Optimist or Pessimist?

Are you an optimist (the glass is half-full) or a pessimist (of course it’s half-empty)? Do you look for what you have, the benefits, the opportunities, the challenge or what you don’t have, what you missed out on, the failures, the problems?

We all have a general tendency towards optimism or pessimism based on our experiences as we move through life. Some people stay optimistic no matter what while others remain pessimistic even when things are going really well as they ‘wait for the other shoe to drop’. It can also lead to a person being optimistic in some areas of life and pessimistic in others.

Several years ago, I was managing a large project to deliver a major infrastructure solution on a remote island. There were some logistical challenges with all the equipment having to be transported to the island by ship. As we approached a key milestone in the project, a cyclone hit the area. This meant the ship with all the equipment on board could not dock for several weeks. It was diverted to another island several hours away to refuel and wait out the cyclone.

This was a high-profile project with potential reputational impact. When I raised the issues to management, the reaction from several of the wider team was quite astounding to me. Their reactions can only be described as shocked and stressed. They immediately took the pessimistic view. ‘How do you deal with that?’ ‘How terrible. I’m glad it’s not my project.’ Some were taken aback at how calm I was. To me it was simple. I can’t control the weather, I can only control how I deal with whatever situation arises.

I informed stakeholders and began re-planning the project, to me, very straightforward. Were there impacts, of course there were! It’s not about the issues we encounter, it is about how we deal with them when they do occur. Resilience is a key skill in projects and leadership.

Business is complex. There are many things that can create issues and challenges. When we react in the moment and take a pessimistic view there is one guarantee, it will always seem worse than it really is. Having resilience to bounce back quickly from setbacks and maintain an optimistic mindset is critical to our ability to keep moving forward. An optimistic mind will always be able to find opportunities no matter how dire the initial situation may seem.

Regardless of whether you start with a pessimistic or optimistic outlook there are ways to get a positive result from a tough situation:

Always see things as they really are, not worse, not better. Let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things that you can change to make a difference to the outcome.
No matter how dire the situation may seem, find the opportunities, what have you learned from the experience? What can be salvaged? How can you move forward?
Accept that things go wrong, we all encounter obstacles – see it as a challenge that you know you can overcome
Remember that your energy impacts everyone around you so ensure you display the type of energy that inspires confidence and certainty, even if you might not fully feel it in the moment!
I have always considered myself a half-full guy appreciating what I have, finding the opportunities, taking the positive viewpoint. However, I recently developed a new perspective of the glass half-full…

The glass is always full!

A glass half-full of water is also half-full or air, the two most essential things for human life. Even when the glass has no water at all, it is still full of air. It’s all about perspective.

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