April 01, 2012

Pessimism now, optimism later

Optimism and pessimism aren't
exclusive: it's all about timing.
My homunculus admitted to me that I've been confusing him.

On the one hand, I've been saying that optimism is critical for performance: if we get all pessimistic, we give up prematurely and don't invest the time to achieve our goals.

On the other hand, it's also critical to acknowledge our failures.  If we don't embrace our weak points and bury our head in the sand, we won't get any better at life.

Vexing isn't it?  The optimism thing was particularly hard for the rational part of my brain to embrace: I didn't like the idea of externalizing too many of the bad things that happened to me.  That felt like I was avoiding responsibility for my actions.  Also, as a total control freak, it didn't sit well to think that I couldn't influence most things in my life for the better.

But, luckily, I had a real a-ha moment.  Accepting our failures and being optimistic are not mutually exclusive.  Instead, it's all about timing.

Specifically, it is a fact that no one is perfect.  Life isn't perfect.  Actually, sometimes life can really suck.  Furthermore, none of us and none of our lives will ever be perfect. Debby-downer.

However, this doesn't mean that we can't get better and that our lives can't get better.  Just because we have aspects of our lives that are imperfect doesn't mean that, with time, we can't improve.

This is the way to reconcile our weak points with the need to remain optimistic.  Right now, in the present, we should be realistic about where we stand and acknowledge what sucks.  At the same time, we can remember that the bad doesn't have to last forever.  In the future, things can get better.  Combining these two attitudes - pessimism for now, optimism for later - is the formula for lasting, long-term progress.

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