January 17, 2022 Carole Levy

Tracking Futility in 2022

A state of mind that I dread above all others is one of futility.

Futility happens when we genuinely want something and at the same time believe that we can’t have it. We tell ourselves all the reasons why we can’t have it. It boils down to why bother?  

An ambitious goal, a simple desire or a spontaneous idea can be stopped from developing, sabotaged, or not expressed at all, by thoughts like: 

“Will it make a difference?”

“Who cares?”

“It’s too complicated” 

“It’s silly”

“It’s ridiculous”

“If only”

“One day maybe”

“I don’t have the energy”

“I don’t even care”

Futility is a trick of the mind that saps energy and undermines action. 

Perhaps it’s a residual pattern of learned helplessness, a lack of agency from our childhood that has left us with a passive attitude of not trying.  We can also be plagued by internalized experiences of failure that keeps us from fully engaging and taking risks.

In my mid-20’s, I spent considerable time contemplating Paris’s skyline from the small window of my chambre de bonne while smoking cigarettes. I was suffering from an acute futility syndrome, resulting from a lingering and debilitating fear of failure that had spoiled my academic years, and consumed my appetite for life. It was a dark and stuck period in my life that I often reference in my leadership work because it was also a dramatic turning point. It led me to embark on the transformative journey of self-actualization. One day I may write about this transformation in full detail, but I wonder: Will it make a difference and who cares anyway? Just kidding. 

In any case, it took several years, but I recovered from a sense of futility and powerlessness. Still, I’m not spared from its reoccurrence from time to time. 

Last week for example, I had decided to start a team session with a song – a popular and touching French song that was not part of my usual cutting-edge musical repertoire. It felt risky. Right before the meeting, I questioned my choice with a familiar narrative: “It’s silly… No, it’s ridiculous… it will look self-centered… It won’t make a difference anyway…” But the whisper of futility didn’t trick me, and I committed myself to playing the song.

As you are crafting your goals, and purposes for 2022 (you are, aren’t you?), make sure to track the whisper of futility. If you can, turn it off, and play the music that brings you joy. 

On that note, here is my popular song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3QS83ubhHE


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