Optimists and Pessimists and Realists

I’m an unapologetic Optimist. I once took one of those personality tests at work and practically scored off the chart for optimism. The fact that my boss at the time didn’t share my affinity for the Best Possible Scenario did eventually hamper our reporting relationship…but nevertheless I remained (and remain) firmly in the Polyanna camp.

I find that most Optimists don’t mind being called “Optimists.” Not so with most Pessimists — and you know who you are. You, it seems, seem to prefer to be called “Realists.” But we Optimists know better and tend to think you so-called Realists are actually Pessimists in disguise. Oh, you’ll listen to the starry-eyed predictions of us Optimists, then shake your head in a patronizing way…and, after you’ve given us your Eeyore-like assessment explaining why our idea can’t possibly work, you’ll say, “I’m just being realistic.” I suspect many people who call themselves Realists are really Pessimists who simply refuse to own the label.

On the other hand, most of you Pessimists-in-Realists’-Clothing are no doubt convinced that we Optimists live in a dream world, conveniently divorced from reality. We orbit the ground in our Cloud of Positive Outcomes while pretending that the inexorable force of gravity that will soon bring our illusions crashing to earth doesn’t really exist. Sadly, I have to admit that you’re frequently correct. Optimism can indeed be a force to be reckoned with, but sooner or later that so-called irresistible force might crash against the immoveable object of inconvenient truth, and when that happens truth typically wins.

News flash: your workplace, your team, your family is made up of individuals all along the Good News/Bad News Optimism/Pessimism spectrum. So how can we work together to maximum advantage? First, a word to you Optimists: listen carefully to the Pessimists/Realists in your life. Are they speaking truth to you? If so, it might be time to lay aside our knee-jerk reaction and make a sober assessment of the situation. I call this the Grounded Optimist, and it’s what I strive to be. Keep the energy of the Optimist but don’t ignore the facts on the ground!

And you Pessimists? Maybe it’s time for you to experience some of the energy and enthusiasm of the Optimists in your life. Before grabbing the bucket to pour cold water on the flickering flame of an idea, see if there’s something there you can support. Will there be time later to inject a note of cautionary reason into the conversation? Probably — so be patient. Meanwhile don’t be quite so quick to roll your eyes and dismiss the “unrealistic” new idea. I suppose we could call this person the Tempered Pessimist — the person with a healthy sense of the obstacles, tempered by the belief that this new idea just possibly could work.

Optimist, Pessimist, or Realist — where are you? Our workplace, team or family needs everybody, no matter where on the spectrum you place yourself!

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