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I’ll confess that I’m an idealist at heart. I feel shy admitting this because idealism has a pretty bad reputation.

Most of us think of idealists as people who dream big dreams but who don’t know how to make things happen. Idealists are known for being impractical and naive. They often see the world as they would like it to be, not as it really is.

But I’d like to make the case for a specific kind of idealism: Realistic Idealism.

Before I get to that, I’ll say with absolute conviction that anything great that has ever been accomplished has been founded on idealism.

  • The Wright brothers and the invention of flight.
  • Florence Nightingale and the founding of the modern nursing profession.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement.
  • Sandra Day O’Connor becoming the first female Supreme Court justice.

None of these achievements would have happened without a hope, a dream, a vision, a set of ideals.

I’ll bet you that countless people mocked the Wright brothers for believing they could fly, and that few people thought Sandra Day O’Connor would become the first female Supreme Court justice.

If any of the people listed above had listened to the naysayers who were just being “realistic,” how differently would history have turned out?

If all our decisions are based purely on what seems “realistic,” we’ll probably never accomplish anything truly significant or remarkable.

So I beg you: Please hold firmly to your beliefs. I don’t deny, however, that you’ll need to mix in some realism in order for your dreams to come true.

That’s how I came up with my philosophy of Realistic Idealism.

Realistic Idealism is about seeing the world as it is, but always having a vision of the world as it could be.

It’s about asking “How can I?” instead of “Can I?”

Realistic Idealists are driven by a sense of purpose; they’re not defined by their performance. When setbacks and challenges threaten to derail them, they adjust their plans but press on, because they know that they’re part of something much bigger than themselves.

They commit themselves to a cause. They understand that comfort isn’t the primary aim of life, no matter how many commercials they see advertising luxury cars, exotic vacations and magnificent mansions.

Instead, Realistic Idealists recognize that, in order to lead a deeply meaningful life, it may be necessary to endure plenty of temporary discomfort and unhappiness.

Realistic Idealists know that the story isn’t centered on them. It’s centered on others.

At the same time, they continually devise practical strategies to enable them to reach their objectives.

Most of all, Realistic Idealists never, never, never give up on their ideals.

To quote general and politician Carl Schurz, “Ideals are like stars. We will not succeed in touching them with our hands, but by following them, like the seafaring man on the ocean, we will reach our destiny.”

So let’s make the daily choice to be Realistic Idealists. Let’s make the daily choice to reach our destiny.

The world is counting on us.

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Daniel Wong is passionate about personal growth, and he is interested in anything related to maximizing your education, career and life.

His determined pursuit of personal growth began at the age of 19, when he realized that he had achieved many things, yet was not experiencing the fulfillment he desired.

Daniel became aware that achievements and accolades—no matter how amazing or noble—never truly satisfy, if they are not motivated by the right purpose. He started on a journey of intense, holistic personal development: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.

He especially enjoys working with students and young adults to help them avoid the mistakes he made in the blind pursuit of success, while simultaneously empowering them to run their own race, rather than the race that others expect them to run.

Daniel was so eager to share his transformation from unhappy overachiever to happy straight-A student that he ran his first seminar entitled "Why Is My Life Going Nowhere? And What I Can Do About It" in 2009. This seminar aimed to help participants find new purpose and passion in school and work. Daniel has also given talks on topics such as goal-setting and developing a personal vision for your life. In 2011, he had the opportunity to give a TEDx talk at Duke University entitled "Realistic Idealism: Seeing People as People."

His first book, The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success, was published in 2012.

Daniel studied Mechanical Engineering and Economics at Duke University. He works as a project engineer and resides in Singapore. He is a member of the Asia Professional Speakers – Singapore (APSS) association.

You can read Daniel's blog at Living Large, where he writes on topics related to education and personal development.

For more information, please visit

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. I set out an intention last week to “find people like me” I have felt like I’m on my own island for a long time. Unhappy over achiever with a MSA in Accounting. The last 3 years have been a holistic healing journey, but heartbreaking as well as I realized my life was full of terrible ‘friendships’ and one by one as I talked about the things which moved and inspired me my friends would roll their eyes and look at me oddly. All that meant was it was time to make a new inner circle… And while I’m not there yet I’ve been yearning for people who see the world as it could be-now that I have proof others exist I will focus more on calling them into my life! Cheers to seeing the world as it could be!!

    1. That’s awesome Kashia. I had to do the same thing. Change my inner circle to. I was tired of my old friends doing the same thing, rolling their eyes, and being negative of thing I’m doing. I have my goals, and being realistic on how I reach them, and those that are in my corner, to suggest other ways to reach my goals. Like 1 head is one way, 2 heads are better then 1, and so on, and on. So today Im moving forward on reaching my goals. Thank you Daniel for your inspiration.
      Lots of Love

  2. A martyr by the name of Mahmoud Mohammad Taha spent years advocating for sharia law to be reformed in Sudan. His principle was realistic idealism just as this, and he received an immense amount of pushback from both sharia authorities and supporters of British imposition, who wanted to come in and enforce bans on certain ancient cultural practices in the name of human rights. In a memoir published last year by ethnographer Steve Howard called Modern Muslims, Taha is described as having protested and condemned British laws meant to protect women’s rights. Sacrificially condemning these laws out of love for his fellow sisters, he recognized bringing cultural change in a way that is just and reformative requires the custom and determined education of the women using their own knowledge and understanding. Women were being put in prison for enforcing their own traditions upon their daughters–albeit traditions which much of the civilized world would see as inhumane, perhaps feeling the British weren’t doing enough to stop the behaviors–but Taha was a martyr for the virtue of realistic idealism.

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