An Optimist’s Manifesto: Start Winning at Everything

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Choose Optimism: the #100Unicycles Project

“I was not delivered into this world in defeat, nor does failure course in my veins. I am not a sheep waiting to be prodded by my shepherd. I am a lion and I refuse to talk, to walk, to sleep with the sheep. The slaughterhouse of failure is not my destiny. I will persist until I succeed.” -Og Mandino, The Greatest Salesman in the World

While in high school, I once wrote a speech for an “Optimist’s Club of San Jose” competition. The above quote opened my speech. Even at the age of fourteen, I already was reading and imbibing the hopeful and inspiring words of folks who served as examples of what noted researcher and writer Brené Brown refers to as the “Whole-hearted.” Such people appear not necessarily successful in a conventional way, with accomplishments, money or fame, though they may have those things, but rather from their sense of connectedness, wholeness, and ability to experience a full range of emotion, including joy.

As I have continued my work and my pursuit of the bright and inspiring people I want to be more like, I repeatedly find that such people choose to be optimistic. Not a blind, self-deceptive, stick-your-head-in-the-sand, see no wrong, delusional optimism. No, an optimism based on both a clear vision of the serious matters at stake and the scale of the needed work and effort, but that does not shy away from the endeavor. Real courage is in facing the enormity of the challenge, and going ahead to make one’s contribution anyway.

One of my favorite documentaries is called The Day After Peace. In the film, documentarian Jeremy Gilley and the actor Jude Law have gone to Afghanistan together to try and negotiate a single-day armistice in one of the most turbulent parts of the country, in order to allow aid workers to vaccinate young children against infectious diseases like polio. One night, clearly at the end of an exhausting and busy day, they sit together discussing the obstacles to bringing about world peace.

“Is it just communication? What is it that’s sticking?,” asks Jude.

Jeremy looks about as tired and defeated as he could be. “I don’t know, Jude,” he says. “I don’t know what the answer is. But if I had to say something right now, I’d say it’s people’s belief. The more I go on this journey, the more I see, the more I listen, the more I worry, that we don’t believe it’s possible. And I don’t- I don’t want to be beaten by that. I don’t want to give up. I want to know that human beings can change their situation.”

Jude tells him in reply simply, “There is hope. And that WILL build.”

It’s one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. There is hope, and it will build. All we have to do is move in the right direction.

There are so many problems in this world. There is so much suffering. Yet, we were not delivered into this world in defeat, nor does failure course in our veins. We can choose to have hope.

Each day, you will have many, many choices. You are better than you think you are, and you have far more agency than you realize. Choose wisely.

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“Be excellent to each other, and … PARTY ON, DUDES!” -Abe Lincoln in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

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4 thoughts on “An Optimist’s Manifesto: Start Winning at Everything

  1. This was wonderful! Thank you for sharing. “I want to know that human beings can change their situation.” Here’s to hope!

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