Optimism can be discouraging

Here’s an internal dialog I’ve had several times.

“What will happen when you’re done with this project?”

“I don’t know. Maybe not much. Maybe great things.”

“How great? What’s the best outcome you could reasonably expect?”

“Hmm …  Not that great. Maybe I should be doing something else.”

It’s a little paradoxical to think that asking an optimistic question — What’s the best thing that could happen? — could discourage us from continuing to work on a project, but it’s not too hard to see why this is so. As long as the outcome is unexamined, we can implicitly exaggerate the upside potential. When we look closer, reality may come shining through.

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7 thoughts on “Optimism can be discouraging

  1. as the even more extreme proverbial example goes: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

  2. Pose this question to the optimist to top all optimists – Bill Bores. I’d like to hear/read his reply to this proposition!

  3. Assuming the subject your refer to is not omnipotent, anything is indeed possible, and the possibilities are far beyond the scope of a single human mind, resulting in the negative scenario you encountered.

  4. There are assumptions wrapped up in that last statement:
    “When we look closer, reality may come shining through.”

    What are you looking at more closely? What reality?

    For me, the questions isn’t “What’s the best outcome I could reasonable expect?” but “Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? what I’m called to do?” It’s about obedience.

    Yes it was just two fish and five loaves, the reality is that his lunch could barely feed a few, but he obeyed and gave what he had to give–the results were out of his hands.

  5. Cristina,

    Some decisions are a matter of right and wrong and not a pragmatic calculation. There, yes, the right question is what you’re supposed to be doing. I had in mind situations where you have to choose between morally acceptable options.

  6. This post reads a little strange to me. To me optimism lies in the answer, not the question. You asked yourself a question and gave yourself a pessimistic answer.

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