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Optimism: A Buffer From Reality

For the last week or so, I’ve been reading a book titled Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The author is a psychologist who studies optimism and pessimism, and whether or not these qualities can be “learned” i.e. become ingrained in our psyche and lifestyle through repetitive practice.

One section of the book that stood out to me was how pessimists tend to be more practical, or in tune with reality – while optimists have formed a “buffer” of sorts from reality.

What is reality? Well, let’s be honest, it’s not pretty. The world is indifferent to your existence. A teacher in my Bible college used this illustration: Put your finger in the ocean and take it out. The amount of water that is taken out of the ocean is how much the world will miss you when you’re gone.

It’s rather sobering if you think about it.

The author, Dr. Seligman, noted that CEO’s, founders, entrepreneurs, and the like tend to be optimists, while their accountants, vice-presidents, the people who actually plan the nitty gritty details tend to be pessimists.

When I say “pessimist” I’m not saying that they’re negative people, always looking for the worst possible outcome in any situation. It’s just that they’re “realists”, whereas an optimist kind of refuses to believe that reality can be that bad, there’s hope for the future.

I think both optimists and pessimists can learn from each other. Optimists need the pessimist’s grounding in “reality” while pessimists need the optimist’s sense of hope, and, well, optimism.

An optimist is of course aware of the ubiquitous negativity in the world, the incessant negativity in the media, the natural proclivity of humans to drift toward pessimism. He or she simply chooses to not let that reality skew their perception of what is possible in this life.

Optimists are not unaware of their own shortcomings. Faults? Got ’em. Mistakes? Made ’em. Personality problems? Got it, and got the t-shirt to prove it. Does it mean you shouldn’t pursue your dream? It’s really up to you and whether you choose the path of optimism or pessimism.

A pessimist might look at those things and see reasons to quit, to not get started in the first place. An optimist will look at them and see mere obstacles to climb over and keep on the beatin’ path.

The Bible verse I read and meditated on this morning says, “I have chosen the way of faithfulness.” Psalm 119:30

The person who wrote that verse saw two different choices: either be true to his faith or not. He chose to be true to it, and was honored by having his writing included in the oldest book in the world. He wasn’t proud when he said that, like a “Hey, look at how faithful I am!” type of attitude. He stated matter of factly: “I have chosen this path because I know it’s the right thing to do, even though the world says it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Here’s what I know for sure. No one gives a hoot whether or not you follow through on that idea you’ve been keeping on the back burner, that you’ve not acted on because “reality” has gotten in the way.

If anything, the world will actively look for reasons you shouldn’t follow through on that idea, and if you do, they’ll actively look for and point out every reason why you should just quit.

But you won’t quit for one reason: Because you say so.

Don’t wait for the world, “the universe” or “god” to grant you permission to take that step into the uncertain. Don’t be foolish about it, but don’t let that pessimistic streak in you prevent you from getting going. You have the choice to be true to what you know to be true, or not.

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