Friday, January 27, 2006

What optimism is and isn't

Here's a thought: Optimism untempered by a realistic view of the world leads to disappointment, or even disaster.

Having said that, I'm generally an optimist, but one who has experienced some of the pitfalls inherent in that outlook. But I still try to have a positive approach to things and I'm pretty resilient, I think. But I had lunch with a friend a few days ago and it's got me thinking about the difference between being optimistic, being realistic and being negative.

My friend wanted to share an idea with me -- it's an idea for a project that we both have talked about in the past but never saw a way to do. But as she described her new approach to this idea, I found myself trying to inject a bit of realistic thinking into the discussion. I suggested things we might want to research, approaches we might consider. Mostly, I was thinking aloud. But my friend felt I was being negative -- apparently she had expected me to express whole-hearted enthusiasm for the idea and I wasn't fulfilling her expectations. I thought about it and apologized for coming across as negative, because that wasn't my intent. But if I'm going to be involved in something that will require a lot of time and possibly some money, I want to be sure it's done right. I will admit right here that I'm not much of a risk taker, so I'm sure that colors my outlook.

I know my friend pretty well and I know why this possible project means so much more to her. I also know her well enough to understand some of the life experiences that have shaped her way of thinking. She's more likely to see things as either-or, black-and-white, whereas I see more shades of gray, more in-between options. I've always been this way and sometimes I wish I wasn't. But I don't think it's being negative to disagree with someone or to suggest that more research is needed. I don't think it's crushing someone's dream to suggest some realistic thinking. In fact, the best way to make a dream come true is to have a plan. I'm not saying my friend doesn't have a plan, but I don't think it's very well thought out yet.

So what do you think? When someone brings you an idea that you know needs to be fleshed out in more detail, a dream that one will have to hurdle many obstacles to achieve, is it being negative to point those things out? I'm not talking about saying something like "Boy that will never work. What a stupid idea." That's obviously negative. What I mean is something more along the lines of "Maybe we ought to talk to some people who've done this sort of thing before." or "Other similar ventures have not been able to turn a profit. I'm just not sure it's realistic to expect much."

I'm interested in what other people think about this.

1 comment:

Julana said...

In general, I think honesty is the best policy. But it does depend on my mood. :-) Some days, I just want to hear the positive side, if I'm having trouble getting motivated just to get started. But I think I want someone to be honest, most often. It's best to be able to accurately count the cost of a project beforehand.