Optimism: Delusion or a Force that Propels Us Forward?

I’ve been whining about being sick the last few weeks. Really, weeks – this is the flu bug that ate Detroit. It arrived on the heels of dutifully gotten flu shots, so I’m a little bitter about it. Today is my rally day. I was up half the night with a bronchial cough, my ears are ringing from cranial cavities of snot and I smell like Vicks Vapor Rub. But by golly, I’m going to get caught up on laundry and my NaNoWriMo novel and pirouette off into the sunset, flu bug soundly rousted.

People keep saying, “You need to rest. Stop breathing on me.” I’m two sneezes away from storing Kleenex under my bra strap, if I had the energy to put on a bra. Needless to say, it ain’t pretty in The Green Study today. But – there are signs of optimism everywhere. I cleaned off my desk last night, in preparation for the day. I started catching up on my blog reading this morning and opened all the shades to let sunlight in. There is a potential for a hot shower, although that might be putting the bar pretty high.

I am the master of optimistic expectations for myself and my time. Sometimes I wonder if this is a detriment to self-esteem, since 9 times out of 10, I do not fully meet my goals. On the other hand, if I set no goals at all, would anything ever get done? People wiser than I would point out that it doesn’t have to be “either/or”, but I’ve never been adept at the middle road. My natural inclination is one of extremes. Fortunately, maturity (exhaustion) has tempered my youthful optimism. Just a bit.

Setting realistic expectations is a skill I’ve yet to fully master. Right now, I make “to do” lists like I write. I spew out whatever is in my head and then do a machete edit, cutting back until I think I have something legible and/or achievable. On occasion, I just put stars by those items that must get done. It’s a system that combines force of habit with some sense of priorities, but ofttimes is still unrealistic.

“It is the formidable character of the species to routinely seek the improbable, the difficult, even the impossible, as a source of pleasure and self-justification. Who would try to write poems, or novels, or paint pictures unless he is an optimist?”
Lionel Tiger, Anthropologist

Today’s the day, though. I will conquer the world, get caught up, write a zillion words, fold mounds of laundry that smell a lot better than I. But first, I have something marked with a star on my list for today: *Get some rest. Stop breathing on people. This, I can do.

Do you set expectations for yourself and are they realistic? This curious and snot-filled mind would love to know.

9 Comments on “Optimism: Delusion or a Force that Propels Us Forward?

  1. Despite knowing that it is a bit silly, I always set goals for myself that are way too ambitious. I exhaust myself trying to meet these targets, and then feel a sense of failure when I can’t get there. And all the while, I KNOW that I am doing it… yet it doesn’t stop me.

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    • I can relate! I’ve been stuck in that loop for years. Now I don’t feel a sense of failure when I don’t meet goals – I just have to laugh at my own foolishness, sometimes.

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  2. I go easy on myself a lot, but then sometimes I set goals for myself that are strenuous. Often I manage to accomplish them and surprise myself with what I’m capable of in the process.

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    • I surprise myself, but it’s usually unplanned! I’m pretty tough on myself on a regular basis, so I have to practice letting things go on occasion.

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  3. For better or worse, I tend to have high expectations of myself and others, and that does lead to a fair amount of disappointment all around. But I’ve always believed in that “reaching beyond your grasp” idea; I think we need high goals as targets to challenge us and make us grow.

    With that needs to come the understanding that full attainment of all goals might not be reachable. Failure can lead to disappointment, but shouldn’t lead to low self-esteem. I see little shame in reaching for the stars and falling short if I grow and progress in the process.

    [Coincidentally, my quote of the week on my status board at work is: “Perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth.” ~~Julie Andrews]

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    • Hey – long time no comment! I hope your job is going well! My new catch-phrase is “realistic expectations”, especially when it comes to other people. On my own part, I’m learning to handle failure with circumspection: No, I didn’t meet my goal but yes, I did more than what I would have done, if I hadn’t tried.
      Great to hear from you!

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