From the beginning, I thought optimism equaled survival.
I didn't get over the hemiparesis effects of a neonatal stroke by accepting my lot in life.* No, I bucked up and said, "With physical therapy and determination I will run like everyone else. One day I won't have to wear my shoes on the wrong feet to force them to turn out. One day I will place fourth in state in the 400 meter dash -- even if it is only among private schools. One day it will be better."
When never-ending mind-numbing migraines knocked me out of work, I didn't lay down and whimper. No, I staggered up and quietly proclaimed, "So what if the doctor, the hospital and a nationally renowned neurologist can't figure out what's wrong with me. One day I'll stop these headaches. One day I'll be able to remember that bills get paid in the mailbox, not the front dresser drawer. One day I'll be able to understand why critics call Reba 'middling and pedestrian.' One day it will be better."
Through depression, premature births, and family cancer scares things will get better. Corrupt companies, layoffs and a depreciating housing price can't dent my optimism. After all when I'm stuck in a day that's gray and gloomy. I just stick out my chin and grin and say...tomorrow! tomorrow! I'll love you tomorrow! You're always a day a way!
Man, they should write a song about that.
Optimism can be that fuel that drives you to achieve the unachievable. You can't climb Mount Everest without first visualizing yourself reaching the summit. When you fail at an experiment, it can show you the pathway to success. A rousing pep-talk is all you need to take a team of misfits to win the Hockey Pee-Wee League State Championship.
Optimism lies in the future. Things may be bad now, but later they'll be better. No matter what, an oasis lies just over the next sand dune. Just wait until you get older, the girls will be all over you. Optimists may not think as the glass half-full today, but definitely believe that it will overflow tomorrow.
I used to live in the future of optimism. I could easily erase a disappointing event with a good night's sleep and fresh perspective. That now has changed after seven harrowing months of day to day bad. FDA recall, family company bankruptcy, car problems, a diminishing bank account, thyroid surgery, thyroid cancer, missing Christmas with the family, and the cancelation of Lego Dimensions. If I wake up tomorrow and find the dog cooking meth in the downstairs bathroom, it wouldn't surprise me one bit.
Now, I haven't gone over to the dark side of pessimism. I don't expect crappy things to happen, I just don't expect good things to happen either. If you base life assumptions on a teeter-totter, I would rest directly on the fulcrum. I just don't have the emotional stamina to roll over to one side or the other. If you rather relate philosophies to candy, I'm the Now, not the Later.
Let me give an example of what I mean:
Last month I found out I had papillary thyroid cancer, and even though the doctors called it the "Cadillac of cancers," it's still cancer. To eradicate the cancer cells I had to do some pretty awful stuff, like cut iodine out of my diet, take a highly radioactive pill, segregate myself from all of humanity (and pets-manity) for seven days, and then lie still for 45 minutes while a machine invaded my personal space. Merry Christmas to me.
I could have spent the entire time worrying about what the scan results showed. I could have planned funeral arrangements or celebration menus, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. But instead I watched Trading Places, built Lego models, talked to the kids on FaceTime, and fought the never ending battle of kitchen space with a horde of ants. And because these weren't just time distractions until the big reveal, I could really enjoy them.
The scan came back showing an absence of cancer cells, and of course I was elated. But if it came back that 24 lymph nodes were infected, I wouldn't be surprised. Sad, yes, but not surprised. And I didn't waste a week by myself worrying about it -- especially when there's a Lego A-Team van to assemble.
Before all you optimists and pessimists pity me, I challenge you to try and free yourself from expectations. You'll be amazed at the happiness you find in the details of life. Watching your kid struggling to free a loose tooth becomes thrilling. You relish sitting on the couch with your partner, even though you're not talking and working on separate laptops. Even the new Star Wars movie can turn into a pleasurable experience when you don't worry about legacies and discarded canon.
Disappointments do come, but they don't stick around for very long. Like, sure, this blog column now ends, but somewhere there's a Seinfeld rerun on to take it's place.
*Sorry for the science-y sentence. The less arrogant sentence is "You don't get over muscle weakness after a stroke before birth..." I just wanted to make sure you read until the end.
Jack Grubb writes an incredible blog, Losing the Internets, which is read by at least 37 people and over 2,100 Russian SPAM bots. In his spare time he helps small companies find their marketing voice. Jack currently lives deliberately in Appalachia, Kentucky with his wife, two daughters, Jack Russell and a Lego collection beyond compare.