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Children are the ultimate optimists. They run toward everything and greet the world with a hug. Certainly, their optimism is fueled by the innocence and inexperience of youth, which lacks the knowledge of significance and consequence that comes with age. It is a blissful naivety that allows them to embrace their surroundings without fear of obstacle or failure.
But as we grow into older and wiser adults, experience unveils the roadblocks that we once did not know existed. We stumble, fall, get back up and, hopefully, move forward, but with the learned knowledge that failures are real and challenges abound. This growth teaches us to plan and strategize, but for some of us, it’s also what introduces us to the more mature outlooks of realism, cynicism and pessimism. Our blind optimism is lost forever when these attitudes creep in.
Experience has shown me over and over again that pessimism and cynicism are corrosive attitudes for teams and individual members to possess. Our open-arm view of the world retreats to become a crossed-arm rejection of opportunity when we allow ourselves to adopt these outlooks.
Realism may be easier to digest, but it lacks imagination. The realist accepts things as they are, and often misses the opportunity to see what could be! I have watched work teams retreat to comfort when challenges were revealed just so that they could avoid the discomfort of uncertainty, not recognizing that they had robbed themselves of an opportunity to learn and grow. The safety of what is easy, too often draws us away from the exhilaration of capturing the elusive.
And so, as an older and wiser adult, I promote optimism. The most successful teams I have had the privilege to be a part of have always embraced the idea that opportunity is boundless and goals should be set high. These teams certainly did not always hit all of their targets, but the optimistic team does not suffer in failure. It will stumble and fall, but it always gets back up and greets the next obstacle.
We optimists are easy to dismiss as naïve, but it is important to understand that we have experienced the same challenges and defeats that have lead others down the path to negativity. A team that expects success is not blind to the idea that it may still experience failure; it embraces any shortcoming as an opportunity to reset and redirect itself. The optimistic team knows that success is attainable and is not deterred by challenges. It will weather the storms, climb out of the holes, and overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. It learns from defeat and will celebrate small victories on the winding and ever-changing path to success. On the other end of this spectrum, the pessimistic team that expects failure will undoubtedly achieve it consistently.