I watched Up In The Air again tonight, and loved it even more. I related to it a lot more than I did originally. There's one specific scene that I think encapsulates what we all eventually have to go through.
The younger Natalie character gets a text from her boyfriend indicating they should break up, and it sends her into a tailspin of realization that the ideal life she had planned, in terms of career, relationship, status and wealth might be entirely nonsense. The older Ryan and Alex characters gently explain to her that a more realistic view suits you better, especially as you get older. There's a brief exchange about what settling is, and whether or not it constitutes failure, and that's as far as the scene goes. I view this as the start of someone having to weigh idealism against realism.
There's an obvious curve we go through in life. When we're younger, idealism fills us with hope and dreams. As we get older we rely more on realism to guide us. I'm not sure I can describe either extreme as something that makes us happier, but I do wonder if going too far to realism hinders us. More importantly I ask, is it possible to stay somewhere in the middle?
Idealism can make you miserable over what you can not attain, and realism can make you miserable over what you can not attain. Isn't it funny how that works? You can have miserable bastards at both ends.
So as I head full throttle toward midlife, it's pretty clear to me that I have to embrace idealism and realism. I need idealism because I need to believe in what's possible, and I need realism because the constraints of life can help steer me toward fulfilling the ideal. The two concepts are not, as I once thought, mutually exclusive.
It seems like this year may in fact be just the proof of this that I need to serve me the rest of my life.