Why Not Be An Optimist?

“Let’s dig into the fresh bucket of optimism and if we fail we fail.” - Casey Jennings

Optimism has been mentioned in every podcast I have listened to lately. Whether it’s Bobbi Brown on Finding Mastery, Kai-Fu Lee on Impact Theory, or Casey Jennings on The Net Live, it seems the world is in need of an optimistic lens. In the first few pages of pro beach volleyball player Travis Mewhirter’s new book, We Were Kings, he too talks about the benefit of optimism in sports and life. It is even the message in my younger kids flag ceremony at school today. 

There is joy in being an optimist, but to remain one throughout life’s ups and downs, or to transform our outlook to become an optimist, our days must be grounded in discipline and hard work. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy yourself, or even take a day off once in awhile, but on the whole, we must define and honor our unique process. The process is what sets real optimism (which some like to call realism, I disagree) apart from just wearing rose colored glasses and believing that everything will just “work out” no matter what.

In my kitchen last night sat my daughter, less than one year out from being a college beach volleyball player, chatting with her friend, home on break, who is a current college beach athlete. In walks my son from practice, who, despite his effort and love for the indoor game, told his sister, “you guys are so lucky to have the beach opportunities you do, I love playing beach, it’s so fun.” I can’t help but wonder if part of the joy of beach for him is that it sits far away from the pressure of recruiting and grades and rosters that may or may not have your name on them. All of these things make us tougher and are part of what we learn as athletes when we rise through the ranks of our sport. Most athletes don’t forget the day they learned that there is someone out there better than them, whether that’s in 8th grade, at the Olympics, or somewhere in between. It’s real, we learn it, hopefully work harder, and move on. But real joy and love for any game is intoxicating and sits far apart from medals, accolades, recruiting, and the pressure that I see so many young athletes experience. I say that, and this is not negative self talk, because I have gained so much joy from sport, and don’t have any major accolades to speak of. I’ve learned so much about myself when I’m trying to race to the wall and want to take one more breath, but don’t. The adrenaline I get from a good block or kill, the conversations that happen in between races and games uncover some of the best, tough minded, dig deep realizations; I’ve discovered all of this without having even a dollar on the line. Now I’m 44, past my prime, but far from giving up what i love to do. Play volleyball, swim, do yoga, be active. Endorphins lead to optimism too.

The world my kids are growing up in is full of first world problems, privilege, pressure and instant gratification. It’s about SAT scores, medals and GPA’s, not whether there is food on the table or money for gifts at Christmas. They have been blessed with talents and resources, but it’s their reality, they don’t know any different, so it’s from that vantage point that I teach them. As a parent, the reason I have always come back to training character is because character isn’t relative. The fruits of love, kindness, resilience, forgiveness and yes, optimism translate no matter what life situation is in front of us.

Watching p1440, Kerri Walsh Jennings and team’s professional volleyball/health & wellness tour, role out their inaugural season is a lesson to younger generations of athletes and entrepreneurs on how to dig deep, learn as you go, and use the spirit of optimism to chart a strong course to success. I was one who downloaded the app, watched the live stream, and attended events. None disappointed. Is there room for improvement? Always...and they’ve asked. Do good business people make choices based on market conditions and what they learned from each event held and opportunity given? Yes, that’s what gives them a chance to survive and thrive. Adapt or perish, it works in business and in life. 

I don’t live like Kerri, I live like me. But I look to learn from people who have reached the top of their game, whatever that game may be. I ask them questions, see what they intake and include in their day, and it has helped me rise through my own personal struggles. I also understand firsthand what it’s like to be part of a start up, and want to see it succeed more than anything. I’ve been blessed to see that success happen once in my life before, and understand the blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights that are part of turning a dream into a reality. When you are in the zone, risking capital and hours of sweat equity, there is no room for naysayers, they suck your energy...action and optimism are what give the goal a fighting chance of being accomplished. 

The knowledge I have taken in along the way is not always from famous people. There are plenty of everyday hero’s that none of us will ever read about in any large scale format that I learn from everyday...like the one that a friend of mind quoted in a birthday card she sent to me this week that came from a retired army sergeant:

“I learned through experience that adversity doesn’t create character, adversity reveals character.”

Truth. I love that my mindset attracts friends who will write me cards like the one that included this quote.  Growth mindset allows the playground of life to have infinite space for anyone who wants to work and risk failure. What I have learned from the masters, and choose to incorporate into my own life, has made the world a much bigger and exciting place. There is always more to learn and so much to experience. My take away is this...the thoughts of leaders matter, so if you consider yourself a leader, choose your words carefully, because they have influence on so many. If you don’t have the inside look and a deep reason to disbelieve, why not be an optimist?