I have a confession to make. I am a pessimistic optimist. Those of you familiar with me before I had this column (like my groupies) may already realize this.
What is a pessimistic optimist? My base personality, the optimist, sees all of the wonderful possibilities in the world and feels that one merely needs to latch onto them to be successful. My overlay personality, the pessimist, muffles those ideals somewhat by focusing on all that can go wrong. I embrace the fact that both are a part of me, but…let’s just say that my base personality is more fun at parties.
Accepting both differentiates me from the true pessimist. These people have tunnel vision fixated on the negative. A pure pessimist feels he can never do anything right; he’s all thumbs. He has the worst luck in the world. Pain is the only thing he has to show for his relationships. He knows it can’t be done since it has never been done before. The breaks available to others were never offered to him. Even if it wasn’t too late for him, he didn’t have the upbringing, backing, education, or bloodline to succeed. A pessimist’s favorite Bible passage? The wages of sin is death.
While the true pessimist may drag you down, I find a lot of optimists a bit naïve. They seem to act as if by ignoring the bad around them, it ceases to exist. They will tell you they have the secret to achieve, that all work and preparation can be replaced by a simple positive attitude. They breeze through life humming upbeat tunes and skipping along merrily—until a truck hits them.
In the end things may end up horribly or delightfully, but there will be both good and bad moments during the journey. If you are a strict pessimist, admit it, deal with it, and acknowledge that not everything goes wrong all the time. Step back and take a non-judgmental look at your life (note the “non”). Maybe you haven’t been given the big breaks, but what about the little ones? The coach you’re frustrated with has made a few good calls in his career. Success is possible without the backstabbing that constantly has your focus. Is it all as bad as you think?
If you’re a glass-half-full optimist, don’t ignore the stuff that’s settled on the bottom. There are those eager to take advantage of you, no matter how much you believe in the good of people. Your favorite team’s coach will sometimes call idiotic plays and cause underserved losses. Some folks will actually try to force you to fail, betraying your good nature to impede your success, and advance their own.
I think that being a pessimistic optimist, or to a lesser extent an optimistic pessimist, is the way to go. While the pessimist will, by nature, assume the worst will occur, at least an optimistic overlay allows them to smell the roses on the way to the gallows and admire the knot used in the noose. The optimist knows that the new day opens new avenues of joy and hope, but their underlying pessimism reminds them not to assume the truck will see them as they cross the intersection.
We need both realities: good things happen and bad things happen. While our success is not guaranteed, our actions play an enormous part in it.
PS: Though I do not want to emulate them, I have learned quite a few things from the optimistic optimists. For instance, even a sad song sounds happy when played on a banjo; it is hard to frown while skipping down the sidewalk; and joy will fill the heart of the Grinch if you hum Music Box Dancer. But if you try playing the banjo while humming and skipping, watch out for that truck.
This article was published under the title "He's usually an optimist, but sometimes a pessimist"
in the Wichita Falls Times Record News Biz to Biz August 2010.
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