Growing up, I used to consider myself a realist. By being realistic, I thought I was weighing the costs and benefits carefully before making a decision. It all seemed well and fine.
However – after several years – I realized I was only limiting my potential because of that thinking. Because thinking that I am being realistic can soon border into pessimism. That could be dangerous in hindering your growth. There is a fine line between being realistic and being a pessimist. It is harder to tell when you’ve stopped being realistic and are now thinking negatively.
Here’s an idea that I have tried to implement to fix that thinking. It is to be optimistic by default.
The good news about “optimism by default” is that we are not blindly optimistic that we live in a dream world without taking the reality of life into consideration. There are moments and places for being realistic or even negative.
If I am a pessimist by default, I know I will miss opportunities that come along my way because I will always have an excuse for “why it will not work”. On the other hand, being a realist all the time is taxing to the brain. I will have to calculate multiple possibilities to be able to realize that my thinking is realistic.
That is why I choose to be optimistic by default. In this scenario, I can look at the positives of something by default and sound positive and have a more pleasant attitude – even when the task at hand is challenging.
Having said that, we have to be pessimistic or realistic in specific instances. I recently had a rough sprint (two weeks of work). I was being positive I will finish it on time, etc. despite the huge challenges that were in front of me. Only in hindsight (sprint retro) did I realize I could have been more realistic and asked for help to add one more engineer so that we could have completed the sprint task on time and shipped the code without bugs. Realizing that we are in this marathon of life, I forgave myself for this mistake (during the sprint) and hope to avoid it in the future.
Someone I look up to in the tech world is Matt Mullenweg. He talks about the new definition of API, which means “Assume Positive Intent”. Part of being optimistic is having good thoughts about others. This is why we must assume the best in them. After all, your team wants you to succeed.
This is the same for when you are going for an interview. The interviewer wants you to succeed so that they do not have to interview more candidates and the process of getting the open job position filled can be shorter.
After experimenting different ways of approaching a situation, I have realized choosing optimism by default is the best option for me.
I hope this information was useful for you in helping you think through difficult situations.