Optimism is sometimes a foregone conclusion in my life. As a person who researches in positive organisational scholarship, we have to walk the talk. Or at least try to. Being positive is part of what we teach, so of course it is embedded in everything we do. Everything I do. And today must be no exception, I tell myself. Despite that it can be difficult to do so.
The context, and need, for optimism
To go back a step, I’ll contextualise where this blog’s motivation arose. Last night, the little cottage I call home was broken into. Perhaps, in my overtly open nature, we didn’t do a double check on the backdoor, and it may have been left unlocked. We returned home at close to midnight (on Boxing Day) to find a few bags in the living room, packed with clothes, a Playstation 4, and a few bits and pieces. TV sideways. Ready to either be moved. Or simply for easy access to the cords behind.
What we deciphered was this. As we returned, we were in the middle of being robbed. The thief had likely darted out the backdoor: being frightened by our chatter outside. The good part: they didn’t have a chance to take anything. It was, in my inability to sleep, that this blog post emerged.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
― Anne Frank,
Yet, it’s moments like these that our ability to trust, feel safe, and flourish are questioned immensely. But if Anne Frank can do it locked in a secret annex, evading the Nazi Germany clutches. I must be able to, also. Somehow.
Positivity, optimism, and the ‘fluffy side’ to business
In times when society is going well, when our lives are flourishing, optimism is simple. And it’s easy to maintain that positive spiral upwards when everything falls into place. Positivity, stacked on more positivity. Except that life doesn’t quite work like that.
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
― Alphonse Karr,
Business works well in the positive times. Economic booms, bustling consumerism, and satisfied customers and employees. These times form a big part of how we survive emotionally as leaders. We bank these moments for when it’s a bit harder. We look to those memories to drive us forward. To motivate and to inspire us to greater. And we try our very best to do so.
Setbacks and overcoming them. Still positive.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, or so they say, right? We often find small setbacks in our lives, but most are only minor. We don’t get the A+ we were hoping for. We drop the parking ticket down the drain. We get a parking ticket after being back to our car, one minute late. We get our manuscript rejected. We spill our coffee. Or our wine. Someone captures that moment. All of these are true moments in my life. Some, on multiple occasions. But we deal with it, and we move on. Or at least we try. And trying is doing, and that’s good enough with me.
These things are pretty minor issues compared to some of the more complex events. Like having your home robbed, or losing a loved one. And in these times, it’s even harder to move on and deal with life challenges. But we can learn from each one, as I am doing right now, at 3am on a Tuesday morning.
“The world ‘aint all sunshine and rainbows.” – Rocky Balboa.
Optimism doesn’t just happen, it’s a resource bank we build up over time. When good things happen, we add to the ‘bank’, and that gains interest. Being optimistic is easier, when the bank is full. It’s more complex when we’ve exhausted our credit card, and there is nothing left but debt. Yet, it is these moments we can borrow some optimism from our friends and family. Someone there is likely to have some to spare, we just have to be ready to receive it.
The moments where we grow and rebuild are sure to come. One upset doesn’t stop the traffic. It doesn’t stop everyone else. It may slow us down, but life doesn’t wait for nobody.
We cannot close our minds and eyes like a horse with blinkers. We have to be ready to see the good things to come. The casual beer with a friend, finding $2 on the street, being let into traffic, or the smile from the girl serving coffee. These are all great things, and things we must embrace.
The above quote I use quite regularly in everyday life. We can choose to look for the brighter parts of life. But we can also choose to hold onto grudges and bitterness.
I like to see the spider web as the piece of art it is. Not the cobwebs I frequently walk through. The challenges of being six feet tall, right?
It is our choice to be optimistic when times are tough. This little house robbery has put that to the test for me, but life goes on. Whether we like it or not. So, we may as well look to where the sun rises or sets. Because those puppies are pretty spectacular too.