On Optimism and Realism

Hope and optimism are some of the most powerful motivators in the universe.  They are what drive me to spend hours in the practice room day after day.  They are what push me up mountains while backpacking.  They even push me to keep running when I’m training for a race, much to my own astonishment.

But I know that hope and optimism can force me over the edge into a burnout.

Without a touch of realism, optimism can lead to frustration.  I find myself walking this borderline constantly.

Optimism and realism are often portrayed as binary opposites but it is possible for the two to coexist.  Optimism just means that you see the best in a situation (the glass as half-full to utilize a cliché).  Realism means you are aware of the practical side of the situation and are prepared to deal with it.

I would love to play the Rodrigo flute concerto and my optimistic side would love to believe in my ability to do it.  But realistically I know the kind of time commitment it would take to learn it and the damage it could do to my tendinitis-prone hands if I’m not careful (James Galway refused to play it for years, after all, due to its difficulty).

I would love to through-hike the Appalachian Trail or climb Half-Dome in Yosemite National Park.  You see where this is heading.

These realistic considerations won’t stop me from doing those things, of course.  But they will prepare me to deal with the downfalls should they arise.

So I try to use my inner optimist to fuel my work ethic and creativity while using my inner realist to prepare myself to catch my falls.

I’m not always successful at keeping the two in balance.  But whenever I have ended up on one side or the other, my optimist reminds me that everything is a learning experience and my realist knows that I (usually) don’t make mistakes twice.


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