Nay-sayers go ahead and nay.

teachers,_tianyi

You know it’s China from the peace signs.

People (mostly pessimists) like to make fun of optimism.  Like it is all about dreams and unicorns and leads you to false confidence.  But I would like to discuss pessimism, which can be a powerful force in our lives.  I have been thinking about the idea that a [good] thing will usually only happen if you want it to – and more importantly – it definitely will not happen if you do not want it to.

How many times have you considered doing something in your life, but you think “well I’m not sure I can do that,” or even worse, “it’s just not happening“?  And when you embrace this line of thought, how often do you accomplish the thing you were considering?  I am willing to bet basically never.  Telling yourself that something simply won’t happen is the worst thing you can do.  Because you just willed it not to happen regardless of the however-small-possibility that it could have happened.

And it is true that it is often not enough just to repeat vague mantras like “I am powerful.”  But when you start to craft that confidence into an idea that is actionable, like “I will make X happen,” you are now cooking with gas.  Then you can start to think about how to make it happen, and so forth.  People… we are living in the 21st century, with the blazing information rocketship of the Internet at our fingertips.  We should damn well be able to make anything happen that our little hearts desire.

When I was in college, I decided I wanted to go to China to volunteer.  Even with the relatively rudimentary Web resources of 2004, I figured this thing out and made it happen.  There was no Yelp; there was my determination, research skills, and support of my family.  When I was 23 and broke with no job prospects, I decided to find a vocational field I could sink my teeth into for the long term and go to graduate school.  And in 2009 I graduated with Honors and took a position at a major Defense contractor.  And just over a year ago, well into my “adult” lifestyle I decided I wanted to get freaking chickens!  I didn’t know anything about livestock husbandry, but now I do.  And I also have a fridge full of adorable little multi-colored eggs. 

Nothing is ever set.  You can become a farmer any time you want to.  You can become an engineer – indeed, a kickass engineer – after college is done.  I don’t feel I have ever missed the boat on something I have wanted to do.

I have always been a person of desire, creativity, and action.  As far as I am concerned, wanting to do new and bold things is what makes life interesting.  I want to accomplish as many crazy things as I can fit in.  I invite adventure in.

On the other hand, if I had ever entertained ideas like “China?!  What a crazy idea.  That will never happen.  How will I get a visa?  What if my Chinese isn’t good enough?” the whole plan would easily have gotten slam-dunked into the toilet.  But this thinking is contradictory: I can’t envision a pessimistic person ever getting to China, because once you start whining the relative obstacles would seem insurmountable.  I don’t think a pessimistic person would even have the creativity to have the idea in the first place.

I like to remind myself of these brazen adventures I have had, because lately I have felt the pessimistic ideas creeping in and the momentum slowing down.  My latest idea is to organize a 5k fundraiser to raise money for a charity of personal importance.  Despite the other bold things I have accomplished, I find myself making excuses and shrinking away in fear.  Like I could lead a whole defense project at work but could not organize a fundraiser in my spare time!  Nonsense, when I come to think of it.

I have always had supreme confidence that I can make happen anything I want to.  And up until now, I have actually accomplished each one.  I haven’t thought of it this way much before, but I suppose I think the purpose of my life is to make fun and bold things happen all the time.  So to the pessimists I say: what have you done lately?

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5 thoughts on “Nay-sayers go ahead and nay.

  1. I’d like to briefly say a few words in defense of pessimism. I believe that what you’re writing about in your post today isn’t philosophical pessimism, but rather pessimism as a feeling or an attitude. You’re absolutely correct when you conclude that a self-defeating attitude is, well, self-defeating. Life requires faith from us. Faith in ourselves, our abilities, faith that hard work will meet its just reward, faith that good things can be created or earned, faith that people will return our kindness, trust, and affection. In order to see these things happen, we must first act with the belief that they will happen, sometimes with no evidence to support such a conclusion.

    But all of this is not philosophical pessimism. Philosophical pessimism is based around how you answer the questions: Are people good? Is human history marked by real progress? Are things getting better for the people who have to live on this Earth? Can we be truly happy? The philosophical pessimist answers these questions with a resounding no. The philosophical pessimist argues that people in their truest natures are selfish and underhanded, that they say and do what they feel like doing without any moral impulse and use their capacity for reason to rationalize their behavior and devise better schemes to achieve their selfish agendas. Philosophical pessimism says that human history is marked by endless cycles of violence, tyranny, and oppression. That no matter how advanced our sciences, culture, or philosophy becomes we are unable to escape the realities of our own natures, that the things we know have little power to alter what we are. The philosophical pessimist argues that even with the advances in medicine, manufacture, and government that have brought about this latest Golden Age, people are no more happy than they were in the Dark Ages, that we cannot even adequately define happiness, nor can we devise a rational plan for achieving it.

    Philosophical pessimism doesn’t say that you can’t make your dreams a reality. It just says that your dreams will ultimately be selfish, and that for you to have more of what you want, someone somewhere will probably have less. It doesn’t say that you can’t make a better world, just that you won’t be able to keep it for long, and that there is no guarantee that you’ll actually be happy in this new world. Philosophical pessimism doesn’t relish these conclusions, obviously, it just frets at the damage people do under the auspices of a misguided optimism that fails to account for the realities of human nature and the enduring lessons of human history. But then again, you already knew all of that. That you continue to strive for your own ends in spite of the knowledge is a testament to your heroism.

    Life also requires a degree of heroism, because as any pessimist will tell you, it’s hard out there, and not just for pimps.

  2. I love this post! There are SO many opportunities available to us- but it’s so easy to talk ourselves out of it because we are uncomfortable or scared! You are an awesome example of deciding to do something and going for it 🙂

    And for what it’s worth, I think that if you can manage to live in a foreign country AND raise chickens, you can most definitely organize a 5k race 🙂

  3. Pingback: I got 99 problems but a student loan ain’t one! | Yay, Goodies.

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