No doubt at some point in your life, you’ve been asked if the glass is half empty or half full. Invariably, the answer to that question implies that you’re either an optimist or a pessimist. Right?
But is there another way to see?
To out myself, I confess that I’m naturally inclined towards optimism. This is a bit surprising considering that I was raised in a house full of pessimists.
My parents wanted proof, evidence of why things existed, of how it would work out. Their view was that life was difficult, painful and my job was to suck it up and got on with things.
Maybe it’s because I have difficulty with duality and its need for binary opposites but somewhere in my 20s, I decided that I didn’t really like either of those definitions.
There had to be another option, something that combined both viewpoints.
Optimists often get a bad rap and that’s happened to me plenty in life.
You get called an optimist and really it’s a more polite way of saying you’re unrealistic, a Pollyanna or simply out of touch. But healthy optimism is also about seeing the possibilities of the future and about being hopeful and excited about what can be.
Pessimists certainly have the market cornered on successful arguing and banter.
Most intellectuals I know fall into this category. It’s smart and savvy to analyze and pick things apart, exposing the flaws.
Some pessimists though fall into the category of fatalists. These are the Debbie Downers who never see anything good, always say life is bleak and meaningless and can be draining to be around for any period of time.
What’s the third way?
I decided it was realism.
Realism is looking at the situation for what it is – not for what I may want it to be or for all the potential awful things it could be- but for what it actually is.
In researching this, I’ve come to learn that we can actually see optimism and pessimism as being on either end of a continuum with realism smack in the center.
Thinking like this affords us many different views (rather than just three) because there are gradations of both optimism and pessimism. So, in essence, we can be an optimist, an optimistic realist, a realist, a pessimistic realist or a pessimist. Lots of choices!
What’s exciting about thinking on a continuum is that it’s fluid.
We don’t have to put ourselves in a box.
With these new labels, I’d categorize myself as an optimistic realist. And what I mean by that is I set goals and intentions, getting clear about what I want and where I want to go.
But I don’t just expect it to happen without putting some work and effort into it. I also recognize that there are limitations and challenges. I try to look at the situation from a holistic perspective.
Here’s an example of something happening in my life.
I’m currently working on a book project. Like any big venture, it takes time, planning, dedication, and effort. I can’t simply hope that the work will get done or wish it into being.
I have to set my intention of completing it and getting it published which means I have to write it, find an agent and get it published. All of that is tremendously time consuming and scary!
If I were a pessimist, I’d listen to the negative voice in my head telling me. “Who do you think you are to write a book?” and then I’d never sit down to write.
And if I exclusively listened to the optimist, “it’s all great and magical” then I might not put in the time. Instead, I want to see a positive outcome (optimist) while recognizing that I actually have to sit down and get it done (realist).
By viewing my life, challenges or the future through this lens, it helps me move forward without ignoring the aspects I may not want to see, such as how things may be hard or difficult. But it also enables me to stay focused on what I do want and to hold that space in a more grounded, genuine way.