How to Deal with Disillusionment as You Grow Older
“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 any content as it just feels easier to hide than deal with others’ negative emotions. I’ve no issues dealing with criticism — I’ve dealt with many critics in school, at work, and in my business — but we could do with more appreciation and less shaming in today’s world. Snark, sarcasm, and anger seem to have become centerfold of the internet these days, and it’s difficult to go anywhere online nowadays without seeing some kind of negative outburst, vitriolic attack, or shaming going on.
I’ve also been really disillusioned with the issues in 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, affecting at least 700 marine species (including sea turtles which get entangled in / suffocated by our plastic), and air pollution. But instead of fixing these issues, world powerhouses that are the capitalistic economies continue to produce more, pushing people to buy more, and creating waste at shocking speeds.
- Human rights are still 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.
- 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 — despite our world being richer than it has ever been. In year 2000, the richest 1% of our world’s population held 39.9% of the world’s household wealth, greater than the combined total of the poorest 95% of the entire world. Today, the richest 0.7% of adults in the entire world hold 45.2% of global net worth.
- In almost every country I’ve been to (and I’m in Thailand now), there are always very poor and old people struggling to make ends meet. I feel really sad as it means that somewhere along the way, something has failed in our society for people to be struggling this way.
- And when you really dive deep into society’s structures today, many of them seem to exist to serve the super-rich, not humanity nor the world.
Yet despite these feelings of disillusionment, I believe that everyone does the best they can, within the limits of their consciousness. A country’s people are often stuck in the matrices of the society, hence becoming victims of the forces around them. A country’s leaders may be apathetic to the sufferings of their people because it’s simply not in their consciousness and awareness to comprehend that at this moment. People may appear uncaring but perhaps they are struggling with their own issues right now, that they can’t break out of. And the problems we see today do not reflect the collective beliefs of everyone nor the world.
Being disillusioned doesn’t change anything. It will only make you feel worse until you sink to the bottom of a cesspool. So how do we deal with our 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 somehow discovered what’s going on 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. While this may create a temporary jarring effect, it’s normal as you come to terms with reality.
Personally I’d much rather know the ugly truth than hide in a web 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 that I don’t know what’s going on. This reality may well hit me one day when I’m unable to cope with it. Knowledge is power, and when you have knowledge you can act on it. Even though change may not happen right away, awareness is the critical first step.
2) Turn Your Disillusionment into Action
Be sad, be angry, be disappointed. But know that anger will not change the world. Neither will sadness nor apathy. Once you’re done feeling angry, sit up and turn this information into action.
- What exactly are you disillusioned with? Why?
- What can you do about this?
- What role can you play in the bigger picture?
I believe the first step to many of the 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 (think materialism, eating junk food, wasteful behavior, etc.).
Educate people through conversation, small 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 are spreading awareness, which is infinitely more powerful than just empty gossip or talking about the same old things to fit into a certain rhetoric.
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 or startup? 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?
We all know Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and American business magnate. 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 firsthand. 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.“
Around that time, he visited a South African hospital that was 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, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty globally. The 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. 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.
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, no external aid; today it has over one million pageviews a month, reaching out to people from over 200 countries and territories around the world.
Very 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 universe, more so now than ever as there is now the internet and globalization, where 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 the course of their life forever.
Lauren Singer was 21 and studying Environmental Studies in NYU 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 which 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.”
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 everyone how to live a zero-waste lifestyle, 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 fit into one 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 this year.
You cannot 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 positively impacted, and it all starts with what you do now. 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 taking comes empathy. Respecting each other as humans. Recognizing that all of us have our individual needs, fears, hopes, and dreams, and are not soulless objects to be used. Loving each other as people.
Growing up in a country 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) to become the 3rd most densely populated country in the world, I noticed something. As a society becomes intensely urbanized, where more and more land is drilled into, stripped of its greenery, and filled with even more skyscrapers; and as people are placed in immensely packed living environments to pursue never-ending material goals, I find that we begin to associate less value with a human’s life and his/her well-being, and assign more weight to things, 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 its people may realize.
As a nation pushes on with endless GDP goals, I feel that its people may well start losing their humanity, in the same way I feel that the people in Japan and South Korea are losing theirs.
- At the present moment, Japan and Korea have one of the highest suicide rates and lowest birth rates in the world. In Japan, an average of 70 Japanese people commit suicide daily, and 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.
- 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.
- Instead, singles are turning to virtual dating apps with video game characters; services like cuddle cafes, host clubs, and purchasable dates; and pornography/erotica to fulfill individual elements of their relationship needs.
- In Japan, there are also 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.
Individually there is nothing wrong with some of these behaviors as people have the right to choose. 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 even previous leaders need to seriously reflect on what is going on and the effects of their policies and national direction.
Separate from the issues above, there’s also the internet which exploded into our world 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 simply don’t recognize other’s emotions as something real anymore.
While it may feel like everyone is being selfish and rude 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 trying to survive with no time for rest or to be with their family, much less care about anything else at all.
The best thing 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 to everyone, even if they may appear difficult at first. Giving a smile and learning to understand each other’s predicaments. Practicing emotional generosity. As we care for others, they will begin to open their hearts to other people too.
- Online Negativity: How to Create a Better Internet for Everyone
- The Secret To Meaningful Social Relationships
- Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program, my premium program to be a better you in just 30 days
4) Do the Best You Can
Last but not least, to do the best you can.
For a while, I was really angry at the problems I was seeing in the world (I talked about some of them here, here, here, and here). I was angry at the fraudulent folks in my industry, misrepresenting products and causing people to run around in circles with their magic bullet claims. I was angry at the social injustices in my country. I was angry at the leaders of the 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 a media channel, I felt really disappointed when I saw how the media can be used for propaganda rather than educating people and helping them be more conscious.
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 was/is apathetic and disengaged, concerned about anything from material purchases to 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 feeling 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 the people 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.
And 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 the changes 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. There are many people who are disillusioned and working to improve things too. For starters, many light workers are fighting to make a change — environmental activists, human rights activists, 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 (currently worth more than US$45 billion) to charity along with others in The Giving Pledge, humanitarians, and more.
You are not alone in fighting this battle, so don’t feel like you are alone.
Freshen up. Start with what you can first. Improve things for yourself and others around you.
And then 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 the 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 a large enough proportion of the world’s population are engaged and working to reverse local and global issues, that’s when we’ll see the world’s problems being reversed, one by one. That’s when we know that what we’re doing has rippled out to the world and that humanity is finally working as one.