Is it Better to Be an Idealist or Realist?

Posted on: October 16th, 2019 in Mindset by Pat Mesiti | 4 Comments

Are you an idealist? What is an idealist? According to one online definition “an idealist is someone who envisions an ideal world rather than the real one” but idealists are often seen as naive, impractical, and out of touch with reality. Cynics say that idealists think that striving for perfection makes the world a better place, but their goals aren’t realistic. Idealists are often criticised because they are willing to risk everything—no matter what the consequences—and rarely have a back-up plan. I personally think that idealists get a bad rap. As a personality type, idealists believe in personal growth and development and harmony and healthy personal relations. They have a talent for helping people. Hey, I think I’m an idealist.

The word idealist comes from the Latin word “idea”. Idealists are thinkers and have very definite ideas about the way things should be. Again the cynics out there may argue that idealists lack common sense, and don’t accept practical limitations. I disagree with that. Idealists are the opposite to realists. What is a realist? Realist do not pursue ‘ideals’ but live more limited lives. Realists would argue that they understand reality and see the world for what it is, not what they dream it should be. Realists have their own set views. Many realists do not expect good things to happen. Realists would argue that they use facts and past events, rather than hopeful feelings and wishes, to predict the future. An idealist could say that realists have lost the power to dream or believe in humanity. Realists play it safe. For them success comes regularly but in small doses. Idealists, being visionaries, are more likely to have the occasional brilliant idea and experience large-scale, but more infrequent, success.  

These are what I see as the main strengths of idealists.

1. We are the most creative problem solvers

Idealists are able to imagine solutions that are often unique and unusual. I’m afraid that doesn’t always mean that our solutions are practical, but we are always inventive and often we hit on winning ideas. Basically we are capable of dreaming big. But it is challenging being an idealist. You open yourself up to failure and embarrassment. There will always be the cynics waiting for and wanting us to fail, but you and I both know that being idealistic and taking the risks makes our successes that much sweeter.

2. We always expect the best from others 

Idealists always see the good in everyone. They like people and are able to love unconditionally. Unfortunately, that leaves us open to getting hurt. This is very different to realists, who expect much less from other people. They never expect people to be their best.

3. Idealists are constantly trying to improve themselves

We idealists are always striving to become the people we hope to be. That means we see ourselves as a work-in-progress. We know there is always room for improvement. That is why you read my blogs and I’m sure you also invest in self-improvement books and exercise.

4. Idealists are frequently disappointed … with people and the world

The major disadvantage of being an idealist is that the world and people often don’t measure up. We come up with these grand plans but people or circumstances fail us. My advice is to rely on yourself! As we grow older we idealists figure out what is and isn’t within our control, so we are less often disappointed! And I’m afraid we only figure this out after years of being disappointed!

5. Idealists are the most romantic people on the planet 

Because idealists always want to see the best in people when idealist fall in love with someone they too often see perfection and not who that person really is. Idealists ‘idealise’ others. In the first stages of a relationship, idealists are wildly romantic but too often are not so good with the day-to-day demands of long-term relationships.

Have you heard of the term practical idealism? It was coined by the American philosopher/ psychologist John Dewey in 1917 and later used by Mahatma Gandhi. The idea is that you are obliged to follow and put into practice ideas of virtue or good but you are also obliged to make compromises to realise your high ideals. It is better to make some compromises rather than abandon your grand plan. Dewey wrote, “We pride ourselves upon a practical idealism, a lively and easily moved faith in possibilities as yet unrealised, in willingness to make sacrifice for their realisation.” In other words, do what you have to realise your dream. That does not mean behaving unethically, but it may mean that your grand, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious project is only a grand, super project on completion! It might only be an 8 out of 10, not a 10 out of 10!

Personally, I have embraced realistic idealism or practical idealism. This is now my mantra, God, give me the grace to accept with serenity the things that I cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed and the wisdom to tell the difference between the two!

Idealism is the belief that you should stick to your principles, even if your principles have a negative impact on your life. The idealist is prepared to suffer in order to do what he or she thinks is right. Meanwhile, realists reject idealism. If the ideal gets in the way, the realistic will review the situation and abandon the ideal for a very basic, easy solution. However the practical idealist is prepared to compromise but will still strive to get as close to ideal as possible.

For a long time, we have looked at realism and idealism as opposites yet it makes so much sense to combine the two and be a ‘realistic idealist'. Look at what you could achieve if you blend these skills sets. Realistic idealism means that you want to make the world a better place, and you are prepared to do the ground work to achieve that. Look at it this way, the realist believes the glass is half empty, the idealistic says it’s half full and the realistic idealist knows it’s just half a bloody glass! Good luck and give practical idealism a go.


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


  1. Charles says:

    I love this write up and I will be looking forward to reading your articles and your books .

  2. Brad says:

    Thank you for your article. As a heartbroken idealist, it gave me much needed insight and a glimmer of hope.

  3. Anon says:

    This helped me a lot. Thank you Pat!

  4. ImWeDnEsDay says:

    I love this article, thanks pat

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