Dr O's Blog

A Flaw of Optimism

September 8th, 2019

What happened…

It’s been 4 years since my last Leading Change blog post. What happened in all that time?

I became consumed, spending most of my energy in service, expectations, and hopes – mine and that of others. Nothing wrong with that given I find a lot of joy in it all. I’ve just returned from a week in Pismo Beach, reflecting – looking back, looking at now, and within. I see how I got here. Too much of myself on the back-burner. Too long. No wonder I feel like toast! Though undaunted, I see it’s my optimism and I now see its flaws.

Optimism is an element of emotional intelligence introduced in Daniel Goleman’s 1994 EQ framework, a competency within the self-awareness quadrant. Today, Goleman calls it Positive Outlook. ”Positive outlook means you’re able to see opportunity even when faced with what at first glance seems a failure. You expect that changes in the future will be for the better.” So you keep working more, harder, keeping as many balls in the air as possible, finding small wins and silver linings and not dwelling on bad news.

That’ll wear you out!

Especially when your work is for progressive change in a staid environment or unhealthy culture. For almost 10 years, mine has been public higher education; a system that still works in spite of its inertia – because of exceptional people within it holding on to a positive outlook.

I’m reluctantly tamping down my optimism, all the while acknowledging the early cautions from a trusted colleague. He told me it wouldn’t last long. Goleman warns there’s danger in too much positivity. We can lose touch with reality. Sure, situations, opportunities, and challenges work out to good outcomes for most involved when willingness exceeds resistance (recall “positive outlook”). The reality is there’s often too much resistance to change in siloed work environments where turf politics prevail and it’s difficult to maintain an espoused shared vision in the midst of so many narrow, selfish interests. Different perspectives get no curiosity, new ideas receive little consideration, and whole-hearted leadership is the exception.

Optimists like me can be stubborn. We believe! It’s outside of integrity to make personal interests more important than a higher goal or greater good.  That is, until that stubbornness creates an issue of self-care. At least that’s the conclusion I’ve come to this week. I work harder and harder to be the best leader I can be, and delay more and more of my personal joy, growth, and aspirations – to when I have the time. That will never happen.

So, enough! While I don’t think my colleagues will see much change in my productivity, a small dose of pessimism, as Goleman suggests, will help me get real, let those “C” priorities go, and get my mind, body, and spirit off the back-burner. I’m reconnecting with the rest of my Life!

What a great feeling!


2 Responses to “A Flaw of Optimism”

  1. Marilynn Hall

    Dr. O,

    Congratulations on taking time to reflect! And good job tracking yourself and discovering
    A fly in your ointment. Best wishes on your newly found recommitment to joy and living a whole life. Your leadership skills and presence will not suffer. They will continue to thrive and inspire all of those around you. ?

  2. Marlene Whitelaw

    Glad you’re adding a bit of pessimism. It’s critical to know that not all challenges are right for you. And you will be able to learn how to say “no” to the things you cannot fix and manage your personal resource more productively.
    Love you dear friend. Let’s talk sometime ???

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