Tag Archives: power of positive thinking

A bright sunshiny day: The fierce power of optimism

17 Jun

During a time of worldwide pandemic, demands for racial justice, utter financial catastrophe and unheard of levels of unemployment, I have become a huge fan of optimism.

Granted, pessimism usually has the better jokes, and in these troubled times, optimism runs the risk of coming off as wimpy, myopic or irritatingly cheerful. What I’ve discovered is, when it comes to strength, clarity and results, optimism kicks ass. Here’s why.

Optimism demands action.
Optimism is closely aligned with hope, which is poetically defined by Merriam-Webster as a way “to cherish [meaning nurture] a desire with anticipation.” It’s not to be confused with wishing, which is a pretty passive way of dealing with a challenge; if you just “put it all out to the universe,” you’re waiting for the universe to do all the heavy lifting to bail you out.

Nope, optimism requires work … lots and lots of work: expanding your network; researching new industries; tailoring your resume to fit the job you’re aiming for; going for a walk to dispel anxiety; practicing gratitude by writing down three good things at the end of each day. It’s rarely a “one and done” action, either; you have to keep showing up and putting in the effort.

Optimism requires self-reflection.
I’ve wrestled with “why me?” a lot since being laid off and have indulged in the occasional pity party, replete with Ben & Jerry’s. Still, it’s way more productive to consider this major disruption as a chance to review my past work experiences with an eye toward landing an even better opportunity in the future by asking myself:

  • what I’ve accomplished that makes me proud
  • what didn’t go as well and what I’ve learned as a result
  • which of my current skills adds the most value to a company right now and in the future
  • what skills I still need to learn – and how I can do that while I have some time away from a job

This self-examination can also bring focus during times that may seem hopeless. In an interview for New York magazine, civil rights champion Congressman John Lewis was asked, “What do you do to keep from becoming bitter?” He replied, “I pray over and over again, have what I call an executive session with myself, just self-listen: This is what you must do. This is what you must say. Do what you can, and play the role that you can play.

Optimism coexists with reality.

Having a positive frame of mind doesn’t mean ignoring the facts. It also doesn’t mean there won’t be periods of despair, doubt and fear. Yet optimism can provide moments of grace and gratitude, even when the present is tough and the future is bleak.

Three-time Tony nominee Rebecca Luker acknowledged this in her recent New York Times interview, “After A.L.S. Diagnosis, Rebecca Luker Is ‘Proud I Can Still Sing,’” when she said, “Some days I don’t have hope. The days that I do, I think about all the people that love and support me. There are a lot of exciting medical things coming down the pike in 2020. I know that I’m a strong person and that I can beat this.”

Optimism is a team sport.
As Luker acknowledged, optimism is rooted in those who are rooting for you. One of the first blessings I experienced after losing my job was hearing from so many people from all phases of my life who then took action to help me: putting me in touch with their friends, setting up calls, sharing my resume and so on. This is in addition to my family, who have been a full-service cheerleading squad. It’s motivated me to find ways to pay it forward and to celebrate my friends’ successes in their job searches. If one of us wins, we all do.

Sharing your pain and support with others balances the burden we all carry and helps build perspective. In a recent installment of the New York Times’ “Modern Love” series, Brooklyn resident Kelly Sterling said, “Before entering this quarantine, my husband and I suffered a miscarriage….We started having conversations with our families and friends, opening up about what had happened. People told us stories of their own losses and their friends’ losses. Even though we were stuck at home, we felt love and support from the outside world. Randy and I have come a long way during this time — now, we accept our loss as part of our story.”

Optimism just makes you feel better.
I have no idea how long I will be out of work, or when the pandemic will subside, or if Black Americans will ever receive the racial justice that has been denied them for more than four centuries. I do know that if I fully invest in optimism and positive change, there’s a greater chance that positive results will follow.

Just take it from the Jamaican Olympic bobsledding team.

I love the Johnny Nash original, yet I chose this version from “Cool Runnings” since we could all use some Jamaican joy right now (and Jimmy Cliff is transcendent!)

See you on the flip side … and stay safe!

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