The Practical Optimist




People that know me would probably say I am a positive person, glass half full. Always taking the optimistic view on the bleakest situation. Having the confidence to be the fixer on a given problem even when the odds are stacked against it.

Let me ask you this question, HOW do you view life at the moment?

There are lots happening around us, the fragile state of the global economy due to the roller coaster European debt crisis (some liken it to the longest funeral ever), tense nuclear situation between Iran, Israel and the US, the volatile situation in the Arab region with old regimes being deposed by people power. Looking closer to home, we have things happening in our own lives – family, health, relationships, work, personal finances etc…..some of the many things that can give us a positive or pessimistic outlook on life.

Which view do you CHOOSE to take?

Most people don’t know that I used to be a stutterer. Frustratingly stammered my way thru childhood, thru university and at the start of my career as an Engineer at the Sydney Water Board (I dreaded it when people asked me where I worked. My answer would sound like an ol’ diesel engine kick starting on a cold winter’s day “I w..ww… for the w..w…www…ww..www…waterboard!!”). After one frustrating day, I decided I had enough after 20+ years of stuttering and from a NEW START decided to “cure” myself of stuttering! The cure involved reading a mountain of self help and positive thinking books over a period of a few years. First of all, those positive thinking books gave me the self-confidence and drive to fix my stuttering condition and secondly, it improved my vocabulary so that when I have to say words beginning with “w” or “c” (hmm…strangely, I had no problem with words starting with “f” :)) I would substitute it with words I could pronounce. Problem temporarily averted! It turned out to be a massive a-ha! moment. When I discovered I could get my way around these difficult to pronounce words, it built my confidence to hold a conversation with anyone and even take on public speaking. That gave me the assurance to quit my job as an Engineer (which I hated) and became a Recruiter which meant I had to be talking to real people everyday non-stop from 9am to 6pm.

After overcoming my speech impediment, the new optimism and can-do mentality stood me in good stead in my new career. However, over the years, I realised that BLIND positive thinking alone is not enough to get there. That’s where I cultivated the PRACTICAL part.

A principle I learned about being a practical optimist is to IGNORE the noise around you and focus what you CAN CONTROL, laser like focus on the key fundamentals of success – working smart and working bloody hard. There will always be negative news in the media! Bad news sells! Of course, sooner or later the naysayers will be right (as cycles do go up and down). Its easy to be paralysed by the negativity and blame the distractions, blame the circumstances, blame incompetent people, blame the economy, blame the government (or other governments). Instead we can accomplish and achieve big things when we focus on the ACTIONS and ACTIVITIES that will deliver results.

I remembered being influenced by a book on General Colin Powell. He was the Commander of the US Armed Forces and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the George W Bush era. He directly oversaw 28 major crisis including Operation Desert Storm. An extremely capable career military man, he was nicknamed the “reluctant warrior” because President Bush (Senior & Junior) would make the hung-ho decisions to invade Saudi Arabia and Iraq, General Powell would be the practical voice of reason to play out the LONGER TERM implications of going to war – the overall cost to America, the occupation, the transition, the handover, the exit strategy. General Powell taught me the principle of VISUALISING success as well as all the possibilities along the way thru to the end game.

Almost everyday I come across new challenges, some big, some small. Thru practical optimism cultivated by my own experience, I have confidence to tackle them to the best of my ability and deliver a positive impact.

The very positively half full Ebisu beer photo was taken by me in an Izakaya in Tokyo

About this entry