As Steve Goldburg learns, there are lessons in the smallest things in life, even shoelaces.
I had an important wake-up call this week. I was riding my bike home along a beautiful, forested trail when I met up with a bubbly, bright and very fit young woman who was also out on her bike. We soon struck up an animated conversation about life and its upsides, the power of optimism, and the beneficial effects of resilience — while I gave it my all to match her brisk pace (middle-aged pride, I couldn’t let her see my struggle to keep up).
A few seconds later, I heard and felt an audible snap. I looked down and realized my shoelace had caught itself between the chain and gears of my bike and was now severed. My spontaneous reaction is one that, in retrospect, startles me. I heard myself flip into something like: “Sh_t, where am I going to find another lace now? I can’t tie my shoe and I have a tennis match in less than an hour…”
Without breaking stride, my new friend Lisa quickly offered an upside perspective: “Steve, I know people who have flown off their bikes and landed on their heads from having something like this happen. You are very lucky!” I quickly recovered from my mini-rant and was quiet for a few moments, reflecting on how a born pessimist like myself needs to continuously work to nurture an optimistic perspective.
Lisa then mentioned that she is “often accused of being an optimist”. I was interested in her choice of words and asked her what she meant. She talked about growing up in rural Canada, where she experienced a simple, healthy, and enriched life surrounded by family and a community that modeled attitudes of gratitude and optimism.
Her own sense of personal optimism seems to have served her well. From what Lisa shared with me that day, she has excelled at most things she has taken on in her life including her current status as a doctoral student in a field she is passionate about.
Continuing along the sunlit path, our conversation then deepened as Lisa shared how people have often referred to her optimism as naivety and idealism, viewing her perspectives as more of a negative than a positive.
It saddened me to hear this. It’s true that optimism alone typically doesn’t solve problems. Rather, it is a state of mind that helps cultivate a fertile environment for change. Today, with all the challenges that confront us, it is needed more than ever.
Lisa helped me realize in a deeply poignant way that I personally have work to do in keeping up my everyday level of optimism. By extension, the Upside to the Downturn – this multifaceted vehicle I am deeply committed to – is a unique and rich forum to help restore a collective sense of optimism and promote its proper place as a realistic and positive force to inspire our thinking and actions.
Thanks Lisa! Keep shining your optimistic light…
Questions for reflection:
- Do you consider yourself to be an optimist, a pessimist or somewhere in-between? How easy is it for you to look for the “silver linings” in situations?
- Is your first reaction to challenging situations to focus on the negatives (like Steve’s was that day), or do you pause long enough to consider the presence of or potential for upsides?
- What adjustments in your life might help you to maintain an optimistic point of view more of the time?
- Are there ways you can think of for the Upside to the Downturn forum to promote optimism to a broader audience?
Steve Goldberg is the co-author of Finding the Upside: Practical Wisdom for Challenging Times. You can read more about and purchase the book at: www.findingtheupside.org
Previously published on Upsidematters.org, August 2, 2009
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