The enemy of thinking positive isn’t being negative – it’s being a realist. I noticed that as children, we hype them up and tell them that there are no limits to their dreams, that they can do and be anything they want to be. But when they reach a certain age and experience life for themselves, suddenly limits abound—and we call this the real world. Our dreams are suddenly watered down to fit what we think can be achieved; what is “realistic”.
I used to have a best friend who would scold me about my lack of limits when dreaming big. A self-proclaimed pragmatist, he said that I was so out of touch with reality, that I should see the world as how it really was so that I could adjust my dreams accordingly. I was in my mid-twenties, steadily climbing up the career ladder, single with no children, and a raging optimist. I remember telling him something to the effect of, “The world is relative! How I see it is how it is! It will adjust to me!”
That was ten years ago, and now that I think back on who I was back then, I miss my optimistic side. The harsh blows that life whacked me with beat out my idealistic, limitless self, replaced by a working single mother who is forever in survival mode, seeing the world with a hardened set of jaded eyes, ready to defend herself and her daughter from invisible realities.
And it’s exhausting. I thought that waking up exhausted was simply the default mode of mothers with young kids, but ever since my daughter was born six years ago, I can count with one hand how many times I woke up refreshed and happy to see the day. My to do list stares back at me as a reminder of the real world – where there’s no room for optimism, only the ability to get things done. When I try to see things in a more positive way, I get defensive and say, “It’s not being negative. I’m just being realistic.”
I’ve been lucky to have a naturally happy child who is overflowing with positivity. I constantly tell her that there’s nothing she can’t do as long as she works for it, that she should dream big and believe in herself. Thankfully she’s taken those to heart—but with me as her mother, how long will it take until my pragmatist ways will rub off on her?
I recently had a long talk with a family member of mine that touched on the subject about how our thoughts manifest into words and actions, and words are self-fulfilling prophesies. When the words that come out of us are phrases like “This is so hard”, “Work is not fun”, “Where do I even begin?” or things to that effect, then our actions follow what our thoughts and words naturally say, manifesting it into what we call “real life”.
But now that I think about it, this isn’t any way to live. Living in a “realistic” way is simply a thin veil of a life filled with negativity. It hasn’t gotten me any closer to my goals, it hasn’t made my worries disappear, and it certainly hasn’t made me any happier or more successful.
My past twenty something self was brimming with optimism because I honestly didn’t know any better – the obstacles I faced during that time were quickly overcome. No task or life situation was hard; there was always a solution, and it didn’t even cross my mind that I would be beaten. But wishing for the past to come back is also a form of negative thinking—it takes you away from enjoying the present. So rather than doing that, I’ve decided to instill optimism in who I am right now.
Shifting from negative to positive takes a ton of mindfulness. When you haven’t been an optimist for so long, it may even feel naïve or strange to look at the brighter, more hopeful side of things. But the more that I intentionally choose the optimistic choice, from what I eat for lunch to what work task to tackle next, there’s a lightness and contentment to how life feels nowadays. Asking myself, “What’s the best that could happen?” has given me hope that things would turn out to be the best-case scenario; and if it didn’t, then well, it’s the outcome that was meant to happen, and I did my best.
If you want to be successful in life, here’s a newsflash: Success is a relative term as well, and if you want to get successful faster, optimism is the magic ingredient to accelerate your progress. Whatever obstacle that you meet to becoming successful will be met with hope, confidence in your capabilities, and do the work as best as you could do. Being optimistic makes you view yourself as successful already, right this second.
I’m currently inching my way to the big 4-0, and I’m thinking that with age comes wisdom, yes, but with age has come a renewed interest in optimism. Rather than fear and worry taking over my daily life, being positive, celebrating small wins as well as the huge ones, and knowing that I am a hugely successful person—even if I am the only one who thinks so—has led me to be happy. And at the end, being happy is the mark of a truly successful life.