The Optimist

Mental Health

I’ve always considered my unwavering optimism to be something of a superpower (along with my strangely perceptive sense of smell–not necessarily something to brag about, though it has saved my life in a dive bar or two) but the older I get the harder it is to maintain. The harder it is to believe, to hope, and even worse to dream. My dreams are everything to me. They’re not just desires but promises, promises I’ve made to myself and promises I always knew I’d keep because no one ever told me otherwise. I never doubted myself. I never had any reason to. But when you’re a teenager that feeling of “immortality” is sort of unshakeable. Fast forward a few years though and not only do you realize how very very wrong you’ve been about death and life and success and happiness and responsibility and fear and the future but you also realize how very wrong you’ve been about yourself. One day you will wake up and realize that you don’t know you. Or at least not anymore. And one day you will be terrified.

Today I am terrified. Because today I have decided to stop living in the anticipation of my dreams, I have decided to do the grown-up thing and be responsible. And it sucks. Because it’s unfamiliar. Because it’s kind of scary. I don’t want to be responsible. I don’t want to have to choose between working and living. I don’t want to have to choose anything at all if it isn’t writing. But today I’ve seen the first glimpse of the adult I’m becoming and that adult knows that passion can only take you so far and that passion at the expense of responsibility is pointless and selfish and wrong. And as much as I want to maintain my signature optimism, I can’t help but feel like it’s just another remnant from my childhood that I’ll eventually have to shed for good. Or maybe it’ll be stripped away. Stolen. And not all at once, but even worse, in pieces. In small, almost imperceptible pieces that I won’t even realize I’ve lost until it’s too late.


12 thoughts on “The Optimist

  1. I have not felt that sense of immortality since I was six. That’s when I had my first close call and narrow escape from death. I was nearly killed by an elephant that charged into the car I was sitting in. It kind of did turn me into somewhat of a bitter pessimist during my teens, not to mention inducing a strong sense of discomfort around large grey animals, but I found my way back to optimism eventually. Reality can feel disheartening, tedious, and even like it is trying to another your creative soul sometimes. It sucks.

    Fear can be debilitating, almost like a leech sucking out the positivity in us. I would like to believe that even if you end up losing the way you knew how to be the optimist, you will find a new way to be a responsible optimist, a dreamer, and passionate. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A part of me, for example, is still that six-year-old boy who more than anything likes to escape into a world of dreams even though he’s long gone. Fear can only possess the power you give it.

    Stay positive and keep dreaming, because if you are like me it is too big a part of you to ever go away. 🙂

    1. What an amazing experience! I’ve had my fair share of tragedies as well but I’ve just realized as I’ve gotten older that if I don’t keep my perspective in check, it can feel like those disappointments start to outweigh the miracles in life. I want to keep seeing the miracles, and even more than that, I want to keep creating them for myself. We all have bad days and I really appreciate all of your encouragement. I am definitely going to try and hold onto my optimism as it’s the only thing that’s gotten me this far. I know I’d be lost without it.

  2. Hang in there :-/ All great successes struggled at one point. It will make for an interesting story to tell when you’re giving an author talk to a roomful of your readers one day.

    1. I hope so! I know you understand exactly what it feels like to want something so badly that every distraction or obstruction standing between you and that dream feels like a big middle finger from the universe. But the sign of real maturity, rather than just growing older, isn’t to let those disappointments define you or your experience here on earth, but it’s to let those things motivate you to work even harder at finding the good in life. I have so much to be thankful for. I just have to keep reminding myself to stop and look.

  3. This post has a poignancy that caught my breath. Getting comfortable in what emerges as your adult skin is a process that will take the rest of your life. Don’t choose between living and working – no dichotomies please. Make work living, make every second preparation and fuel for writing. The world is basic training, creativity bootcamp. Okay – head up, shoulders out, away you go – make us proud. Work, live, write in whatever order you have to. (end of pep talk) My heart goes out to you as you negotiate this decision.

    1. Thanks so much Fran! I’m letting myself use the excuse that yesterday was just a bad day, but you’re right, I should use those experiences to motivate and inspire me rather than let them inhibit me. I’m just coming to those adult realizations that regardless of how hard I try, sometimes circumstances will arise that I have absolutely no control over, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. Thanks for your encouragement!

  4. I used to feel this kind of fear really badly; it is a terrifying thought, losing yourself without noticing until it’s too late. The only time that’s happened, though, is when I wanted to change. It wasn’t always for good reasons, but it was still because I wanted to. And it sounds like you’ve got good reasons for making the decision you’ve made.

    People are pretty good at holding on to things that don’t work for them anymore, and that’s something I constantly struggle with, trying to recognise what those things are and making room for new strategies to reach my goals that line up with where I’m at in life, as opposed to where I was when those goals first took shape. And when I manage it, I find that the things I aspire to seem closer to being achieved than before – it’s about knowing where you stand and what you can do from a new position.

    So take some time to find your footing, and I think your optimism will come flooding back, more robust and flexible than before. If you’ve had it for this long, I doubt it’ll just up and disappear. It might take a dip for a while, but it’s a habit like any other, and old habits are hard to break. Hang in there!

    1. The scary part for me isn’t losing myself completely but watching this new adult emerge from within who is constantly questioning my childhood dreams. I’m having to learn how to re-prioritize things I was never willing to compromise on before, as you mentioned, and it’s just hard realizing how many things are actually out of my control. I know I’ll grow into these changes but I just hope my optimism remains intact and that I can roll with the punches rather than be overwhelmed by them. Thanks for your encouraging words. I know these are just things all twenty-somethings go through, I’m just glad I had a safe place to vent and a group of people who were kind enough to leave me a few words of encouragement.

  5. this post makes me sad… don’t give up on dreams or optimisms… you can be responsible and still be a dreamer… it’s not one or the other… my husband is about to get out of the military… and there’s that fear that we’re not going to have enough money to pay the bills… that I will no longer have the luxury of going to school full time without having to work a job too… and maybe I will have to get a job… and I hope it’ll be one at the school because that would just be convenient… but I’m still working towards my dreams… I’m still hoping that I’ll become an author one day… even as I still want to just be a librarian (the degree I’m getting)… I still go in with a passion for every post I write and every page of my books I dream up… life gets hard sometimes… but without a passion there is no point to life… don’t let fear cripple you… don’t let the world strip you of who you are… my dad always laughs about how even the military couldn’t change me… that I went in and changed it… and in some ways that is true… I wouldn’t let them break me… they tried… they hated that I asked questions… and I question everything… they hated that I had to know… and especially that I constantly had a book in my side pocket… but I am who I am… I did the responsible thing and I did my job and I got paid and I paid bills… but I still wrote and I still drifted off into the far off worlds of my books… and when I left the military I came out stronger in some ways yet still the girl who loves to laugh and smile and be way too goofy for civilized society… so just don’t let the world break you… it will be the worst mistake you could ever make…

    1. Thank you for your encouragement! I think you’re so right about passion being the driving force behind a meaningful life. I think sometimes I’m just hyperaware of how short life really is so I take setbacks particularly hard. But the truth is none of us are exempt from pain and disappointment but it’s how we deal with those things that determine the quality of our life. And like you said, we can either let setbacks strip us of how we are or we can rise above them, stronger and better than we were before.

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