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Are You a Youthful Optimist or a Learned Pessimist?

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Are You a Youthful Optimist or a Learned Pessimist?

Is the glass half empty or half full?

    There’s no question that the school of hard knocks can be, well, hard.

    When life becomes tough, many of us stop chasing our dreams and retreat under a big ugly flannel security blanket. Let’s face it: we’re terrified of failure.

    We’re afraid that we might not succeed, that our dreams are only pipe-dreams, that “reality” has to be hard because it is for every body else.

    Though we enter the world with a sense of youthful optimism: excitement about opportunity, a willingness to risk it all, and a belief that everything will turn out our way (In one survey, 96% of 18-24 year-olds agreed with the statement, “I am very sure that someday I will get to where I want to be in life”).*

    This is the time in life when we think that we can change rule the world.

    And…then at least one of two things happens:

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    1. You fail at something on your first, second, and/or third try.
    2. You spend too much time around uninspired people who view the world as a competitive place full of struggles, competition, and tears.

    And…after a few years, when you haven’t miraculously reached your dreams, you start to get discouraged. You start thinking:

    “Maybe they’re right.”

    “Maybe I’m just being a lazy optimist. I should settle down and do what is expected of me.”

    You do what you think is called, “growing up”.

    I won’t sugar coat it, you’re becoming a coward.

    In his book, Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Harvard psychology professor Tal Ben-Shahar writes:

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    “When we fail to attain a desire outcome, we often extrapolate from that experience the belief that we have no control over our lives or over certain parts of it. Such thinking leads to despair.”

    Thus, overcoming this feeling of defeat is your ultimate goal.

    To do so, you need one thing…and one thing only: Perseverance.

    Here’s a true story about how this plays out in the real world…

    When she was a child, my grandma knew that she wanted to become a chemist. She was of the first generation of an Italian immigrant family living in the Bronx. Her father died when she was two-years-old. Her mother wanted her to become a piano teacher.

    In order to beat the odds, she had to work odd jobs for mean nuns, graduate high school at 16, and endure constant questioning from her mother: “when will you stop all of this nonsense?”

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    It was not okay for a woman to become a chemist, and the world tried to make sure that she knew it.

    But instead of giving up, she persevered.

    Instead of hanging around people who didn’t support her, she surrounded her self with likeminded scientists (like my grandfather, whom she met at Columba while earning their PhDs).

    Her story inspires me every time I hear it.

    The thing is, my grandmother never made excuses.

    Some of the excuses we tell ourselves are:

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    1. I don’t know anyone who has done it before/ too many people are already trying.
    2. I don’t have enough (money, power, skills, education, time)
    3. If I was going to do it, I would have done it already.
    4. I have too many responsibilities.
    5. I am too old or young.
    6. I will never be the best. Too many people are ahead of me.
    7. It’s not the right time.

    But, what if we simply rephrased these excuses into empowering beliefs?

    1. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing, this is my dream.
    2. I have more than enough resources to get started.
    3. There’s no time like the present!
    4. My number one priority is living passionately.
    5. My age gives me a unique perspective, and is only a number.
    6. There will always be someone to learn from.
    7. It will never be perfect, so I might as well stop stalling and start now.

    Can I get a “hellz yeah” for youthful optimism?

    Look, I’m not saying that you should ignore the lessons that you’ve learned from your experiences. You’ve earned those. Instead, my suggestion is to learn learn to perfect your skills and become an even better person without losing that inspired-to-be-alive feeling.

    Think you can do it?

    I know you can.

    Take action right now to write down the empowering phrases that will benefit you the most and put them somewhere where you will see them every day.

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    *Survey mentioned comes from Horbblower, M. (1997, June 9). Great Xpectations. Time, pp. 58-68.

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