From Defeated Pessimist to Realistic Optimist
Pessimists can’t lead.
Solving problems requires you first see and acknowledge them. If you plan to move forward, stop dancing around the elephant and dance with it. Ask hard questions.
Healthy pessimism serves leaders.
Additionally, successful leadership includes looking down the road anticipating and preparing for failures, challenges, and problems. If it can go wrong, eventually it will. Get ready.
Pessimists can’t lead when the focus stays on what can’t be done.
From defeated pessimist to realistic optimist:
- See it and know it’s a dead end. The ability to shoot things down may be helpful, but it’s not a virtue.
- Trust others. Listen to the insights of others when they’re speaking from experience or through the lens of their strengths. Go with them rather than your pessimism.
- Don’t solve every problem, just the important ones. Reject the rest. Pessimists get overwhelmed because they can’t prioritize.
- Do something now and adapt as you go. The deadliest danger of pessimism is too much talking and not enough doing. Action creates a new kind of talking for pessimists. Talking without action centers on problems. Talking during action focuses on solutions. “How can we fix this” is better than “here’s why it can’t be done.”
- Ask what’s next.
- Frustration from feeling powerless is a myth. You can always do something. (See: Gifts From an Empty Cup”)
- Acknowledge fear motivates pessimism – fear of failure, fear of losing reputation. Fear may be helpful but sometimes it’s the coward’s way out.
- Realize you drag others down, too. Your negativity makes others negative. Welcome to the dark work environment that you create.
- Plan for the worst. Contingency plans are a pessimist’s gift. You’re going places when you get through “what if” to find “we could.”
- Ask yourself where pessimism takes you. When it’s a good place, go with it.
How do you deal with pessimism?
What does realistic optimism look like?
Posts for the New Year:
Creating a Life of Opportunity – “Adding value creates opportunity.”
Five Ways to Find Your Future – “Your future is about people not projects or accomplishments.
This is a great article that I’ll be retweeting. Thanks for sharing.
I’m curious – you said “Pessimists get overwhelmed because they can’t prioritize.”
How do you help a pessimist to prioritize better?
1. Ask how likely will the anticipated problem occur
2. What is the result if the anticipated problem occurs
3. Perhaps most importantly, get others involved. Get the perspective of others, preferably, people w/ experience.
Just a few thoughts. Any others?
Just by hitting the “like button,” I morphed from pessimism into optimism by virtue of “doing something.” Was wondering how the word “realistic” comes into play here. What makes optimism any more real, than pessimissim? Are they not both just an opposite interpretation of the same reality? As they say, perception is reality.
If we only use the lens of optimism to look at things with, and a grizzly bear has us in his jaws, what then? It is a good thing for the grizzly, not so good for the prey. Will this optimistic attitude just make death easier for the prey?
Sometimes fear is a good thing (optimistically) as it can keep us from the jaws of death. Otherwise, what good would fear be?
Doing something changes us, not simply our environment.
Realistic optimists continue to listen to pessimism but with a can-do v. can’t-do approach. It’s unrealistic to see problems and pretend they don’t exist.
I’m for embracing both the dark and the light side. I am convinced, however, that leaders lean into the positive side of thing.
Yup, fear is good. Sometimes it should stop us dead in our tracts. Other times we must realize our fears are based on imagined problems.
Thanks for your comment. My response is a shot from the hip reply. Hope its helpful.
Thanks! I like the balance called out here..
Happy New Year Ken.
I get it thanks. I always dislike the person who comes in a whines, revealing what cannot be done, but doesn’t bring a solution. If you are going to whine, bring the solution (or at least a good suggestion) with you as well.
Thank you much.
I enjoying seeing you pop in. Thanks for the idea of bringing solutions with problems. That makes all the difference.
Red Toenails, I’m not sure if you were referring to me in your response about “hating whiners” as I didn’t feel I was complaining in my post, but could see no other post that your comment seemed to apply to. I don’t look at myself as a complainer, or a pessimist, or that I have the ultimate solution to handling a problem when it arises. I actually like all the ideas in Dan’s post, and consider that it does seem reasonable to tackle things with the lens of optimism However, my main point was that all coins have two sides, and that when we view everything with only one perspecitive, we do so at our own peril.
In light of a lot of planetary environmental challenges we face these days, and the fact that so many people choose to ignore science as a solution to help fix them, we only exasperate the direness of the dilemmas. Pretending that everything is ok, charge full ahead with the rosy lens on all the time, is dangerous. I was thusly reminded of Aldo Leopolds (father of game managment) famous quote: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
As an avid conservationist, it is often hard to maintain a positive attitude, in a sea of many planetary sicknesses, so thank you Dan for providing some great ideas for helping us wipe our lenses.
I Am thinking that Red Toenails wasn’t referring to you, but was making a general statement…
There are definitely two sides to a coin, and the pendulum can swing too far on either side. Dan’s comment, though, was right on, a ‘can-do v a can’t do approach’ will get things done more times than not. If thoughts are things – I believe in that, then you should be able to come up with solutions to make things work. Life is designed by our Creator to move forward, not stay in the same place. Even if you are in the jaws of a bear, you are still thinking how you might get out. (Personally, when I Am in fear, it is because I Am projecting some sort of failure into the future – which hasn’t come, yet. If I can move myself to do something else, like the opposite of that fear, I can see more positively. Many times, fears are old tapes taught to us by someone else, or an experience that feels familiar, but doesn’t have to repeat itself in our lives.)
I watched a good movie about this once, and I believed it was called “Grizzly” with Anthony Hopkins and Nicholas Cage. Their small plane crashed in the middle of Alaskan no-where and the pilot died. These two were left to come out alive and they kept coming up in the face of this grizzly bear. I won’t say more because I would like you to watch it. It is several years old, so you will have to dig back some. It is entertaining and thought provoking. Enjoy.
Thanks Lightsparks1, I like your ideas and interesting perspective about projecting forwards that which you desire. As a river guide, that is how I run difficult rapids. The first thing I do is identify the ugly problems spots (perhaps potentially life threatening on the more serious ones) then focus on where I wish to navigate my way through. Those bad holes have a way of drawing you in, if that is where your attention is, and is why I only think about where to go, rather than not go. Chances seem better that way for a safe, right side up run.
About that bear,well, I have seen that movie a long time ago, and enjoyed it. It is also similar to how people view wolves. Some see the big bad wolf ready to eat you, while others see it for a predator just doing its own thing and not apt to eat man.
How they are treated depends on your viewpoint. (Extermination, or live and let live). So it does make a difference what one thinks. But, one main problem is that people often do not have the correct facts when analysing things, so they get the wrong answer in trying to correct them.
But, I believe the bear was stalking them, and not them looking for the bear. Anyway, I loved the part (I still think it was Nick Cage, but I will look it up) who was freaking out because their lives, just in the wilderness alone, were in danger and Anthony is cool as a cucumber. ‘Nick” says something like (badly paraphrased) “This is why we let you guys (meaning a corporate CEO) run the companies. You don’t let things bother you…(we’re in danger) you’re not even sweating!”
See Nick and his girlfriend, which I believe was the daughter of Anthony took him up there to kill him for his billions. Of course, in the plane, Anthony says without blinking an eye, to a surprised Nick (because he/Anthony guessed why they came), “How were you going to kill me?”
Fear and Faith both reflect future events. One is bad and one is good at least in our mind and which one is our choice. Saw the movie and it was great. I believe it was Alec Baldwin and not Nicolas Cage if we are referring to the same film.
Possibly, but see my note above – I Am going to get the movie to watch again.
Great posting. As an optomistic, I have always noticed that pessimistics are usually in disarray and have no idea how to prioritize.
I was speaking from my own experience. Plus, sometimes we let ourselves get derailed by a 1,000 imagined problems that, in the end, are irrelevant.
Great post. like it. Thanks Dan
Thanks for this.
Thank you for a great post!
I keep a Maya Angelou quote on my desk which says:
“Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Invite one to stay.”
I believe pessimism is a product of fear. Optimism is a product of hope. We choose. Sometimes people think they have no choice, but the reality is we always choose. It isn’t dumped on us, or poured into us, we choose.
I’m a semi retired teacher. I always tried to teach my students that whatever happens they can handle it. They are creative enough. They are resilient enough. They are resourceful enough. Whatever happens, we truly can handle it. Choose hope.
Keep inspiring us.
Our Florida-based organization once required our Chicago-based third party administrator to relocate to Florida so it could be a Florida-based business. After starting in Florida in January, the summer of that year brought three DIRECT-HIT hurricanes to their area. Obviously these directly affected operations, but continued to present challenges because employees’ children’s schools were closed, creating day care issues, and there were so many related problems. A pessimist would have been correct in contemplating the move to say “you may have unexpected weather issues”; a pessimist with a plan would have purchased a generator and trained for contingencies. We all learned from that experience.
I needed to hear this right now! Having always been an eternal optimist, worry and pessimism have been creeping in lately and throwing me for a loop.
Thank you for your clarity and plain spoken words.
God bless you!
How bout leaders owning and being aware how they present that pessimism?
Own the reason for pessimism because it is often a systems/training issue and the leadership is ultimately responsible for both those venues or lack of (one exception to this is intentional malfeasance on any player’s part). Ex: Funds are tight, cut training-short term works, long-term you pay more. Competent people leave environments where you don’t have the option to learn and grow. Worse than climbing up scree – you backslide from your current position and may not know it.
How pessimism is presented is huge. If it is in a blaming, shift the focus off of my role in this hairball, fault-finding or belittling, long term, leaders will be blindsided more and more because no one wants to face that unjust wrath. One way to deal with it is ‘we’ and sincerely mean ‘we all are partners in this negative situation. Let’s learn from it and grow from it.’ Requires high levels of accountability, visibility and introspection.
Does a combo of open pragmatic, unconditional, fault-free optimism/pessimism work?
HNY Dan and all in the LF community.
Pessimism is the blindness that keeps us stagnant and unwilling to look, observe, and act on the challenges of life. Optimism is the choice of courage and decision to openly stare at obstacles and devise ways to mitigate, eradicate, or modify them. Leaders are faced with both everyday and our attitude determines our behavior. A healthy dose of both is necessary to intelligently survive.
I liked the point you made that the future is about people, not projects. I, too, am a conservationists and I have come to see that it is far more important to connect with people than, really, anything else. If people are alienated, for instance, they sure aren’t going to listen to me talk about alien species invading nature areas, or for the need for windmills over, say, nuclear reactors. Together we can make changes that are overwhelming to the individual.
I agree that pessimism drives fear. Fearful people are usually criticizers, backstabbers and sycophant. Fear is good when it encourage you to give your best. It is also good when it encourage others to unite and give their best. So, gravity of fear decides individual direction. I think the best way to deal with pessimism is to drill down the cause of pessimism. If it is lack of opportunity, strengthen and add value to you. If it is out of criticism or blaming, then introspect and believe in your values.
Realistic optimism looks like achievable goal. It is a balanced view of your effort and outcome. Unrealistic optimism is expecting more and putting less or no effort. It means ratio of effort and expectation determines realistic optimism. When value of ratio is high, realistic optimism will be high and vice-versa.
I think many times about how to remain enthusiatic about life. I have been looking for work for 1 year. I am a Project Manager. Up until one year ago, my contract was not renewed due to lack of funds from the organisation I worked for. I used to be a contractor in that organisation on green receipts, i.e. my own company providing project management services, so in Portuguese national insurance terms, this meant that I could not get unemployment benefit.
The contingency plan I applied was to have saved money from day one when I started my contract with that company, and this action has allowed me to live comfortably up until now. In this past one year I have been sending my CV all over the place for project management roles. I have not had a single offer. I ask myself many times what is wrong? the recession? my approach? my CV? NO it’s got to be the recession, it’s got to be because I have never been in this situation before. In the past the same CV formatt and content (with updates) was used and I received offers. The same approach was used and I received offers. So to get to the point of staying optimistic, I often think of those so many people that are disadvantaged, due to illness, handicaps, family problems, homelessness, etc, etc.
One needs to be very strong inside, take many moments alone to think positive, practice staying calm spiritually, and believe that things can only get better. Each morning wake up and say I am going to succeed, even make a song of it, just for the fun of it. It’s very hard out there for many people. I think about this often.
I am presisting in sending CV’s. I am calling the agents, I am on linked in making new connections and sending my CV. I am pleading almost. But I am sure I will get wehre I used to be. Successful and happy again.
I thank god every night for still having food to eat. For how lucky I am.
Those who do not have severe handicaps and are healthy are very lucky people. Some handicaped people have achieved extraordinary objectives. Simply amazing. They make me feel small compared to them, and they give me strength. For example once I saw a blind man taking the London undergroung train by himself. This is an act of great courage! There are so may other examples out there in the world, of people with great disadvantages achieving great things.
Music helps keep the spirits up. Avoiding negative people helps stay positive. Believing in one self is a powerful tool. Keeping our knowledge up to date in our specialised fields is very powerful. Giving a coin to a begger everyday is very good.
I will succeed again!
Great post. I have a few thoughts to share.
1. The pessimists I know often claim that they are the realists. How do you suggest we go about correcting that belief?
2. Regarding your statment: “Realize you drag others down, too. Your negativity makes others negative. Welcome to the dark work environment that you create.” So true! I had a coworker that no one liked to work with because he was so bound and determined to be negative. He drug us all down to his level and it affected the quality of our work. He was one of those I mention in #1.
3. I once read that true entrepreneurs are people who are good at managing risk. In other words, they are optimistic, but realistic. They choose to believe in the positive, what can be done. But they also pay close attention to the things that can go wrong, anticipate them, and learn from them in order to minimize it. Rather than getting caught up in the bad things that might happen, they take small steps and adjust course accordingly.
Awesome post! And i really like it. I realize that I am once a pessimists…but I am learning to become an optimistic person since I started to move forward when I experienced to down in the middle of my career…I could relate because I am a leader who always speak but less in action..thanks for posting this, I hope some of my recent leaders could read about it…:)
I have a friend (very long friendship) who is a true-blue optimist and that outlook has proven to be her biggest downfall through the years. She has repeatedly refused to look at situations any other way than through rose-colored glasses. She is into her fourth marriage (which is, sadly not going well). She listens to no one and has repeatedly made the same mistakes over and over.
I see optimism as a gift, however, when it becomes so blatantly out of control that it doesn’t allow the individual to see situations as they really are, it can actually destroy ones life. Wanted to give the explanation of what can happen if one is too optimistic as opposed to realistic.
Dan, this is an excellent message and captures a lot of my life journey in a nutshell. Thanks for posting. I’m pondering how I may borrow this for my business. Maybe we’ll have you re-post it on our company blog. What do you think?
There are those who can see outside the box when nobody else can. They see potential road blocks, over-scheduling, etc. This is not a bad thing..but, it is important to have the solution. If there is no solution, it would serve the team best to remain quiet unless physical harm could potentially occur….Spoken by someone who sees outside the box and my words/motives are often misconstrued. I have learned to keep it to myself, unless I have a viable plan to share…that’s just using good ole wisdom and discernment.
Every time someone starts stopping me on what I’m trying to accomplish, I always invite them in with immediate effect, giving them an immediate opportunity to show me how it’s actually done. 9/10 their response is always: NEVERMIND, YOU THINK YOU’RE SMART or WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS LIKE THAT?
Not only will I be keeping “naysayers” at bay at that time, whose job is to always disturb any progress whether good or bad, I’ll also be inviting in external help at the same time. Even worse – too much pessimism can REALLY destroy or even bring an entire generation to its knees, by promoting inaction due to fear of failure.
Besides – which individual through the history pages has ever achieved anything without creating volunteer “naysaying enemies” along the way? Accept they’ll always be there and keep pressing on…
Great one as always, Dan!