Unreasonable Optimism

Warning: this post is full of rainbows, ponies, sunshine and kumbayah.  Proceed at your own risk.

I am sunshine made solid. And cuddly.

I’ve talked to a few friends lately that are kind of beaten down. Defeated.  Whether it is from dating rejections, failed job interviews, or personal goals that just haven’t panned out, the result is the same: they are ready to just crawl into a cave and give up.

They have taken one too many hits.  It’s not just one setback, it’s a whole string of them.

It’s not just stubbing your toe, it’s Rocky getting pummeled by Apollo Creed, Ivan Drago, and Clubber Lane all at the same time, while also experiencing erectile dysfunction, incontinence, and bankruptcy.  Also, that very morning?  His cat died.

Why, Fluffy? WHY???


It sucks to watch: these are fantastic people, capable of greatness.  It’s trite and cliché to point out that you can’t see the picture when you are inside the frame, but it’s very true.  These people just don’t see their massive awesomeness.

It’s also trite and cliché, but no less true: optimism leads to success.

I’d like to take that further: Unreasonable Optimism leads to greatness.

To clarify: the world will send you many messages, lots of data for you to sift through.  Some of this will be negative (I don’t date short guys, you don’t have the skills we are looking for, you aren’t strong enough to achieve your goals), but many of them will be positive (the girl who finds you funny and engaging, the employers interest in the first place that got you the interview, the progress you’ve made towards your goal).  It’s your job to select what data you let in and what you don’t.

It’s easy to let the bad in.  It’s a very safe thing to believe the negative.  You’ve been poked with a sharp stick and it hurts, so you’d like to avoid that in the future.  It’s safe and easy.  Even though it feels bad, it’s a dull ache instead of the sharp, burning, embarrassing, emasculating, sting of failure. So you accept the messages: “you aren’t meant for this, you don’t belong here, this is not for you.”  Just give up, already, go do something else.

You accept it the same way you accept “it burns my hand when I put it in fire, so I won’t do that anymore”.

It’s unreasonable to ignore this kind of data.

Here’s the thing though: these negative experiences are NOT the same thing as your body telling you “dude, don’t put your hand in fire”.  They are nuanced, situational, and highly related to circumstance.  They can be changed.



The biggest thing you can chose is your attitude, and it’s probably the most important aspect of success as well.  Optimists succeed.  They succeed because they dare to try.  They believe that something is possible.  They believe against what common wisdom says.

In dating, someone who sees potential, excitement, and adventure, will always be attractive.  The one who tries eventually succeeds.

In careers, someone who is optimistic will make others think “this is a person I can give a difficult problem to, they will figure it out”.  The optimist will lead to greater things.

In personal goals, optimism pushes you that extra mile, pushes you past where your mind or body thought you could go.

It’s tempting to string together negative data as a trend, as proof that you should be looking at this data and going “ah, this is really proof that I’m barking up the wrong tree.”  This is where pessimism becomes realism.

I’m not giving up, I’m just being realistic.

Screw realistic.  Realistic gets you a mediocre life, a vanilla existence, a safe position.  Avoiding pain leaves out the greatest chances for pleasure.

Instead, try Unreasonable Optimism.  Realism takes in the available data and makes a logical decision based on interpreted facts.  But that’s a bunch of crap because you are a terrible interpreter of your own facts.  You experienced that pain and you think that makes you an expert on what you should do.

Nope, it makes you scared and shy.  You are a terrible judge of what risks you should take simply because you listen to the negative data.

Unreasonable optimism will push you to continually believe in more.  You actively reject the negative data.  You choose to believe again, at the risk of being hurt again.  Only then can you push past your own (self-imposed) limitations.

People who achieve the most in life are completely unreasonable in their optimism.

Henry Ford failed at business and went broke five times before he found success with Ford Motors.  Fred Astaire, at his first screen test was noted as “can’t act, can’t sing, slightly bald, can dance a little.”  Oprah was fired from jobs in her early career, being deemed “unfit for TV”.

Whether it’s Steve Jobs pushing people to design something simpler and more beautiful, or Edmund Hillary climbing Everest, the greatest success stories in the world have at their root people who rejected every message of “can’t be done, don’t even try”.  They rejected all the negative data, and believed instead in their own unreasonable optimism.

This way of living is scary and leaves you open to failure and ridicule.   It is also energizing, powerful, and ultimately extremely attractive.  Think about your own reactions: do you hire the person who is flatly realistic, or the person who can see beyond and believes that things can be better?  Are you attracted to people who give up easily, or to those who see unrealized potential and adventure?  Do you achieve your most when you set aggressive, almost unreachable goals, or when you set a realistic, very achievable goal?

But what about all those failures?  Should you just ignore them?

No.  They are all learning opportunities.  You can use them to become better.  They are not there to tell you “you can’t do this”, they are there to make you reflect, question, and improve.

Dealing with negative data is simple.  Ask yourself: is there anything I can learn from this?

  • If yes: learn that, then try again.
  • If no: reject the data as situational, a one-off occurrence, and continue on.

To answer that crucial question, use friends or any other external feedback you can get.  They see your picture differently, and sometimes more clearly, than you do.  Remember: you are inside the frame.

You always get rejected by women?  Talk to friends who will help you figure out how to change your approach.  Also be open to the possibility that those women actually just suck, there’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t string together the data and think “welp, I’m just unattractive, guess I’ll sit at home and eat a tray of brownies every day for the rest of my life.”crying-eating

You didn’t get the job you interviewed for?  Or the five before that?  Again, get feedback.  Does your resume convey the wrong thing?  Are you nervous and fidgety in the interview?  Do you actually need to learn a bit more before interviewing for that kind of job?  Or did the interviewer suck?  Is it actually their problem?  I’ve done my share of interviewing and sometimes (too often, really) the interviewer sucks that day and the wrong call is made.

Important: rely on friends and co-workers for feedback. Do not rely on them to decide what you do, what is possible, what your dream is. That’s yours, and people will tell you that you are being unreasonable.

Embrace that.  Unreasonable optimism changes everything.

Once you’ve reflected, put the experience behind you and relegate it to its proper place in your history, which is just that: history.  It’s gone, behind you.  The present and future stretch out with unlimited possibility.  And the Unreasonable Optimist will achieve the most from that unlimited possibility.

It is scary.  You are consciously choosing to put your hand in the fire again.

Against all reason.

Against all data points.

It’s completely unreasonable.  And it’s awesome.

Unreasonable optimism is a frightening way to live.  In my experience it’s the only way to live fully.

6 thoughts on “Unreasonable Optimism

  1. George Mallory?
    Mallory didn’t conquer Everest – Everest conquered Mallory and people died, 10 of them eventually including Mallory. Go with Hillary when quoting Mt Everest success stories…. I agree with all else you proclaim on the blog and love anyone offering optimism as the way to live large.

  2. Hi, I’m a french publisher and I may be interested by purchasing a right to use your “Unreasonable Optimism” picture”. Usually, My budget is 150$. Please email me.

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