unpleasant and jarring truth, it’s normal to feel sad, frustrated, disappointed, or even angry.

While you shouldn’t stop yourself from feeling a certain way, know that anger will not change the world. Neither will sadness or apathy. You can feel angry all day long or spend your entire life feeling downcast about things, but it will not change your life in any way. If anything, it will only bring you down and make life worse.

What you need to do is to take action. To turn your knowledge into action. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What exactly are you disillusioned with? Why?
  2. What can you do about this?
  3. What role can you play in the bigger picture?

For me, I believe the first step to many problems today is to raise the consciousness of people, starting with education. When someone doesn’t know what is going on, they cannot be part of the solution. Worse still, they become part of the problem as society’s structures today are about leading people into low consciousness behaviors (such as materialistic behaviors, eating junk food, engaging in wasteful behaviors, and so on.).

Educate people through conversationsmall talk, and sharing your thoughts on social media. Involve your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in the discussion in a non-intrusive manner while respecting their views and personal space. When we involve others, we spread awareness which is infinitely more powerful than empty gossip or banter.

(Read: Great Minds Discuss Ideas. Average Minds Discuss Events. Small Minds Discuss People.)

Let’s say you have talked to the people around you and you are ready to take things to the next level. Think about what you can do next. What can you do to drive more awareness and create change? For example, can you start a business? A blog site to share what you know? A YouTube channel? A foundation to initiate change? A meetup group to engage others? An initiative where you involve others to make a difference? Or something else?

All of us know Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world. After trying to bring computers to impoverished areas of Africa in the late 1990s, he realized how ridiculous that idea was when he saw their living conditions. He said, “Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t.[11]

Around that time, he visited a South African hospital for treating people with tuberculosis, after which he called his wife Melinda. She said in an interview,

“We often call each other when we are the road. Almost every day. But it was a different call. Bill was really quite choked up on the phone … Because he’d seen firsthand in a TB clinic hospital how awful it is to have that disease … He literally said to me, ‘It’s a death sentence. To go into that hospital is a death sentence.’ ” (Read: Why Bill Gates Became a Philanthropist)

Subsequently, they decided to start a foundation to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty globally. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been going strong since 1997, had an endowment of US$44.3 billion as of 2014, and has committed billions of dollars of funding to many areas in the developing world such as infectious disease control, malaria control, HIV/AIDS control, tuberculosis control, reproductive health care, basic nutrition, among others, thereby protecting millions of children from death by preventable diseases.[12][13] As of 2007, Bill and Melinda Gates were the second-most generous philanthropists in America, having given over $28 billion to charity. They plan to eventually donate 95% of their wealth to charity.[14]

Some of you may be thinking, I’m no Bill Gates, I don’t have the kind of money he has. I can’t make any change. Like what I shared in my post One Man’s Impact in the World, you can’t underestimate the power of your actions. I started Personal Excellence in 2008 with no startup capital, no contacts, no industry knowledge, and no external aid. Today PE has over one million pageviews a month, reaching out to people from over 200 countries and territories around the world.

Most importantly, it has allowed me to reach out to you. To think that our actions have no impact on others is a fallacy. We’re all interconnected in this world, more so today than ever. With the internet and globalization, our actions and purchases have a direct impact on which business thrives and fails, and whether someone can get a much-needed message that may well change their life forever.

World Map

We all live in the same world and we are already connected in more ways than one. What can you do to positively change the world into a better place? (Image: Martyn Wright)

Here’s another example. Lauren Singer was 21 and studying Environmental Studies at New York University when she saw the discrepancy between what she was studying and what she was doing in real life. Around her, she saw fellow students creating lots of plastic waste with single-use plastic disposables (straws, plastic bags, takeout containers, plastic fork/knife), while she herself was creating lots of plastic waste too — something that all of us are essentially doing today. She said, “I felt like such a hypocrite. We’re supposed to be saving the planet, and here you are making all this trash.”[15]

This was when she decided to change her lifestyle and live a zero-waste life. At the age of 22 (in 2013), she started her blog Trash is for Tossers where she teaches people to live a zero-waste lifestyle. She started her YouTube channel in 2014 which has over 74,000 subscribers today, and since been profiled by CNN, BBC, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, and spoken at TEDx where her talk has been viewed over 700,000 times. The combined trash she has created over the past 4 years fits into a small mason jar, while the total trash generated by an average person in a day is easily 20 times of that! Lauren started her business The Simple Co in 2014 which makes organic, vegan cleaning products safe for your body and the environment. And she’s just 26 (as of 2017).

You can’t assume that you’re not in a position to create change. Neither can you assume that what you want to do won’t have value. No matter your age, young or old, you have the power to influence and impact others. There are people out there waiting to be influenced and it starts with you. The clock is ticking. If there’s something you can do to impact others, what would you do? What would you say to them?

3) Spread Empathy

Along with action, comes empathy. Respecting each other as humans. Recognizing that all of us have our individual needs, fears, hopes, and dreams, and we are not soulless objects to be used. Loving each other as people.

Growing up in Singapore where its annual GDP grew by more than 1,400% and its population more than doubled in the past 30 years (from 2.74 million in 1985 to 5.54 million people in 2015)[16][17], I noticed something. As a society becomes intensely urbanized, where more greenery is stripped from the land to be filled with metal and people are placed in immensely packed environments to pursue never-ending material goals, I find that we begin to (a) associate less value with a human’s life and his/her well-being, and (b) assign more weight to objects, material wealth, and a person’s status instead. A nation’s relentless focus on economic growth shapes the identity of its people in more ways than people may realize.

Busy, crowded street filled with people

Crowded streets everywhere in over-populated cities. Depending on where you live, it’s no longer possible to have some peace and quiet to yourself, sometimes even in your own home. (Image: William Perugini)

As a nation pushes on with endless GDP goals, I feel that its people may well start losing their humanity, in the same way that I feel that the people in Japan and South Korea are losing theirs.

  • At the present Japan and Korea have one of the highest suicide rates and lowest birth rates in the world.[18][19] In Japan, an average of 70 Japanese people commit suicide daily. It is common for people to kill themselves by jumping in front of a train, with public train delays due to suicide by train a common affair.[20][21]
  • Large segments of their populations have lost interest in being in a relationship, instead citing lack of time, economic reasons, and no interest in the opposite sex as reasons.[22][23][24][25]
  • Instead, singles are turning to (a) virtual dating apps with video game characters; (b) services like cuddle cafes, host clubs, and purchasable dates; and (c) pornography/erotica to fulfill individual elements of their relationship needs.[26][27][28][29][30][31] When you dissect parts of people’s life and push them to pursue material objectives independent of their personal needs, people also start to dissect their individual relationship needs and fulfill them in transactional ways.  
  • In Japan, there are deep social issues like child exploitation and Hikikomori where people withdraw from social life and opt for extreme confinement instead, where they don’t leave their home for over 6 months.[32][33]

Individually there is nothing wrong with some of these behaviors as some people may simply prefer to live that way. But when entire segments of a population start to recluse, opt out of relationships, or even opt to die, that’s when its leaders and past leaders need to seriously reflect on what they have done with their policies and national direction.

Aside from the above, there’s also the internet which exploded and dehumanized interactions as we can now easily reach out to masses behind a computer screen. For some people, rudeness has become an automatic behavior as people stop appearing as real people but simply online handles with a profile pic. Or perhaps they have never recognized other people’s emotions as real and the internet simply exacerbated an existing problem.

While it may feel like everyone is being selfish these days, I feel that ultimately everyone is trying their best within their constraints, while some are victims of society’s matrices. For some, they may be working around the clock to survive with no time for rest.

The best we can do is to be empathetic first — being sensitive to others’ feelings and predicaments. Seeing people as people, not objects or tools. Showing care and concern for everyone, even if they may appear difficult at first. Giving a smile and learning to understand others’ predicaments. Practicing emotional generosity. As we care for others, they will begin to open their hearts to others too.

Read:

4) Do the Best You Can

Last but not least, do the best you can.

For a while, I was really angry at the problems I was seeing in the world. I was angry at the fraudulent folks in my industry, misrepresenting products and causing people to run in circles with their magic bullet claims. I was angry at the social injustices in my country. I was angry at how the citizens can be so apathetic, disinterested in, or even unaware of the issues happening before them. As someone who runs a blog and knows the power of media, I felt really disappointed when I saw how the media can be used for propaganda rather than educating people and helping them raise their consciousness.

But ultimately, I was really angry at myself. I felt angry for being so powerless over these issues. I felt helpless and paralyzed by the magnitude of these problems. Around me, everyone is apathetic and disengaged, interested in things like material purchase and self-interests, but not social issues, human rights, or world problems, which in my opinion will affect all of us and our future generations in more serious ways than our material concerns today.

But after a long while of feeling angry, I realized that it’s pointless to feel this way. Even though many of the problems will likely not change in the next 5 to 10 years (and some will likely become worse become they get better), at least I can work on the things I can control first. I can work on improving my life and well-being. I can continue to pursue my mission to help others grow. I can touch those I see in my daily life. I can continue to reach out to all of you through my blog. And I can devote my efforts to those of you who can benefit from my aid.

The same goes for you. While the world isn’t perfect right now, there are many things you can do at your level. Educating yourself. Educating others. Starting a blog or business that rallies people into action. Starting a socially-conscious venture. Spreading empathy. And of course, improving your life for yourself. These are changes that you can make at your level, among others. Do not assume that you can’t make a difference, because you can. And it all starts with you and me.

You’re not the only person disillusioned with what you see in this world. I am. And there are many people who are disillusioned and working to improve things too. For starters, many lightworkers are fighting to make a change — environmental / human rights / animal rights activists, coaches, counselors, healers, doctors, scientists, socially conscious entrepreneurs, philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates, billionaires like Warren Buffett who has pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to philanthropic causes while Mark Zuckerberg has pledged 99% of his Facebook shares to charity[34][35][36] along with others in The Giving Pledge, humanitarians, and more.

You are not alone fighting this battle, so don’t feel that you are alone.

Freshen up. Start with what you can do first. Improve things for yourself and others around you.

When you are ready, start to really think about what you can do, at your level. No man is too small to make a change; no impact is insignificant. Think about the first change you can create. Then, the next one. Keep taking these actions, one at a time.

Individually, we may not be able to solve all the world’s issues. But together, we can make a big difference. Hopefully, by taking the maximum action at an individual level, we can positively impact others to do the same. Hopefully, by working together, you and me, we can make a difference in some people’s lives. When enough people join forces to reverse local and global issues, that’s when we’ll see the world’s problems being reversed, one at a time.

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Love,

Love, Celes

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