Sometimes it seems impossible to stay optimistic when everything is crashing around you.
To believe anything can change.
I hear this daily from patients- they are scared, stressed and overwhelmed by everyday issues- health, finances, work, and family intrigue. Exhausted and tired of the way the world seems to be heading. It’s as though not a day goes by that we’re not barraged by craziness and wondering how we’ll cope.
When I was young, we were told computers and technology would free up our time, give us longer weekends to enjoy and recover from work week trials and tribulations. Instead, we’re plugged in and connected 24/7.
That’s where hope and optimism come in.
Hope -a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Grounds for believing something good will occur.
Optimism- hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something. The belief that good will ultimately prevail over evil.
One is a thought, the other is an action. With both anything can be accomplished.
Change is frightening. The known many times easier to accept, regardless of the circumstances, than the unknown. Too often we choose to stay where we are, where we are comfortable, even when it’s clearly no longer working- in our marriage, job, or friendship. Instead of doing what’s necessary to move forward.
And that’s the key, moving forward, not backward or stagnating.
I had a patient years ago who was feeling depressed and sick all the time with colds, flu, allergies, rashes, and body aches. They never ended. No matter who she saw, what treatment was given, nothing helped. She even eliminated dairy from her diet and ripped out all the carpets in her house, convinced they were the source of her problems. She visited holistic facilities, bought hundreds of dollars of “natural medicines” all to no avail. That’s when I encouraged her to look at other issues in her life. We’re complicated beings and nothing is ever entirely physical or emotional. Our body’s physical complaints are often manifestations of our emotional well-being and vice versa. Both need to be in balance. At one point she went to the hospital, sure she was having a heart attack. Thankfully she wasn’t. It was a panic attack. But that was enough to finally give her the motivation she needed to look honestly at her life.
To this day she writes me cards regularly updating me on her new marriage and baby her ex never wanted. She moved to New York to be closer to family and support. It wasn’t an easy path to follow, but it brought her the fulfillment she had been struggling so hard to find.
Once started, hope and optimism can open doors not looked at before. Or they can shed new light on goals previously thought unattainable. Without that, we’d never try anything for fear of failing.
A friend thought life was over after her marriage of 20 years ended. She was a primary care physician but yearned to do something different. For years she thought it’d just be a waste of all her hard work and training. After the divorce she decided it was time and entered a residency program to become a pathologist. She realized she was better suited behind a microscope then a stethoscope. During one of her classes she met a world renowned microbiologist who offered her a 3 month internship in Egypt working on deciphering illnesses from mummy tissue. She fell in love with her new field and never returned home. She has since become known in her own right, doing cutting edge research. All because she dared to see an end as just another opportunity for a beginning.
Hope and optimism. Two ideas too often lacking in today’s hectic world. We believe we need to be pragmatic, not wishing for anything unrealistic, just learning to accept what we’ve been dealt. And yes, if it’s truly unrealistic that’s not healthy either, but without hope and optimism most of our current day achievements would never have happened.
Yesterday I talked about landing a man on the moon with not much more then a slide ruler. Yes, I know I keep dating myself. I was in high school using such a tool for trigonometric and calculus problems. Sadly, we all thought we were so cool slinging one on our hip! But it was the fastest way to make incredibly complex calculations without putting it to paper. I’ll never forget the first calculator created by Texas Instruments, designed to do just that for the general public. It was incredible – all that brilliance in the palm of your hand. Unfortunately, at a hundred dollars a pop it was far from affordable in the 1970’s. That’s the thing about the human spirit and determination, it can’t be stopped. In 1961 when President Kennedy made his famous speech promising to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade we had less technology than our toasters and zero know-how. Yet 8 years later, I watched along with the world when Neil Armstrong’s boots hit the ground.
His words resonated-
“One small step for man,
One giant leap for mankind.”
Granted, it was spurred by the horror we felt when the Soviets were the first to have an unmanned (Sputnik), then manned spacecraft (Vostok 1) circle the globe. Humanity’s determination to succeed when the odds are against us is inspiring. Even the simplest software today would far exceed the technical constraints the Apollo team worked under. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore stated,
“That a USB memory stick today is more powerful than the computers that put man on the moon is testimony to the relentless pace of technological development.”
Yes, there needs to be a balance between accepting where we’re at and looking at where we can go. Just like our body craves balance, so does our heart and soul.
Moving towards something, not away, is always hopeful. Looking forward to a better existence, not settling, is always positive. And when believed in, amazing things can happen.
What’s wrong with shooting for the stars?
The worst that may happen is we’ll land on the moon.