I am lucky enough to have an incredible relationship with every member of my kind, loving family. Nonetheless, on a frigid winter night, I found myself seated at our cozy little dinner table with three of the people who know me best. They were laughing themselves to tears-- at my expense.
To be fair, I was laughing too. It was a kindhearted joke, and I’m tremendously close to my mother, father, and brother. However, the reason they were laughing was because it suddenly struck them as hilarious (and a little mind-boggling) that I have been
somewhat successful despite my pessimistic attitude.
Let me explain: Something that my family has always known about me is that although I’m a fairly energetic, happy person, I am wholeheartedly and incredibly pessimistic about my own abilities. My mother likes to quote the time I said I could neverget into a good college, or the time that I could never study abroad for a year (Turns out, both were a lie). Another family favorite is the time last year that I pompously declared that there was no possible way I could get into graduate school for English, and even if I could, there was no way I could find one that was fully funded. Well, I’m currently in a PhD program with a full-tuition scholarship and additional stipend for living expenses.“
No. There’s no way I can do that. I’ve been out of the field way too long, I don’t know anything about the English language, I’m not that good of a writer. Why would I be able to get into a PhD program? There’s no way I could ever do X, Y, and Z. They don’t want me. This paper isn’t nearly good enough to be published.”
On this particular evening, what struck them as most funny was not only the fact that I’ve ended up being fairly successful despite my own inhibitions, but also, the possibilities of what I could have done if I hadn’t had a poor attitude. My brother thought I could be president by now and my mother thought I would have had at least twelve books published. Sure, they’re a little biased-- but frankly, they are probably right.
I think that I subconsciously see my reservations as a protective, shiny bubble around my hopes and dreams. I’m always reminded of a quote on Pinterest or Tumblr (or some vaguely inspirational site) that says “Being a pessimist is a win-win. Either you’re not disappointed, or you’re pleasantly surprised.” If you don’t expect glory, or greatness, or even the happiness that you think you deserve, you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get it. Even if this is a subconscious or subliminal feeling, we tend to do this-- talking ourselves down to others, so that if we succeed it’s a pleasant surprise. If we don’t succeed, well, we saw that one coming didn’t we? Theoretically, this will make the loss less painful, and our fragile human hearts can survive another day.
Pessimism is mercurial, and comes in many shapes and forms. Pessimists don’t walk around with grumpy faces and cranky half-empty glasses of water. The most dangerous form of pessimism is more subtle, more invasive, and more comprehensive. It works itself into your thoughts, and transforms itself into another way to protect emotions from formidable, impending misery.
Who knows what I could have accomplished by now if I actually gave myself credit and just believed in myself? Where would I be if I didn’t talk myself down and try to convince the world, and myself, that I’m not good enough for some opportunity anyway? What could be possible if I threw off inhibitions, and modesty, and instead-- just went for it?
This is going to be the year that I expect the best instead of the worst. For me, and for all of us, the truth is that setting our mind to something is more than just a phrase or an idea. It’s a mindset and a feeling and a choice that we all must make whenever we decide to reach for a goal. It’s a choice to root for ourselves, instead of shoving ourselves down. It’s a belief that we can, and we will. It’s a chance, a hope, and a prayer. The one thing it isn’t? A guarantee.
It’s time to be done with pessimism, because it simply doesn’t deserve our time, or our souls. It's time to see what we can do with a little more hope and a few more dreams.