Optimist Realism: Taking Responsibility for Your Fate
May 16, 2023

For all my life I’ve been an optimist, I always believed that good things are not only possible but happen to be just around the corner. I don’t know how or why I’ve became an optimist, it felt like something that I always was and always will be, and I liked it that way.

Now, one of the first problems you face as an optimist is the attitude you get from non-optimists. Pessimistic people are frustrating, with their negativity and closemindedness, it feels like even when it’s clear that good things are happening, they just can’t see it. But at least with pessimists, you know that they are biased, Realists are supposedly the ‘objective’ type, viewing things with no bias for better or worse, which makes it even more annoying when they shut down your hope for a better future.

But the truth is that none of these types are always correct about the future, none of us have the power to see the future, and we are all estimating and getting it wrong constantly. The main difference between optimists, pessimists and realists is the direction of their mistakes: optimists’ predictions are that things will turn out better than what actually happens, pessimists’ predictions are that things will turn out worse, while realists’ predictions will be equally distributed between being overly positive or negative, usually with smaller margin of error.

These 3 approaches often spark a debate about which one is best, Is it better to be optimistic and hopeful? Pessimistic who is prepared for whatever terrible thing might happen? Realist with no overconfidence or over stress about what’s to come?

While this is a completely subjective question, with people often advocating for their own perspective as the superior one, it made me think of something else- all of these approaches assume that life is a certain way, and all you can control is your perspective of it, but what about the impact your perspective has on what’s going to happen in your life?

Obviously, if you are rooting for a certain team to win a football match, or a candidate to get elected for political office, then your perspective does not matter one bit to the outcome. But what if you are trying to assess the likelihood getting a promotion at work, you definitely have a large degree of influence over that, even if it is not completely within your control, and it’s not improbable to assume that the perspective you use will influence how correct your prediction will be, so which perspective would be best for improving outcomes?

If you believed that you have no chance to get promoted, would you even try to get a promotion? Probably not, so being overly pessimistic seems to be hurting your chances as it would reduce motivation to act. Conversely, being an optimist could be positive because it would motivate you to do the work, but you might run into a brick wall when you find out that your assumption that you can make it does not fulfill itself fast, and you find out that things are not going to be easy and that you won’t get quick returns on your efforts. Being a realist means that you would not over or underestimate your chances of getting the promotion, but maybe there’s a value in slight overestimation, or even just focusing on the good parts that will come with the necessary hard work, to motivate you to work hard and improve?

This is where Optimist Realism comes into play. Optimist realism combines the advantages of both approaches, you get to have the benefit of being a cheerful optimist, while you also have the groundedness and resilience of the realist.

To get there you first need to understand a very important principle- you have control over your actions in life. Sure, not everything is under your control, even with the optimal behavior, you don’t get full control of the outcome. However, life is full of chances and if you consistently work hard and take chances wisely, you are putting yourself in a position where you are much more likely to achieve your goals.

Notice how all of the most important things in life are all in your control: how you sleep, what you eat, how often do you exercise, which people you surround yourself with, what do you do in your spare time, do you take time to disconnect and reflect. These choices that we all make daily influence our physical health, mental health, social and romantic life, advancement in work, and overall our happiness and contentment with life. I’m not trying to imply that it’s easy to do, we often feel like we don’t know how to do the right things, and all have our traumas, habits, and limiting self-perceptions; but improving is not only possible, but inevitable if you do the hard work and keep trying to improve in whatever aspect of life you feel lacking.

The first step to improvement is looking within, learning to read and respect your emotions, but also learning to face them when they are unpleasant, instead of running away from them. Once you do that, your passions and priorities in life will become more apparent making it hard to ignore and pulling you toward what you want, it will still be a long journey until you settle on what you want and how you are going to get it, and it will still take a lot of time, effort, and risk to actually build something that’s meaningful to you, but this time and effort is going to feel a lot more justified and then the hard time and sacrifice will become bearable.

Being Optimistically Realist means you don’t delude yourself that it is going to be easy, it wasn’t easy for Van Gogh, who wasn’t acknowledged in his lifetime or for Nietzsche that had his own struggles with mental health. It wasn’t easy to countless athletes, artists, politicians, civil rights activists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and engineers that made the world a better place, but they did what was their duty, their calling, their life’s purpose, what they loved.

Being Optimistically Realist means knowing that if it can be done, you can do it, as long as you set goals that reasonably fit your skills and values, being consistent and working toward what you want is the best way to maximize your chances of accomplishing them. There still are some (many) things that are out of our control, things like wealth or skin color or genetic capabilities and intellectual abilities that are all out of our control, but this doesn’t mean you should not try your best with the cards you are dealt. Being Optimistically- Realist does not mean ignoring injustices, but doing your best to succeed despite your disadvantages, focusing on what you can do, connecting with your mission in life, a mission that very well can be related to the injustices you’ve suffered in your own life.

Hard work is not instantly gratifying, but it does not mean that you don’t enjoy the process. Be it art, science, coding, or sports, do what you enjoy, and know that setting and achieving goals is a part of the process. Knowing that it is possible to achieve your goals and create a good life and a better world for others is a good reason to be optimistic.

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