Optimism vs. Pessimism in these uncharted times

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Guys full of high hope for the finally results

I’ve been thinking about the nature of optimism versus pessimism in life a lot lately. And certainly now is a real opportune time for one to focus on which camp you generally fall into. 

Despite my continued optimism about how America will look by July 1st and how it will look again by September 1st, I don’t really want to give too much voice to that here. That’s because, in part, optimists who turn out being wrong, come off as suckers. Suckers at best. At worst, they come off as dummies, as the public will turn on you and say “duh, he doesn’t get it”.

If something turns out worse than you think it will be — especially if it’s a complex thing like this global pandemic — well then, you get branded as somebody who just doesn’t understand.

But if you play the other side — you play the pessimist angle — there seems to be less to lose if you’re wrong. You can always revert to a number of factors to explain why you ended up on the wrong side — “Well, we did a good job of stopping it” or “we got lucky” or “well, you know, at least I took this thing seriously.”

So I kind of think that right now in the public sphere of commentary, the optimist side is getting quite a bit underplayed. Generally speaking, nobody wants to be wrong on that side when it comes to something as serious as mortality numbers from a global pandemic. 

But if you’re wrong on the other side — team pessimism — well then, there’s a lot of company there. Plus you can at least swaddle yourself in the whole “at least I took it seriously” angle.

But there’s a big difference. There’s a distinction between not taking it seriously and being reckless. A distinction between being stupid versus betting the under on whatever the latest models are showing for the spread of the pandemic. You can still do the responsible thing, but hope for the best outcome. 

So, of course, the trick to it (and this is also something I’ve been thinking about a lot because what else do I have to do?) is to paint yourself the gloomiest picture possible. I’ll confess I have done this on more than a few occasions in my head and then I’ve crumpled it up and thrown it away. And then I’ve said, “wait a minute, hold on, I gotta add something to that gloomiest picture possible.”

And if you envelop yourself in this line of thinking, and you find yourself unable to get away from it, then you’re going to severely affect your mental health. And it’ll continue for as long as it appears that the worst outcome may still happen. You’re essentially guaranteeing yourself a degree of mental stress, if that’s the route you go. 

That’s life on team pessimism. Whereas, if you take the other side — team optimism — you’re kind of delaying the possibility of mental stress for later. And it may never come. And if it doesn’t come, you would not have paid any mental price at all . . . if you can pull it off. 

But then, of course, you run the risk of an even deeper disappointment if you think for the best possible outcome, but it turns out to be worse. Following that course, you are potentially setting yourself up for crushing mental sickness, when you’re like “Oh my god, I can’t believe it. I thought this was going to be gone by now” and months and months have gone by.

It’s almost like you have to somehow thread the needle. You have to briefly envision the worst and accept that it may indeed happen. You account for that potential outcome and then you put it away. You don’t think about again, which is a hell of a mental trick. It’s not easy to do.

But I think this trick also applies in life as well , not just pandemics. Whether you get sick — or your family member gets sick or someone you know gets sick or your job is in jeopardy or business that you started is struggling — how do you contemplate the worst, and then put it aside and still live in the present? How do you do that and still be, generally speaking, an optimist?

I don’t know, but it’s an interesting exercise right now, to say the least. 

And as always I look to the great NFL Coach Lou Saban for inspiration: “You can get it done. You can get it done. What’s more, you GOTTA get it done.”


This was an excerpt from the April 1, 2020 CzabeCast. Click below to listen to the full show.

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