Despite the many hazards and pitfalls of life in the 21st century one of our most powerful tools as human beings is still our potential for optimism.
So, let’s start with the big statement: Life is great.
For the past few years now I’ve led a semi nomadic life. Work, primarily, keeps me on the move. It seems enviable to many and in the greater scheme of things I am a lucky guy, for sure. It’s really not that glamorous but why bother pointing to the jet lag, living out of a suitcase, the freelance, hand-to-mouth, often nail biting nature of my work or the weeks separated from my loved ones and the loneliness that is packed in my luggage, ( oh, I just did! I had to... ) because on the other side of that picture is the ever changing scenery and the many opportunities to meet new people, enjoy their company and learn from them. Yup, I’m lucky.
It’s Hemingway who’s credited with coining the expression “you make your own luck” and I believe it, as I also believe, in essence, what followed: “and you know what makes a good loser? Practice.” Despite some definitely dodgy moments and bad decisions along the way I’ve done my best to avoid taking the second route. Of course all our lives are different and only if you lived in a box would you be stupid enough not to see that the kind of luck I’m talking about doesn’t come from the supermarket and for many others it’s a whole lot harder to find the materials let alone the tools for making their own luck.
In my case, my mother was a great leveler. Born between two world wars and starting life as a mother in a pre-consumerist age she made sure I was appreciative of how lucky I was. Not in a bad or a hard way; just so I never got smug and grew up grounded. She continues to be an inspiration at 90. A couple of months ago she had a fall at home (recently widowed and living alone) and has since lost not only the sight in one eye but also her independence by having to move to a care home. Despite the course of her life in recent times she’s still a supreme optimist, with a beautiful laugh and smile, determined to enjoy every minute as much as her circumstances allow. She would still say she was lucky, if asked.
The fatalistic catch cry of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 is “So it goes”. I'm only pondering on it because it’s the flip side of Hemingway’s assertion. It's like that "It was meant to happen" schtick. Convenient post rationalisation. I wonder: is it possible to be an optimistic fatalist? Maybe like a star sign, Optimist with Fatalist rising? After all life is full of uncertainties. Personally I’d say I’m more an Optimist on the cusp of Idealist. Ultimately we’ve got to go with what fits us. Blind optimists, Willy Loman style, optimism at the expense of reason, are probably missing the point. To me it’s more about hope vs hopeless. See Optimism as a force not as a smoke screen. Treat a problem as a positive challenge that can be learnt from, resolved and potentially turned to advantage. It’s fun. Practice.
In the Radiohead song 'Optimistic' Tom Yorke sings: “Try the best you can, the best you can is good enough.” Makes sense. So, don’t let the bastards get you down. Life is great.