Realistic Optimism

by Ron Potter

A bit ago, we talked about being a winner or loser vs being lucky or unlucky.  This post continues with that as a backdrop.

Heidi Grant Halvorson has written many worthwhile books.  She says “To be successful, you need to understand that vital difference between believing you will succeed and believing you will succeed easily.”

Succeeding Easily doesn’t happen

It’s a little bit like the unlucky vs losing that we discussed earlier.  Someone was questioning me once about my shifting career choices through the years.  I starting in Engineering, did a software start-up after seeing my first PC, then moved on to my real love which was consulting teams, and leaders.

The person was questioning me for advice about how they could make a similar shift in their life/career.  While I only had my own experience to share I was willing to talk with them about making a shift.   Partway through the conversation, they said, “Yea, but it’s easy for you.”  I was speechless.  I didn’t even know how to respond to that way of thinking.  Inwardly I was thinking, “What about that sounded easy to you?  Every one of these changes has been hard, costly, and took a great deal of sacrifice.”  If you think this is easy, you’re from another planet!


Heidi Grant Halvorson, in her book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently covers a few things that the lucky/unlucky thinkers don’t get.

Be a realistic optimist is one of her points.  While she applauds optimism, she also says “don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal”  It’s not luck.  It’s not easy.  It’s difficult!

Another of her nine things is grit.  “Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty.”  Notice that word difficult again.  None of this is easy.  Be an optimist but don’t think success comes easily.


The following comment was made about Warren Buffet, “Your success didn’t create your optimism.  Your optimism led to your success.”  A lot of people will say that it’s easy to be an optimist when you’ve succeeded, reached your goal, made lots of money.  They have it backward.  Success doesn’t lead to optimism.  Optimism leads to success.

Optimism in the face of overwhelming odds

Ray Dalio is a self-made billionaire who heads up his own hedge fund.  While Ray is quick to acknowledge and even morn the devastating human toll of the COVID-19 virus, he also says it represents an exciting turning point in history.  Please understand that Ray is taken back and shaken by the effects of the virus.  But along with that, he expresses optimism about this being a possible turning point in history.

Life is difficult.

Nowhere is it proclaimed that life is easy.  If you believe that life should be easy or is easy for everyone but you, that’s when it gets really difficult.

Do yourself a favor.  Take some time, figure out what will bring you the greatest enjoyment in your work and life, and start making realistic decisions to move in that direction.  If you’re like me, it may take ten years to accomplish the shift.  It’s not easy.  It doesn’t happen without effort and setbacks.  But if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded.

I was often asked the question, “When will you retire?”  Inwardly I really didn’t understand the question.  Outwardly I would say “I retired years ago.”  The person would then point out that I still spent time with clients, reading, preparing, and a list of other things that helped me be of value to my clients.  They assumed that was work.  But it wasn’t work!  It was rewarding.  It was energizing.  It was fun.  I wasn’t working, I was having a great time providing value to my clients.

Figure out what will really make you happy in life (it’s not money).  Make a decision.  Head in that direction.  Keep your optimism in the face of difficulties.  Only then will you be rewarded in a way that is meaningful to you.

I’m pulling for you!

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