“Pessimism?” I answered.
She shook her head vigorously, like a dog drying itself off. “Nope, it’s life.”
I think she expected some sort of outrage as a response. Instead, I just looked at her, not a stare, just an engaged look.
“Seriously,” she continued when the silence stretched on. “What’s the point of being optimistic, when reality never lives up to the hope?”
Honestly, it was an interesting moment of revelation for me. I’d never really spent the time thinking about whether or not that was true. My gut told me it wasn’t, but what if she was right? I waited a moment, pondering that idea.
“So, why do you think optimism is so sought after in the world?” I asked her.
She smiled and said, “I think it’s just a need for a feel-good way to approach one’s life, regardless of whether it works out that way.”
I nodded. That seemed to make some sense. After all, ours is a society that emphasizes so much negativity, that seems at times desperate for a “pick-me-up” mentally and emotionally. But something in her answer was wholly dissatisfying.
So I asked, “Does nothing in your life go the general way in which you’d like it to?”
“Well, sure there are things,” she agreed.
“So, why isn’t hoping and anticipating ways in which we can structure our actions and decisions to maximize the chances of good results a good thing?” I continued.
“It’s not a good thing because of how you feel when things don’t work out,” she countered. “I’d rather expect nothing to work out and be wonderfully surprised when it does.”
Two different philosophies, I guess. Julie’s not unique in her thoughts around her general outlook on life. It’s just not a perspective I share. In fact, to me, there is little more depressing that to think of going through life assuming nothing would work out as I hoped or planned. That approach would completely sap my emotional energy!
I suggested, in the course of that conversation, that perhaps there should be two alternative approaches to life that we each utilize. The first, my favorite, is a decidedly self-determinist approach founded on optimism. Will things always end the way you hope they will? Nope, but more often than not, the result will be a good one, if you view it through an optimistic prism. The second possible approach, though, would take a much more centrist position, not optimistic and not pessimistic. Rather this approach, which I would label “guarded optimism,” still allows each of us to enthusiastically dream and act toward a desired goal, but allows us to emotionally mitigate against the possibility of failure. Because, isn’t the real problem that Julia feared the possibility that she might encounter emotional discomfort, disappointment? Guarded optimism would leave the door open to positivity, while ensuring one didn’t put all one’s emotional eggs in one basket.
The approach one takes to life differs wildly, and it’s interesting to think about how your own perspective might both form the life you lead and informs how you react to others’ differing approaches. I don’t have all the answers, to be sure, but it’s interactions with leaders such as Julie that continue to broaden my own thoughts on life and how I lead it.
I’ll continue to be optimistic, as much as I can, at least (others may eclipse my own level of optimism, for sure). But pessimism has simply never seemed a good strategy for me, so much so that I tend to make light of pessimistic outlooks (one of my favorite websites is Despair.com). But I’m open to learning more about why some people insist on viewing the future as just one big disaster waiting to happen….(shudder).