Killing my optimist

I need to kill my optimist.

This epiphany hit me early this morning in the form of Maggie Puniewska’s article “Optimism Is the Enemy of Action.”

The article, an interview of Dr. Gabrielle Oettigen, argues:

The problem that we often run into … is that when people only think about a positive future, they’ve already attained this future in their minds, so they have little motivation to actually act on it.

The optimist stands on top of the mountain, sees a beautiful horizon in the distance, and says confidently we can get there without enough deference to reality. The optimist has vision without strategy, strategy without tactics. The optimist doesn’t give enough respect to the obstacles that interfere, doesn’t admit that the horizon is a long, hard journey away. The optimist ignores the magnitude and multitude of the individual steps that need to be taken between here and there.

Most dangerously, the optimist places a weight of perfection on the world that is simply too hard to lift.

I need to kill my optimist.

My optimist makes me dream of perfect worlds, where I know and express myself in harmony with those around me. He gives me the confidence and swagger to believe that I can move mountains through the force of my dreams alone. He tells me that I can create a perfect version of myself, sculpted meticulously out of introspection and intention — the better version of me on the horizon. He ignores my many flaws and doesn’t allow for failings or acknowledge weakness. He doesn’t allow me to admit that sometimes I’m not enough.

My optimist makes me believe that the people I lead can accomplish anything, that I just need to show them the beautiful horizon through my eyes. He makes me impatient when they struggle to see it through their own. He allows me to believe their capacity is infinite, and that accomplishment is best celebrated by always asking what’s next. He doesn’t allow for their flaws, either.

My optimist makes me imagine a long, happy life with my partner, a journey which ends with us sitting next to each other on the porch swing of a house, watching the sun set over our garden. He expect us to constantly push each other to new heights, more successful versions of ourselves. His vision doesn’t include us falling down, making mistakes or growing out of unison. He holds us to a standard that’s simply too much to bear.

I need to kill my optimist.

I can still have ambition and vision. I can still have goals and dreams. I can still want to become a better version of myself and help the world become a better version of itself.

I just need to do it with my realist. He understands and acknowledges the obstacles in the path. He embraces our flawed humanity. He understands that failure is always a part of the journey. He understands me better than my optimist and is more forgiving of my flaws. He is a more resonant leader at work. He is more gracious and supportive to my partner.

I need to kill my optimist.

I think my realist is ready to take his place.

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