Optimistic Pessimism: A Glass Half Full Of Negativity

I had a boss who was super positive. To him, everything was wonderful 24/7; as if life was a never ending trip to Disneyworld.

It wasn’t of course. Our work situation was plagued by constant problems, many of which impeded our ability to do our job and serve our community effectively.

And yet, on our leader went with a smile on his face and a bounce in his step. When it came time to acknowledge and solve the problems that were holding us back- he focused on the positive work we had accomplished in spite of the difficulties.

I’m not saying the problems weren’t addressed, but there was always more emphasis placed on what we were doing well. That gave some a feeling of success and made them happier. But for others like me, it created frustration, anger, dissatisfaction, and resentment.

I do not share the rose-colored glasses of my old boss and those who exclusively accentuate the positive.

I’m a pessimist- or so I’ve been told.

As a pessimist would, I do tend to focus on the negative. I expect that things will go imperfectly even if rather well. I expect that mistakes will happen. I assume that things will go wrong and that people will disappoint each other.

This is not to say that I am ungrateful or that I don’t recognize and appreciate what’s good. I do. But I think we grow and learn best from setbacks, mistakes and problems. To expect that none are likely is to delude ourselves. When they do happen, not focusing on them robs us of a chance to exercise some of our greatest strengths; our abilities to aspire, adapt, change and improve. I believe strongly in our human ability to do these things and am eternally hopeful that we will.

My glass is half full of negativity. If this outlook makes me a pessimist- so be it. I’m cool with it.

This post was inspired by recent pieces by Wynne Leon and Crisbiecoach. Check out their outstanding work at Wise & Shine.

Follow me at Wise & Shine and on my Five O’Clock Shadow blog.


27 thoughts on “Optimistic Pessimism: A Glass Half Full Of Negativity

  1. Been there! Your boss is the kind of person you want to shake and say, “We’re not at Disneyland, we’re in purgatory.” 😆 That said, you sound more like a realist to me. I can relate to that as well, and while we can’t focus on the negative all the time, being objective about things, and learning from them, as you said, is key to growth. Enjoyed this post!

  2. “When they do happen, not focusing on them robs us of a chance to exercise some of our greatest strengths; our abilities to aspire, adapt, change and improve.” Love this sentence, Todd.

    One of the wise commenters on my blog, Dr. Stein, has advised that whatever we are, the most important thing is to be self-aware so that we can counteract our natural tendencies when necessary. Sounds like your former boss could use some of that!

  3. This is one of your best articles. So honest and so true. It is difficult at times to handle those who are always appearing to be happy go lucky. That’s just not the real world.

  4. Love this. You’re cool with it, Todd? I’m cool with it, too! 😉 Especially because I’m wary of folks who exhibit ‘toxic positivity’. The kind of optimism-run-amok that flies in the face of reality and can take away growth opportunities. I can handle criticism…everything DOES NOT need to be sunny…err…Disneyworld. 😉

    1. Thanks Victoria- too bad I couldn’t have worked for you. 👍 From what hear from friends, that excessive positivity seems to be too common in the workplace.

  5. Younger me would have related to your boss so much. But over time, I have realized that things will never change for the better until I sit back and reflect honestly on what went wrong. And sometimes being overly positive, downgrades the severity of damage and the brain does not register that as something which should be avoided.

    1. Yes- I was missing the reflection with that old boss. It was just plowing ahead all the time. Thanks for the great comment!

  6. Enjoyed this post.
    I think balanced glass should be…
    A glass half filled with positivity to provide affirmation of one’s achievement. As long as the other half is full with acknowledgment of the problems and encouragement with support to solve them.

  7. Great post! I agree with other comments that you seem more of a realist. You say you are able to be grateful and appreciate what is good and you’re able to acknowledge and reflect on what is not good. This actually sounds very similar to a line from my recent workshop on gratitude. But often people are unable to see what is there that is good – not just because of a negative worldview but even just because of competition for our attention among other things – busy brains etc. I’m concerned about the trend towards pushing over-positive thinking at all costs. This is why I wanted to do the workshops on topics like gratitude – to come back to what the research actually says so that people who are less able to experience gratitude than you, can train themselves to be able to see the good that is there and reap the rewards, without feeling the need to go around in a blind state of positivity, denying the bad!

    1. Thanks Christina- I share your concern about blind positivity. Thanks for the thoughtful comment !

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