Optimisim Reinvented

Many people push themselves and the people around them to be optimistic constantly.

“Don’t be such a negative Nelly!”

“You need to think on the bright side of things.”

In my experience, this advice has great intentions but is very incredibly wrong in so many ways.

Being blindly optimistic is careless and naive. It essentially sets you up for impending failure, because LIFE.

Everyone on this planet, including movie stars and millionaires, and those friends you see on Facebook who seemingly have their lives “together” so much better than you do, all have problems. Their cars break down at the very worst times. Their kids misbehave in school. They get into arguments with their spouses. Their jobs suck and are hard, and sometimes, they want to just up and quit. So on that note, we all instinctively decide we need to be positive and just hope for the best in life because negativity breeds negativity.

Newsflash: This is the human experience, folks!

Life is hard and will never be perfect for anyone of us. Any other thought process then accepting that is utterly foolish. And while I agree you shouldn’t walk down sidewalks kicking rocks and cursing the heavens, you desperately need to be realistic. Not being realistic is what will ultimately lead you to feel like the sky is falling when just a few things don’t go your way.

How about trying this on for size: Don’t be negative, but don’t be overly confident either. If you walk around hoping that nothing is ever going to go wrong in your life, you are going to be severely disappointed on a regular basis, and that’s when the self-loathing kicks in. By pretending that we should be perfect, that we should have everything together all of the time, we are primarily setting ourselves up for failure.

I know I sound seriously somber right now, and probably a little bit crazy, but hear me out just a bit longer, and I’ll give you an example.

I frequent an assistant living facility where many of my hospice patients reside. Our hospice will have between 10-25 patients there at one time year round, so I’m there often and have gotten to know the staff pretty well.

One nurse imparticular, Isabella, I am quite fond of. She is very young and has only been a nurse for a couple of years, but damn she knows her stuff. What great potential I see in that young padawan. She is full of spunk, quick on her feet, and always bending over backward for the residents of the facility; you can tell she genuinely cares about each and every one of them. In fact, Isabella is way too good for that place. While widely popular and beautifully up kept, the facility is one of the most chaotic places I have ever had the displeasure of working with. It’s almost like this site spent so much of their huge budget making sure it was aesthetically pleasing, they forgot to leave room for some decent management. This situation leaves poor Isabella continuously running around like a maniac trying to clean up the messes of her somewhat incompetent co-workers, and keep her luxury-living patients happy.

One day, while sitting in the nurse’s station, Isabella put her head on my shoulder exasperated and asked, “is it ever going to stop?” I laughed, because it was season in South Florida, and we were busier than ever with all the snowbirds in town. (For those of you who do not know the term, a ‘snowbird’ refers to a retiree native of the northern half of the United States, who spends the months of November-April in the never ending warm climates of Florida, thus avoiding Winter altogether.) Her hair was up in a messy bun, but the tie was hardly holding it together. She looked as if she’d run a marathon and she had probably come close to the equivalent at this point, only halfway through her shift.

She confided in me that she comes to work every single day “thinking today will be awesome, nothing crazy is going to happen! But then it does, and I just want to cry forever.”

“Well, there’s your problem, Isabella. You’re far too positive.”

She laughed, thinking I was kidding, but quickly realized by the look on my face that I was completely serious.

You see, poor Isabella came to her crazy job every day, thinking miracles would happen. The tiny optimistic voice in her head foolishly said, “not one patient will fall today! No one will need to be sent out via EMS! Everyone will get their meds on time, and every one of my patients will be happy as clams and have no complaints.”

Keep dreaming sister; it just is NOT going to happen in this crazy place you come to for employment.

dont-panic-1067044_1920Positive thinking is always a good thing, but by golly you have to make it realistic. I suggested to Isabella that she embrace the craziness of her job. That she just accept the inevitable for what it is, but be positive instead, that she will make it through. “Tell yourself that work is probably going to be a shit show and will surely be less than favorable, but you’ve got this. You’re an amazing nurse, and you will make this day your bitch!” She laughed and said she would try it out.

A couple of days later I returned to Isabella’s facility to make the usual rounds on my hospice patients and to my surprise, I found a relaxed and smiling Isabella. What a transformation she had undergone, she looked like the weight of the entire world had been lifted from her shoulders! Isabella jumped from her chair at the nurse’s station and flung her arms around me, “IT WORKED!!!! I FEEL AMAZING!”

You see, Isabella stopped thinking unrealistically that the world, and specifically her extraordinary career as a nurse, would bend to her comfort and satisfaction. She finally accepted it for all the craziness it was worth and was positive instead about how she would handle it. She was not necessarily surprised when something catastrophic happened with one of her elderly patients, but instead took it in stride and did what needed to be done to help the poor soul. Isabella was no longer allowing the day to beat her up and was instead returning the favor.

This outlook is not negative, just realistic. Optimism is often misconstrued to mean blindly seeing things on the bright side, without any sense of reason for reality. When you embrace life for all it’s twists, turns, flat tires, and misbehaving children you are still optimistic, you’re just targeting that optimism toward things that can be controlled, instead of the things that can not. The beautiful aspect of this point of view is that most of our days here on earth will not be all that bad. Most of the time, tires will stay filled with air and calls from the principle will not be received. And on those days, you’ll feel like a million bucks.

By accepting the inevitable pitfalls of life, you will almost never be surprised at how downright shitty it can sometimes be, and you’ll hardly ever be too disappointed. The worst thing that happens is you have the exact day you assumed was possible, but you were ready for it, and it was not at all consequential. You’ll pick up the pieces that have fallen apart without catastrophic damage to your ego and general outlook on life, and move on. Something crazy happened, but hey, you handled it like a boss!

Anything better than the downfalls you expected, is essentially the best day of your life. Now, you’ll now actually be able to appreciate it for all its glory.

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