Today I found out that I didn’t get a library job I applied for a few weeks ago. I was a little sad for about a minute–visions of 401ks, good health benefits, and a steady income for helping people danced in my head–but I have several other applications in circulation, and some potential freelance or part-time opportunities available, so it was easy to thank my contact person for informing me and move on. I went back to reading the new Curvy Yoga collection and working on my EDN final project. I realized it wasn’t worth it to be sad for more than that minute. My small self wasn’t going to pout, sulk, or despair.
Which brings me to this essay on optimism in The Atlantic:
“We also know why optimists do better than pessimists. The answer lies in the differences between the coping strategies they use. Optimists are not simply being Pollyannas; they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation. And if it can’t be altered, they’re also more likely than pessimists to accept that reality and move on. Physically, they’re more likely to engage in behaviors that help protect against disease and promote recovery from illness…Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to deny, avoid, and distort the problems they confront, and dwell on their negative feelings. It’s easy to see now why pessimists don’t do so well compared to optimists.”
I would describe myself as an evolving optimist. I had the cynical teenager phase–many whatevers were uttered during my adolescence & the eye-roll was liberally employed—but now people are always describing me as “one of those touchy-feely, happiness” types. Some of that is being surrounded by supportive friends and family, having great mentors, and more skills than ever, but attitude is key, too. For me, this means focusing on positive experiences, creating more opportunities, and doing my best to avoid rehashing negative experiences or getting involved with people who make me unhappy. In a nutshell: Don’t dwell on it, y’all.
Of course, there are social barriers to optimism. How many times have you thought: I can’t do this, only X kinds of people can succeed at this…? That’s a common feeling, right? Particularly for women, who are often told to be humble and not taught to market themselves, career or personal development can be a tricky thing–you’re always bumping up against self-imposed limitations that aren’t accurate. Rosie Molinary had a great essay on daring to call yourself an artist, which many of us feel nervous about–me included, which explains each adaptation of the blog’s tagline, as I become more and more comfortable with that language. I wasn’t ready to call myself a writer for a long time. Yet, I’m doing all kinds of writerly things I never anticipated doing when I was 19 or 20.
Being an optimist sometimes runs counter to other peoples’ expectations, too. When I was doing my undergraduate majors in history & art history, I would tell strangers what I studied and their eyes would glaze over. When I say glaze, I mean glaze. It was rare to find anyone who had an enthusiasm for those subjects. So, the conversation would include the question, “What are you going to do with that?” I’m so glad Ken Robinson is here talking about passion and finding your interests as a counterpoint to those kinds of conversations.