"Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished." - Daniel Gilbert.
It's often been said that there are two big-scale strategies for living:
1. Seek to conform the world to your desires.
2. Seek to conform your desires to the world.
The idea behind the choice is that unhappiness resides in a gap between our desires and the way things are in the world around us. If we can eliminate the gap, theorists reason, unhappiness will vanish with it. And, obviously, the two strategies outlined in such stark simplicity are two ways of effecting that elimination.
But. of course, this, like many things that are often said, is just wrong. It presumes that our desires are either perfectly Ok as they are, at any given time, and should be imposed on the world around us, or that they are always wrong, in some sense, and in need of replacement by alternatives that reflect the way things already are. The truth is more balanced and more liberating than either alternative would suggest.
At any given time, for the vast majority of us, some of our desires are altogether proper, and some aren't. Of the latter, some aren't realistic regarding what's possible, others are not right for who we are, and still others are just, in some other sense, wrong ill-formed, or ill-advised. There's an old motivational adage, "If you can dream it, you can do it." But this saying, on top of its magical thinking, brackets the question of whether a particular dream should be ushered into reality.
Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert had it right. We're all works in progress. That means that we can and should change. But so should the world around us. We're all in a state of becoming. And so is the world. We're here to learn and to make, to grow and to influence. Some of our desires should be the basis for goals, and for changing the world around us. Some of them should be merely the basis for new levels of self knowledge, and then should be set aside as we grow and mature and become more perceptive.
The potter molds the clay. The clay molds the potter. The former is quick and clear. The latter is slow and subtle.
We properly seek to conform the world to some of our desires. And we properly seek to conform other desires to what we learn from the world. Then, we also rightly develop new desires and insightful aspirations that will transform us within, and perhaps, in that way, allow us to creatively transform the world around us, as well. But this insight doesn't as easily fit onto a bumper sticker or T shirt. And it's important to realize that we need not desire it to.