Preface: Daily Thoughts & Ideas for the Weary Optimist
by Brian Norris
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I recommend you read each section one day at a time. Chunk sizes are best for reflection and so that you can digest without getting too overwhelmed. Each entry is marked as a day.
Many of these ideas, insights and original quotes will be included in Brian's next book "Daily Thoughts & Ideas for the Weary Optimist". If you would like to reserve a copy, email Brian and he will add you to the waiting list.
DAY 1 PREFACE
Is optimism helpful or just delusional? What does it mean to be optimistic anyway? Is optimism and hope viable in a world filled with chaos and sadness?
In these pages, Brian addresses these questions and others. You'll find answers to your questions, along with ideas and thoughts for the weary optimist.
As the name of the collection suggests, they are intended to assist those who find their spirits, hope and optimism tested or all together waning.
What is Optimism?
By definition, optimism is characterized by a tendency to fixate on the best possible outcome or to dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation.
Traditionally, an optimistic person believes in a universe or human evolution that gets better over time. The optimist believes that the forces of good ultimately triumph over evil.
If that's the case, then I am not your traditional optimistic. At least not in the classical sense.
How do I define my brand of optimism? I say that optimism is a conviction that regardless of how an event or crisis turns out, I will find a way to "deal with it" and make the best of a potentially bad situation.
"Dealing with it" mandates the access to tools that fortify our emotional and mental capacity to manage crisis and chaos. Optimism is one such tool. It's a coping mechanism that any person can choose to use in dealing with the realities of life.
I can be an optimist without having to close my eyes to the realities of life. I can hope for the best and be mindful of the worst case scenarios too. When we think about the enormous duality of life we can begin to prepare for and respond to the variations created by each.
These Dualities appear as opposites sometimes; Black and White, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. While sometimes, they are the same side of the same coin. It comes down to timing. Or who is standing at the pulpit, or writing the history books, or marketing the story.
I see goodness and love, hope and forgiveness, creativity, redemption, beauty, wisdom, healing, peace, birth, restoration, discovery, acts of kindness, real justice, open-mindedness, fairness, order, and sensibility.
In the same spaces, I also observe and live in a world filled with pain, suffering, injustice, violence, sickness, poverty, disease, death, destruction, chaos, addictions, hatred, bigotry, abuse, misinformation, stupidity, ignorance, recklessness, heartbreak, despair, corruption, person agendas, depression, poor judgement, abandonment, heinous crimes, unchecked evils, laziness, and personal train wrecks.
To be absolutely grounded, we should also prepare ourselves for the possibility that the beginning, middle or end results of any journey or mission or obstacle will NOT be fair, or right, or pain-free. So much of life remains out of our control.
As an optimist, I find that the seeds of rebirth and second chances lie buried in ruin and devastation. In considering how things might turn out, we should deliberately aspire to create an enduring narrative filled with redemption, revelation and transcendence.
Identifying any upsides numbs the pain a bit. It helps me to hold on to the thought that this too shall pass. It lets me tell myself (with conviction) that I'll be a better person when this is all over.
What is Optimism? Part II
Remember what I wrote earlier. Optimism is a coping tool!
In moments of despair -- or when it looks like the shit is about to hit the fan -- you can bet that I begin looking for the upside, the silver lining (if any). In looking for the "what good can from for this disaster?" I can begin to mentally prepare to endure the inevitable trial and tribulation.
In fact, we owe it to ourselves to add the best possible outcome to our wish list. If we do A, B, C, & D then we should get a certain result that rewards our planning, our goodness, our execution of the details.
This is the premise of business, of marriage, of religious devotion, of civilization. Be it personal crisis or city-building, we should hope that in the end, common sense will prevail or that the person who "deserves" to win ... will.
I am a person who believes in working toward achieving the best possible outcome (in preferably the fewest steps) given the brutal realities of the situation. I suppose that makes me a pragmatic optimist.
When things go bad I immediately begin to ask, "What are my best options at this moment?"
For example, if I suddenly lose my primary source of income, I DON'T fixate on winning the lottery or assume that the economy will turn around overnight or that I will get my job back if I just pray or meditate hard enough, or sue the right people.
While I DO use a bit of my new-found free time to reflect on what I may have done differently (performance issues, productivity issues, professionalism, attitude, how I chose to communicate with others) to keep myself gainfully employed, I also DON'T beat myself up too much. And I certainly DON'T drink myself into a dull stupor of self-pity or incoherent anger at the establishment.
Instead, I DO look at my job loss as an ear piercing wake-up call reminding me that complacency can be dangerous, and that few things (especially careers) are permanent.
In dealing with the job loss, I DO take a position anchored on the premise that there have to be options for generating income (since NOT generating income is not an allowable solution).
Initially, every idea is an option, however silly the idea might be. Levity is a necessary drug during hard times.
So even if the weird answers and ideas don't make it to the "seriously consider" stage, they serve a purpose. Sometimes, the strangest ideas become the most profitable!
In the case of job loss, some options I explore will be short-term and focus on immediate ways to pay my bills (selling stuff I don't use, cutting back on non-essentials, taking those spare coins you keep in the jar to the store and turning them into dollars, cooking meals that yield leftovers, redeeming credit card rewards points, finding part-time or freelance work, etc.)
Other ideas and strategies will focus on longer term answers (finding a full-time job or a part-time job that pays just as well as a full-time job, starting a new business, adding different income streams so I have leverage, making some smart investments in whatever, writing that book or screenplay, etc.). The whole point is that I want to get to a less stressful place where I can once again find some breathing room and stop obsessing over how the bills will be paid!
Believing that there are other ways to meet my income requirements is not naive optimism. It's fuel for the rough journey ahead. It keeps you going when you really don't want to.
Most importantly, I think that belief in having options is a sign of accepting responsibility. As long as you follow through on executing the most viable ideas, no one should accuse you of being unrealistic.
If I begin my job loss scenario under the assumption that "we're screwed", and that "we're doomed no matter what we do", I think I put myself at a distinct disadvantage.
In the absence of pragmatic or weary optimism, it's easy to begin a steep descent down a slide that can lead into emotional darkness and personal apathy. In the absence of pragmatic optimism, I'd be setting myself up for a life consumed by despair, hopelessness, anger, misery and depression.
And how employable would I be then? How effective would I be at generating any income at all when I reek of gloom? How successful would I be in the other roles I am supposed to play in life? How will the prospect of inaction improve my condition?
With these additional considerations, I'd rather be an optimist.
When you jump into the debate over attitude, optimism, hope and world view, people tend to frame the conversation within the context of whether the proverbial glass is half full or half empty.
I most appreciate the stance an engineer might take to this debate in responding that the glass in question is simply the wrong size for the occasion!
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