Several decades ago, when in my 20s, I found myself in a self-made crisis and dramatically believed my world was going to come crashing down around me. (Of course, I have absolutely no recollection what was so traumatizing at the time.) I vividly remember calling my sister, 9 years my senior and much wiser. I also remember my righteous indignation and anger when she advised me that I had a choice in this matter. How dare she! I needed her to be on my side and be equally upset at the situation with me! Challenging her, I asked her what she meant. She replied that although I couldn’t control what had happened, or would happen, I could control my reaction. My 20-something self was not quite prepared to accept that concept—but over time it is a construct in which I have found immense value and have embraced, and continue to work on each and every day.
I was reflecting on why this has become such an integral part of how I approach my life. The simple answer is that it makes optimism so much easier. There are far too many “things” going on in the world that can leave us feeling powerless and overwhelmed, unable to make an impact. Sometimes our families and friends don’t meet our expectations or disappoint us in some way. Perhaps our job is presenting unexpected challenges that leave us questioning if we have chosen the right path. Realizing I have a choice in how I approach these challenges is empowering, allowing me to not become a victim of myself, and ultimately making me realize I am an optimist.
There is an often-cited story about the optimist versus the pessimist. There are varying versions, but the one I learned came from a leadership course. The story talks about twin boys whose grandfather gifted them a sandbox full of horse manure for their 5th birthday. One of the twins started grumbling about the horrible gift and soon dissolved into tears. The other paused for a moment, turned, went to the garage, and returned with a shovel. He jumped into the sandbox and started digging. Laughing, his grandfather asked him what he was doing, to which he replied, “With all this manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
That is an optimist!
I remind myself daily to look for the ponies. I hope you will take a moment, especially on those particularly challenging days, to look for a pony yourself.