Optimism, what is it good for?


I’m an Optimist. I always have been.

I see no point in spending most of your life miserable and focussing on every little thing that could possibly go wrong…in order to prepare yourself for when things do go wrong. Yes, you need a certain amount of knowledge and a little bit of thought must be given over to ‘what if this happens’, but after that? As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing to be gained from focussing on the worst possible outcome of the worst-case scenario, that will likely never happen. You end up never living in the now and you spend the vast majority of your life upset because you are constantly seeing negatives. It makes no sense to me.

Why not focus on the positives? Why not look at everything that could go right and plan, mainly, for that? Allot a certain amount of leeway for the possibility of things going wrong, sure. It’s inevitable that it will happen, but why not trust in your abilities? Why not know that you are capable of a lot more than you think you are and when things go wrong, face them head-on? 

As humans, living on a vast planet full of people we are never alone. Why not take advantage of that and know that, if the shit hits the fan, you can ask for help?

Trust yourself, live your life looking towards the best possible outcome and know that when things do go wrong it will simply make for a great story once it’s all sorted and dealt with.

With that being said, my partner doesn’t think as I do. He’s pretty much a world-weary, fully accomplished pessimist. It makes me sad to see himself dwelling on small things, that to me are so easily sorted. To him though, they aren’t small, and so we tend to have quite a few conversations to help him work through his worries. (At this point I would like to add that our relationship isn’t a one-way street. My partner is amazing at cutting through my own particular brand of crazy and helping me find solutions to my own issues. I will no doubt write about that at some point in the future as well.) 

I offer him my perspective, he smiles wistfully and tells me that he wishes it was that easy and I assure him that it is. He then sits back in his chair and processes what’s been said. More often than not, that’s the last that’s said on the subject, but the other day, something amazing happened.

The Freak Out

We both knew it would happen. My partner is a world-class worrier. He learned from his parents, who in turn learned from theirs, how to worry.

The battle lines get drawn inside his mind and then it’s on. So you can only imagine what happened once the phrase “Why don’t we do it? Why don’t we move to Japan?” left my lips. It had been a life-long dream of his and it’s slowly, over the years we’ve been together, become mine. And it’s one that I refuse to let go of. The amazement and fear that crossed his face as I said those fateful words, was a wonder to behold. The paradigm shift that took place was almost physical.

Over the next week, the love of my life began to retreat into himself and it took every trick I had up my sleeve to get him to start talking to me.

The fear was digging its claws into him and the one phrase that he kept repeating over and over again was, “but what if it goes wrong?” He was terrified of the idea that we’d somehow ‘waste’ the next few years of our life on something that would inevitably fail.

Changing the Picture

He couldn’t see past the idea that there was this magical ‘perfect’ way to do it. That unless you did everything ‘exactly right’ the project was a complete failure. The fear of making a wrong move was paralysing him.

After a few long hugs, I asked as gently as I could, “How many people do you know that have lived abroad and come back to their home country, say that they regret everything?”

“None…” Was his answer.

“OK, so what makes you think that that will happen to us?”

“I don’t know, I suppose, I just don’t want to spend all this money and not get anything in return.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, what we would have gotten for our money is the chance of living and working in Japan. We’ll have experienced what it’s like to live, sleep, eat, work and be in a completely foreign country. We’ll have developed at least a working knowledge of a language that is completely different to our own and we’ll have gained some pretty unique skills that we would never have had the chance to learn if we’d just stayed here. To me, that sounds pretty wonderful. If nothing else it’ll look brilliant on our CV’s. So what if come home after a few years? Is a trip to Japan only successful if we stay there forever?” I asked.

“I guess not,” he said and sat in silence for about ten minutes before deciding to go make himself a cup of tea.

The subject came up again, a few times, throughout the next week. Each time we talked it over and I offered him a different way of looking at the issue we were discussing. I never told him how he saw things was wrong, I simply offered a series of questions that forced him to think in a different direction.

Then something magical happened.

Serenity

I heard the key turning in the door and the cats jumped off the chairs to sit and sleepily await the arrival of their owner. As the door creaked open, they darted forwards and began to weave themselves in between my partner’s legs and he laughed, leaning down to stroke them, returning their hello.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” I said as I gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“Yep,” he said happily. “I realised that going to Japan isn’t as scary if I think of it as a really long holiday that might never end.”

He’d done it. He’d found a way to change the picture in his mind, by himself, into something that could bring him joy and hope. He’d managed to blend my optimism with his pessimism and created a new reality that was just right for him.

He could never be the same type of optimist as me but he managed to find a way to look at things that wasn’t a ‘pass or fail’ dichotomy. He allowed for the possibility of joy, learning and new experiences, and let himself see that nothing we do is ever wasted. We are always moving forwards. Life will always come to a close, so why not take hold of the steering wheel and go on that never-ending holiday?

After all, if everything will end, why not go out with a smile on your face after eating the best food, seeing the most beautiful things and speaking to as many different people as you can?

Sophie, signing out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s