Bad Idea

Sometimes I think that the worst thing you can possibly have is an idea. Sometimes, having an idea is like having the flu. The idea will drain you of energy and give you the sweats and send you to your pillow. Strange, isn’t it, that this wonderful idea seemed to give you such a shot of energy when you first got it? You lie in your bed feeling betrayed, trying to remember the enthusiasm you once had for this idea’s potential. Now the enthusiasm is gone and all there is left is an impossible burden, trying to bring back to life something which appears never to have been alive at all. When I was a freshman in college, an earnest and scholarly young man turned to me and said, “Bill, you seem intelligent. You seem like someone who likes ideas.” I knew he meant it as a compliment, but at eighteen I already suspected that I did not want to be someone who liked ideas. I wanted to love life, not ideas, but the difference was beyond my powers of expression.

I had seen the difference. I had seen someone close to me tell me about his great ideas. The ideas always seemed perfectly plausible. The ideas were always well thought out. The ideas could have worked. And the ideas never did. After the ideas didn’t work, there was the search for answers. The answer, from my view, was always the same: the enthusiasm that had launched the idea dissolved long before the idea could bear fruit. Was this the fault of the person or the idea?

Neither, I would say. This same person had a habit of getting married and divorced and married and divorced. Each marriage was yet another idea for which his enthusiasm dissolved. Until one day the enthusiasm did not, and twenty plus years later he is still married.

There are as many ideas in the world as there are potential lovers. Ideas come to us as ceaselessly as strangers pass us on a busy street. To see the potential in an idea the same as we might see the potential in a stranger is perhaps generous but ultimately unworthy of our pursuit. Just because an idea could work, doesn’t mean it will work for us. No idea can spark your enthusiasm. It is impossible. You are enthusiasm. An idea either matches your enthusiasm and allows its unique expression, or requires your enthusiasm to twist around it, bending your enthusiasm beyond recognition until all you’ve got is an idea—and no you.

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