Scott’s Thoughts: Realistic Optimism

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.”

Gil Stern

U.S. Army ParatroopersReal estate, like many entrepreneurial pursuits, is rife with the talk of “the power of the positive.” Monitoring negative self-talk, practicing affirmations, and placing faith in “good outcomes” is the norm when it comes to putting on a good face and meeting the day’s challenges.

Has that ever felt a bit… false to you? Have you ever practiced a little pep-talk with your mouth only to hear your brain undermining every word? Have you ever told friends and family that “everything couldn’t be better,” when in fact you feel just the opposite?

Monitoring negativity is one thing, but denying it exists is more dangerous. In my experience, great leaders have been able to maintain a “realistic optimism” in the face of their challenges rather than hose down the room with sunshine. Blind optimism, unbalanced by an honest appraisal of the situation, does not quell anxiety. In fact, it feeds it. When everyone knows you’re downwind from the dump, it’s no good to call it a sweet spring breeze.

Even though it may hurt to admit disappointment, frustration, or dire straits, those around you are best served by the truth, even when the news isn’t good. Our anxiety is largely driven by what we don’t know and our fear that we won’t be up to our challenges. Knowing the truth helps diminish the number of items in the “unknown” category. When we know what the situation is, we can better appraise our ability to handle the challenge, too.

The art of realistic optimism lies in maintaining faith in your ability to work through a problem. When things are bad, admit they’re bad, but believe in your ability to make a change. Take action optimistically–with the idea that the next idea might be the one that turns the tide–rather than submitting to defeat. At times, the internal belief that your adversity serves a purpose you might not understand yet can be a boost to your confidence.

Regardless of how you frame it, don’t be the blind optimist who jumps out of the plane, expecting to find a parachute on the way down.

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army

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