Do You Have the Courage to Be Optimistic?

Economic Signs Suggest a Bleak Road Ahead. That’s the headline I read when I signed onto the Internet this morning. When I read those words, I had two choices. I could be scared and depressed. Or I could look out my window and instead of seeing dried plants in my yard I could see beyond to the promise of flowers next season. I bet you are rolling your eyes at my second option.

People are cynical—why wouldn’t they be? They are overworked, bossed around, paying more, owning less, losing dreams and struggling with hope. Leaders are demanding obedience and compliance. An article appeared in last week that told leaders to “Tell your employees: Don’t think–obey” and “Fear is the best motivator.” I won’t give you the link because I am appalled that Entrepreneur would print these suggestions.

Have we fallen that far that we’re allowing tyranny to be an acceptable form of leadership? What happened to progressive thought and leadership for the new generation? I’m hearing that many of the companies that are written up in books don’t really reward collaborative leaders in real life unless they have an amazing, courageous, people-loving, forward-thinking CEO, which is rare.

The way to counteract the darkness is with light. If we succumb to fear, then we allow our own apprehension, anger, self-protection and pessimism to set the tone at work and in our relationships. Just when we need each other the most, we are seeing the world in ways that bring out the worst in us, giving juice to bad leadership.

Unfortunately, most people are not willing to push their fears aside and speak out. They are not willing to take risks and question authority. After all, they could be facing a long unemployment if they do. I hear this all the time in my leadership classes. The middle managers want to do the right thing but they fear the backlash from their senior leaders.

There is another way to shift the tide of pessimism than confronting bad behavior. You can start conversations based on hope and possibility. You can catch yourself fearing the future and find one thing to be optimistic about, and then share what you found with others who might enjoy a ray of hope as well.

Change happens by conversations. People are the solution, not technology, strategies, or cost-cutting practices. Although the latter can help, it’s the creativity and passion of humans working together that wins in the end. Now is the time for community spirit. It is the time to revive meaning in our lives. It’s easier to be strong without a sense of purpose and faith.

Margaret Wheatley said in her book Turning to One Another, “Change doesn’t happen from a leader announcing the plan. Change begins from deep inside a system, when a few people notice something they will no longer tolerate, or respond to a dream of what’s possible…Together we will figure out what our first step is, then the next, then the next. Gradually, we become large and powerful. We don’t have to start with power, only with passion.”

Whether you work for someone else or yourself, do you have the courage to stand out by being optimistic? Do you have the courage to ask others to join you? Courage doesn’t mean you are free of fear. It means you are able to face the fears that are obstructing your view and move through them.

Stop engaging in fear-filled conversations and gossip. Start your day with a curious eye, looking for good news to share and upright actions to honor. Take the risk to start a new conversation based on hope and believing in the power of the human spirit to triumph. If enough people join in, the leaders may follow. And if they don’t, focusing on what is good and possible is a healthier way to live.

P.S. Have you heard of ODE, the online community for intelligent optimists? Whether or not you subscribe to their magazine, click on Good News to sign up to receive three stories of something good in the news emailed to you every day.

Marcia Reynolds, PsyD is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach, and author of Wander Woman and Outsmart Your Brain.
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