‘Optimism is a scam. It’s realism that gets you through life,’ I typed out my WhatsApp status, finally wording one of my unconventional beliefs.
Today, I’m gonna talk about that WhatsApp status. Numerous speakers talk about optimism, the power of positive thinking, et cetera, et cetera. Many of them pose that classic (which is to say, cliched) ‘Is the glass of water half empty or half full?’ question to their audience, holding up said glass for the whole room to ponder about.
First of all, let me add as a disclaimer, I’m not saying optimism is a bad thing. How can thinking positively be bad? All I’m saying is that it’s impractical.
You must’ve seen several funny videos and memes based on ‘Expectations vs Reality’. It’s good for laughs and everything, but a more serious version of that manifests itself in our lives sometimes because of optimism. Say an IIT aspirant puts months of hard work into preparing for JEE, studies 12 hours every day, is almost crushed underneath an RD Sharma and whatnot. On the day of the exam, he’s positive that his hard work will not go to waste and he’ll surely crack the exam and get into one of those revered IITs, no matter the lakhs of aspirants sitting for the exam all over the country. For some reason, his exam doesn’t go well. His expectations are crashed to the ground and the other day, you find him hanging from the ceiling, killed by optimism.
Now this was an extreme example, of course. But the negative after-effects of optimism do display themselves in our daily lives. A newbie guitarist, confident in his small skill-set, tries to be like his favourite guitarist and posts a cover of a song on YouTube, positive that his effort will be well-appreciated. He is trolled, people comment about better newbie guitarists and he is distressed. A young writer sends her best story in an international competition, optimistic about her odds despite the fact that thousands of young writers like her participate from around the world, hopes to win at least the third prize, gets nothing, and is disappointed.
Then what should we do? Be pessimistic? Think that everything will absolutely go badly, and shrug our shoulders when it does, and be happy when it doesn’t? Well, it doesn’t work that way either. A pessimist will always think of worst-case scenarios, and thus will not even try to achieve a good one, let alone a best-case one. The same guitarist, after maybe 3-4 years of practice, won’t display his talent at all, thinking what difference it will make whether he displays it or not- he’ll be trolled if he does, thus being distressed and getting nowhere, and if he doesn’t, he won’t get anywhere anyway. The same writer will not send her story anywhere, confident in her ability to lose, ostensibly saving herself the disappointment of rejection.
That is even worse. Not only does it prevent you from going out there and doing something, it also means you’re perpetually in a negative mood, disappointed with yourself and the world in general. It makes you averse to good things actually happening, and you focus on the negative aspects of everything. Say the writer does send her story in because of her parents constantly bugging her (or something like that- basically due to an external stimulant) and does win the third prize. Winning any prize in an international competition is, of course, huge. But she focuses on the fact that she got the third prize and not the first, thus reinforcing her pessimistic beliefs. The guitarist does get a thousand likes on his covers, but looks at other established channels with millions of likes and is disappointed in himself again.
You are one confused lass, Anisha- you might say. Optimism is impractical, pessimism is harmful- what am I supposed to do? Think nothing, expect nothing? Leave all worldly pleasures and displeasures behind, sport a long white beard and become a saint?
Well, you could do that, but no, I’m not gonna suggest that to you. This is where the second line of my WhatsApp status comes in. “It’s realism that gets you through life.” There, you don’t have to scroll up now to see it.
Realism is the healthy midway between optimism and pessimism. It comprises of a beneficial dose of both of them. A realistic person objectively looks at a situation and then calculates their odds of succeeding or failing. They try to achieve their goals or perform a task well- however the case may be- but they also know whether their chance of succeeding in said task is high or low, and set their expectations accordingly.
The same guitarist will post his covers only after a few years of practice, because he knows that he’s not one of those rare prodigious people who’re good at playing the guitar from the moment they pick it up. He knows the internet can be both supportive and vicious, so he’ll display himself accordingly. He’ll objectively assess his skill set, and if he feels he’s good enough in a few months, he’ll post his covers then. If he feels he needs some more practice, he’ll post his covers after 2-3 years. And whenever he does that, he’ll keep in mind that there are hundreds of amateur guitarists like him trying to make a mark by displaying their talent online, so it’s hard to establish himself. He’ll be satisfied with his thousand likes, reminding himself that there are people more talented and more famous than him when he gets too cocky, and that there are talented people with hardly any views when he feels too small.
The same writer will send in her story to different competitions, hoping to make a mark, but also remembering that hundreds of writers like her aspire for the same thing and will send their stories too. Many of them might be better than hers, and maybe currently she’s not experienced enough or equipped enough to reach that level. She’ll know her limitations, and try to look at her writing in an unbiased way or ask someone trustworthy to do it since it’s hard to critique your own writing. If she does win in one of those contests, she’ll feel proud of her achievement. If she doesn’t, she’ll read the winning entries and see what sets them apart from her work, and try to improve. She’ll respect the fact that better writers than her exist and that it is hard for her to get recognised, but not impossible.
I know the situations I’ve described above might feel idealistic to some of you, but actually they aren’t, if you really try. I don’t think I’ve reached that healthy level of realism either. Sometimes I also lean more towards pessimism. A lot of times I set the bar too high for myself and get disappointed. Whenever this happens and my mother sees me in distress because of that, she tells me the same thing. She tells me, you’re better at <something> than many people out there. But there are also many people who’re better at it than you. And sometimes things refuse to go the way we plan. If you didn’t do <something> well, look at the person who did it well and try to see where you were lacking, and then work on it.
That’s why, my friends, optimism is a scam, and it’s realism that gets you through life.