Radical Optimism

The Story

It never fails: I awake in the morning full of hope as the day begins and all the productive hours stretch out before me. My “to-do” list is long but I’m positive that I will be able to check off every item on it.

Midway through the day I get discouraged: there is just way too much to do and absolutely no time to finish it all. I begin to feel depressed.

I fall asleep at night counting the day’s failures: “I didn’t complete the blog post I was writing. I didn’t return a friend’s phone call. I didn’t reply to the emails piling up in my in-box. I didn’t take time to exercise or draw or practice the piano. ” And on and on the litany goes.

Holding onto optimism throughout the day is a challenging task for me. Especially in the afternoon – when the hours of the day disappear into the coming night – my energy ebbs and the to-do list looms over me like a silent reproachful shadow (tossing the list in a desk drawer doesn’t seem to help).

I’ve alway thought the fault was mine – that I just wasn’t a positive enough person (or organized enough!) – until I came across an article on optimism published in Time Magazine (2/7/19).

The writer is Guillermo Del Toro, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, director, and producer. In the Time Magazine article, Del Toro states that “The most radical choice you can make is to be optimistic.”

He continues: “Optimism is the hard choice, the brave choice. And it is, it seems to me, most needed now, in the face of despair … Optimism is our instinct to inhale while suffocating. Our need to declare what “needs to be” in the face of what is.”

For me, Del Toro’s words reframe what optimism really is. Instead of an emotion that ebbs and flows with the daylight (or lack of it), optimism is a conscious choice that I can make no matter what the hour is. I can find some small task to do (perhaps even something on that darn list) that will restore my sense of optimism in that moment. One email response, a short walk, one blog paragraph, a blues riff on the piano, a quick pencil sketch while waiting for tea water to boil. I have only to choose one thing and it’s even okay not to finish it. I can choose to feel optimistic about what I have begun.

Del Toro summarizes it thus: “Every day, we all become the balance of our choices—choices between love and fear, belief or despair. No hope is ever too small … Optimism is rebellious and daring and vital.”