Why Optimism Is Not for the Faint of Heart
I’m on autopilot—completely lost in thought as I turn left down the main street I always take to get home.
The street is unusually busy.
Reality slowly peels me from my pensive musing, but by the time the anomaly registers, it’s too late. I’m forced to a stop and I’m surrounded.
There's a line of cars on my left, a brick wall to my right, a barricade of people in front of me, and a line of cars forming behind me. The neighborhood homecoming parade is slowly snaking through the blocked-off roadway. Not yet committed to the worst-case scenario, I lean forward and strain to see if the tail-end of this slithering sea is visible.
I throw my car into park and sit back. I’m conflicted. One part of me is nostalgic as I see the tubas towering over the proud populace. I remember the pride of being part of the marching band in the high school homecoming parade. The disciplined pace of your feet perfectly in sync with your musical comrades. The tight cadences of the snares and bass drums resonating in the streets—those streets that were specially blocked off just for us.
But the other part of me just wants to get home to see my babies. I become overly aware of the seconds ticking away, cutting into my precious time with them, and frustration overtakes me. I whip out my phone and write a stingingly sarcastic and defeated text message to my husband, whom—would you even believe it—has zero control over my ability to get home any faster. But the reasonless emotions have descended and deceive me into thinking that venting will somehow help.
In situations like these, our human nature tends to focus on finding someone with whom we can share the struggle rather than finding a solution to the problem at hand.
I become annoyingly aware of this truth and after my snippety text message, I'm feeling convicted. I know better than this. I made a vow at the beginning of the year to eliminate the negativity and instead, look for opportunity. Committed to upholding this vow, I turn to look behind me and I see an entrance to a neighborhood just 200 feet away.
I pull up the map on my phone and follow this street all the way through the neighborhood and out to the main road. I look behind me again and see that the line of cars I thought was a mile long is actually only three cars deep (amazing how negativity can augment “manageable” to “unattainable” so quickly in the mind). With only three cars in the queue, I know I could walk up to each and coordinate a streamlined reversal into this neighborhood starting at the back of the line. I realize if I’m going to do this, I have to act now before this becomes a logistical impossibility. A fourth car pulls in, seemingly mocking my indecisiveness and further threatening the ease of escape. All at once, my will breaks through my paralysis and I jump out of the car.
I walk up to each one of the drivers with confidence and purpose (mostly to convince myself that this is going to work). One by one, I deliver the hopeful news that if we all back up and turn into this neighborhood, it will conveniently take us out to the main road. You’d think this promising solution for escape would be received with enthusiasm. Man, was I as wrong as the girl who shows up to her friend’s wedding ceremony dressed in white. I was amazed to find that it was like talking to zombies that had to be snapped out of their tunnel vision. And in two out of the four encounters, I got push-back from people stating that they lived in the neighborhood just beyond the parade. I stayed upbeat and smiled as I assured them this road could lead them to those neighborhoods as well.
It’s incredible how committed we can be to the struggle even when opportunity is so clearly in front of us (or behind us, in this case).
Ultimately and thankfully, I was able to convince these four drivers to trust me and they began backing up one by one. We all managed to successfully slip the parade perimeter and make it out to the main road where opportunities were now closer to endless. I took an alternate route home and only ended up about 15 minutes passed my usual arrival time, greeted by those wonderful baby smiles and a husband genuinely surprised that my plan worked.
Up until my recent pledge to reprogram my pessimistic tendencies, I was the person that always had a reason for why something wouldn’t work. I’m ashamed to say that this was actually something I used to be proud of. I, of course, never saw this behavior as negative. I saw it as responsibly reasoning through something and giving a realistic assessment of how it would most likely play out.
Pessimistic people love this about themselves. They think they’re healthily dosing circumstances with a realistic prognosis, when in reality, they’re conceding victories and solutions yet to be realized by calling time of death prematurely.
Optimists, on the other hand, create their own realities. They shape their lives and their futures through proactive thinking, consistent habits, good decisions, and positive actions. They aren’t paralyzed by likelihoods and potentialities, rather, this energizes them to embrace new direction and forge new paths in their lives.
Optimism breeds creativity and creativity breeds solutions.
Knowing that, let’s immediately sever the socially acceptable pairing of optimism and naiveté. Naiveté is ignorantly swearing allegiances and blindly forming conclusions. So, let’s not fold the rotten fruit in with a perfectly promising batch of dough. Consider optimism for what it really is—a very powerful tool. And when it is employed as such, it can serve as an objective and creative filter through which all possibilities are considered before a final decision is made. It gives one the emotional and intellectual flexibility to entertain many different perspectives and outcomes, thus engendering the creative solutions that the pessimist is incapable of arriving at.
Caution: the conclusions healthy optimists reach also engender responsibility. This is what the pessimist is so skillful at avoiding. If they can suppress innovation and write off potential solutions from the outset, then they’ve successfully skirted the responsibility to bear them and see them through.
So, contrary to popular opinion, optimism is the more remarkable show of mental fortitude. It takes courage, discipline, and grit to shoulder the risks and responsibilities that come with being dedicated to problem solving.
So, the next time you feel the urge to pipe up in dissent, ask yourself, “Am I assessing or am I solving?”
Challenge yourself to lock up your input unless it includes solutions. And always remember:
Negativity concedes the victory.
Optimism fights for victory.
Negativity assesses reality.
Optimism creates reality.
Negativity suppresses potential.
Optimism embraces potential.
Optimism, my friends, is not for the faint of heart.