Optimizing Optimism

Be honest with yourself. You’re just Too XYZ to ever be an optimist.

Yes, you have read the articles and books. You have seen the movies. You have perhaps even attended the seminars and workshops. All of them insisting that the key to success in any endeavor is a constant stream of optimism. Total faith that things will work out. An expurgation of every single doubt and worry about your life. And as much as you may identify with the concept, you cannot put it into everyday practice.

You don’t wake up each day, jump out of bed and sing with a smile on your face, “Hello, World! What sort of happiness will you give me today?” You haven’t attained the ability within you to actually look at every failure and say, “What has this taught me, and how can I improve myself because this happened?” It’s not practical for you to say, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

 

Yes, there are really people who do that. I’ve met them, and so have you. They are the optimists. And we must face the fact that they do in fact meet with certain kinds of success more often than those who do not. Annoying perhaps, but indisputable. Yet don’t let anyone sell you the idea that you must become an optimist in order to succeed. You won’t ever be one, and neither will I. We’re Too XYZ for it. But we can succeed too.

Now, I may have given you permission to not be an optimist, but you don’t get off that easily. This is not a free pass to be a pessimist all day. You can’t park yourself on the other side of that road and bitch about everything and anything before, during and after it happens. Work is still involved, folks. Just make the work more suited to what you are.

We have the ability to obtain optimism. We just have to remember that we have a limited supply of it. It does not come naturally from within us. So, we become optimistic about something, as opposed to becoming an optimist as a way of life. Focus optimism on a target, where it can be more potent, instead of trying to apply it to our whole lives, where it gets spread thin and loses potency.

Work on smaller, individual moments at first. A single commute. One date. Maybe just one cup of coffee. Work on saying to yourself, (and believing it), “Maybe.” A simple “maybe” can in fact be one of the most optimistic things people like us can do because it involves no Pollyanna assumption of success, but there is no assumption of failure either, and that is the key.

When those little successes do come, (Good date. Perfect cup of coffee.), we can build up a reserve of optimism that we can take with us when the bigger challenges present themselves. And we can focus that accumulated optimism on the challenge, as opposed to trying to apply it to each and every aspect of our lives. Which means that yes, we then have room to complain (a little) about something else. We can be pissed about the weather, or we can bitch about getting the bad parking spot, but still be optimistic about the specific event in question.

After some time you may need to drop back and rebuild your reserves. For people like us, we may find ourselves having to do this if the big event is a failure, or even if it is a draining success. And it may take us a while to once again build up the optimism reserves at that point. We may have to go back to saying “Maybe,” about cups of coffee for a while. But at least this way we too can eventually reap the benefits of positive thinking, without having to beat ourselves up for not being Santa Claus.

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7 Comments

  1. N/A

    So much of who I am stems from what I spend my days doing and if I am unfulfilled in that part of my life, other parts of my life tend to suffer. Not as greatly as they used to, mind you. I have made a conscious effort to not let the bullshit of a large corporate bureaucracy poison my life.

    I think that's part of the reason why I'm trying so hard to get a freelance business going on the side. I am unhappy doing the boring 9-5 work and when I'm not in that environment, I am more light-hearted and can appreciate things more. But stick me in a cube for 40+ hours a week and my optimism gets sucked from my soul.

  2. That's an excellent side-point. If one can increase one's optimism by not subjecting themselves to certain conventions, then they should not.

    I myself have only in the last year tried to do more of the freelancing myself. There is only so much of menial labor, (which is all I have ever been hired to do) that one can tolerate when they have higher endeavors. (That and I went to college to write and think in my career.)

  3. N/A

    Yeah. It's taken me several years to realize this, but it is what it is and at the very least I've found out what I DON'T want my work/life to be.

  4. I like your suggestion of “targeted optimism.” Your post reminds me of the difference between an optimist and a pessimist: The pessimist says, “Our situation can't possibly get worse.” And the optimist says, “Oh, yes it can!”

  5. Thanks for the comment, Scott. And I have always loved that old adage.

  6. And I am glad you came to that understanding Bri. I am actually still battling with it…as parts of me feel I really should shoe horn myself into a cubicle someplace and be quiet about what I want. Yet, that can't lead to good things for the spirit I am sure. It's pretty deeply ingrained into us in this society, however.

  7. N/A

    Right – SOCIETY. The same society that has gotten itself into a crapton of debt and trouble keeping up with the Joneses.

    They don't know what they're talking about. Never be quiet about what you want. No one else is going to get it for you. You are your only advocate.

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