When things go wrong, we have the choice to either see them as broken or as a result of an imbalance in our approach. For example, issues may have resulted from moving too fast/too slow/too recklessly/too thoughtfully.
If we broke something, we are left with a limited set of next steps – typically mourn it or regret it/deal with the emotions, clean up the pieces, reflect on the learning, and move on. The hardest of these is dealing with the unpleasant feelings that follows breaking something valuable.
If we believe the situation went south because of an imbalance in our approach, on the other hand, the future is rife with possibilities. Sure, there may be a few tricky situations that need resolution. But, we get to approach them with the optimism that there’s a way back – we just need to do the work to right the balance.
Every once in a rare while, we do find ourselves dealing with situations where something was broken. But, for the rest of the time, at least in my experience, we’re dealing with consequences of an imbalance.
As a result, I’ve come to realize that approaching such situations as an opportunity to re-balance is a better, more constructive, way forward than treating something as broken.
Optimism is a self fulfilling prophecy.
Anton Chekhov once said – “Any idiot can face a crisis. It is day-to-day living that wears you out.” And, day-to-day living can play havoc with our ability to sustain positive, optimistic energy. That is especially the case if we don’t understand where energy and inspiration come from.
Energy and inspiration come from a clarity of purpose – a clear understanding of why we’re doing what you’re doing. Absent this clarity, the day quickly becomes a grind. It is this clarity that enables us to be energetic and, then, inspirational. Our energy translates to inspiration when we’re able to communicate that clarity of purpose and transmit that energy onto others.
When we run out of energy, we’re often taught to look outside – “find some motivation.” So, we spend time surfing the internet looking for ways to inspire ourselves during a difficult workday with a nice article, video or song. But, motivation is extrinsic. It is a short term boost that may work for a few minutes, perhaps even a few hours. If we have to find a longer term solution, we will have to look within and answer that difficult question – “Does what I do matter? Why?”
There are no shortcuts to harnessing that internal energy. We need to take the time to lay out a hypothesis for why we think we exist and then be able to explain why what we spend time doing fits into that hypothesis. And, we have to remind ourselves about this why every day.
That’s how great things are built and great obstacles are overcome – one energetic, inspired, optimistic day at a time.
After his wonderful post on non attachment, venture capitalist Brad Feld had another great post up on his blog on the idea of paranoid optimism. Just like after his post on non attachment, I thought about this over the days that followed and found that it resonated deeply with the way I approach life these days.
Paranoid optimism, as I understand it, combines two ideas that are seemingly at odds with each other – optimism and paranoia. To take the business analogy that Brad wrote about, an optimist would look at the rosy market conditions today and want to believe they will stay this way forever. A cynic, on the other hand, will expect the market to crash tomorrow. A paranoid optimist, however, fully grasps the idea that the market winds may change any day (thanks to the paranoia) and still makes decisions driven by his/her positive outlook. That is a potent combination and can lead to great positive impact.
But, all positive impact aside, I think of paranoid optimism as a healthy way in which to approach the world. For the longest time, I used to call myself a “realist.” I’ve since realized that that term doesn’t do justice to my belief system. I am definitely an optimist overall – if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to live the idea of “every day I get better.” But, I’ve learnt to incorporate paranoia into my view of the world.
A few years ago, I’d written about this idea of checking in on the next potential “down.” I’d begun to observe a very noticeable pattern of ups and downs as I looked back at my mental states over the period of a couple of years. As a result, I developed this habit of checking in with myself every time I felt I was on a roll and asking the question – what could be the next “down?” For someone who was prone to high highs and low lows, this was a really helpful check in. It immediately grounded me and kept me focused on the present. More importantly, this injection of paranoia ensured that I wasn’t getting complacent. Falling down isn’t as painful as when we feel our pride has taken a beating. And, paranoia ensures pride doesn’t enter the picture.
I’ve written a lot about the idea of focusing on the process, of being mindful and of enjoying the present. These ideas make the journey incredibly fulfilling. And, when the journey is incredibly fulfilling, I find myself worrying less about the bad outcomes that inevitably show up and instead just focus my energy on plugging away.
It is paranoid optimism that makes this state of mind possible.