I’ve always worn my pessimism like a badge of honor. Optimism is for suckers. Better to be on constant high alert for the worst possible outcome so it can’t blindside you. Where an optimist might perceive a cloudy sky as a promise of nourishing rain, a pessimist anticipates an oncoming downpour that will cause a major leak in the roof costing thousands of dollars to fix, not to mention the flood in the backyard caused by a break in the mainline caused by the weight of the sodden soil that can’t absorb all the water from this storm of biblical proportions. That is, unless, like me, you live in LA, where clouds don’t mean dick since El Niño has proven to be an elusive bastard, leaving us destined to remain in a drought until Southern California becomes a dust bowl and we residents are forced flee to a place where something other than ocean mist constitutes rain.
See? Pessimist, that’s me.
But not this year. This is my year of serene optimism.
My change of heart came about partly because of some fantastic women who invited me to meet with them at the beginning of January to set some goals for the year. I accepted, although I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea. I’ve never been one to verbalize my goals and dreams since doing so might tip off the universe about what to steal from me.
Yup, I know. Pessimist.
During this meeting, we decided to each come up with a theme for how to approach our yearly goals, something that encouraged us to make choices outside our comfort zones.
The first theme that occurred to me was “Determined Optimism” since my pessimism had been exhausting me for, well, forever. But “determined” seemed to cancel out “optimism;” it sounded so grim, so forced next to that cheery word, “optimism,” which, lest we forget, is for suckers. So, after the meeting, I pushed the theme to the back of my mind, where my pessimism insisted on examining it from all angles. “Oh, please,” I could hear my pessimism scoff in the middle of the night, “there’s no way you’ll ever pull off any kind of optimism no matter how you try to disguise it.”
For the next couple of weeks, I panicked. My year had no theme, none that I could pull off, anyway. I was destined to be as unproductive as ever. I’d never amount to anything. Ever.
I also started to notice how much my own pessimism has infected my son. At eleven years old, he groans when a drawing he’s working on doesn’t go as planned. “It’s terrible,” he tells me even though when I look at it, I see something extraordinary. If we’re running late for a movie or if he gets a lower grade than he anticipated on a math test, he assumes the worst will ensue: we’re going to miss the movie entirely; he’ll fail math for the year. It kills me to hear my own bleak outlook coming out of his mouth. It kills me to see him so stressed about things that may never happen.
Then, the other day, when we were driving home from school, he said, “I don’t think I did that great on my quiz today.” His voice sounded dismal, so much like my own that I clutched the steering wheel tight. Behind me, he took a breath. “But, you know what?” he said in a brighter voice. “I can do better on the next one.”
I loosened my grip and glanced at him in the rear view mirror. “That’s true,” I said.
He smiled at me. “I decided to try thinking more about good things this year. It’s one of my resolutions, to be more optimistic.”
Was this my child? Where had he even learned that word? My husband is certainly more of an optimist than me or my son, but he acts on his optimism quietly, calmly. He’s not outspokenly aggressive about his worldviews, the way my son and I are.
“That’s a great goal,” I said. “What made you think of it?”
He told me about how during a photography project that day, he’d slipped on the wet play set and chipped his camera lens case in the fall. “The art teacher said she would take the camera apart and use it as an art project,” he said. “She didn’t get mad, Mommy, or worry that the lens was broken. She found something good about what happened. She’s an optimist, she told me. I thought that was a good way to be.”
He looked so happy as he told the story, so calm, so unlike me, who couldn’t help think about how the school might charge us for the lens or how he might have broken an arm or cracked his skull open, or worse. Where I saw potential catastrophe, he saw opportunity.
Then it hit me: envisioning the worst case scenarios made my stomach clench, put me on high alert, which made it difficult for me to revel in the teacher’s generous response to my son’s accident. But my son, with his fledgling sense of optimism, was excited about his teacher’s proposition, the opportunity his accident provided for him to see the inner workings of a camera, which spurred on his growing love of art and has led him to many calm, serene hours of drawing and sketching and dreaming about being a cartoonist or an architect.
Pessimists worry. Optimists dream.
It’s time to remember how to dream, calmly, serenely, from a place of anticipation and confidence.
So this year, fuck anxious pessimism. It’s time for serene optimism. If you need me, I’ll be sitting in the corner, scribbling away to finish my daily writing goals. Because, you know, I’ve got this. I can do this. I can feel it in my bones.[bctt tweet=”Pessimists worry. Optimists dream.”]
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Yes, you’ve got this. Of course, this is coming from a die-hard optimist. I can look at any disaster and find the possibilities for greatness however minute they may be. 🙂 Enjoy your new outlook on life, Colette. I’m rooting for you!
I think the fact that you can accept yourself, beyond optimist or pessimist, is so much more important. As that means you can still control your life and thereby choose the pathway making you most happy or most successful.
Then enjoy, self-earned is the most authentic path. May the joy outweigh the troubles. Bye.