Ascending with Optimism
Written by Eric Schneider
Life will continue to provide you with ample obstacles. The outcomes of those tasks may be positive; the work itself is all but. It is easy to let the small tasks in life weigh on you. Every day feels like eighteen hours of chores punctuated with six hours of sleep.
There is an alternative. A way to reveal joy you did not know was there. It is a tactic that exploits the precise control you have over most situations. You can change your perspective. Allow me to explain how I discovered this ability in myself.
It happened when I was already an old man
While licking pancake syrup from her fingers, a familiar tiger tells my daughter, “When something seems bad, turn it around, and find something good.” This is a core mantra of parenting. Your child is constantly outraged at the injustice of putting away their toys, being dragged with to do the shopping, or going to school. It’s bath time. It’s mealtime. It’s bedtime. But you gamify their life for them. There is a reward, a silly approach, a worse alternative.
As an adult, you do not have a perpetual shadow seeking ways to fend off those frustrations. You are on your own, and many of those around you are busy being adults as well. The lesson I finally learned came in a very mundane circumstance.
I grew up playing video games and still carry a lot of nostalgia for the hobby. With adulthood, I lost my footing on the hobby and rarely played new games. But a game came out which tickled that nostalgia perfectly and was receiving rave attention. I bought it, downloaded it, and was excited to spend a few hours with it.
I arrived on the other side frustrated and cursing. Here, you control an avatar climbing a mountain. No easy feat, sure, but I grew up playing games like this. I was made for this. But here my avatar just kept falling. And the game tallied my falls; putting them permanently in a journal. Look at how many times you failed. Each a setback. The mountain was unyielding. I quit.
A few days later, I watched someone else play the game. It was obvious that their approach was different. Every death brought a smile to their face. With each attempt, they improved ever-so-slightly. And the eventual victory brought joy. They were not viewing falling as a failure. It was instead an invitation to improve. The tally was not how many times you failed. It was how many times you failed to give up.
After changing my perspective on the game, my avatar resumed her climb. She reached the summit of the mountain. I put hundreds of hours into the game and enjoyed all but those first few.
Putting perspective to work
Changing your perspective is something you need to do mindfully. Start with the trivial things you need to do every day. Or something you keep putting off. Or something new. Wait – I will give you some examples.
You need to clean your house. It is an unpleasant fact. But mindless tasks are exactly that: leaving your mind free to focus elsewhere. It is instead an opportunity to listen to your favorite music. Did you know your local library has audiobooks for free?
You like the music you already like. We all do. Those other genres are strange, and it is confusing why anyone likes them. But is it? It is popular for a reason and wading into a whole new lake of music can be exciting and fun. Your favorite song may be in a genre you previously rejected.
When snow falls, you need to shovel it from your driveway. The benefits to “future you” are obvious, but what about “right-here-right-now you?” Personally, I view it as a battle against nature and feel pretty darn heroic. Or it is a free workout if you are not as dramatic.
Hopefully, you love your career, but you undoubtedly do not enjoy every task. Someone else always profits from your efforts, but how can you find motivation for yourself? If there is something new to learn or a skill to improve in the task, that adds to your individual value. It is that value that will advance you.
If someone asks for volunteers to write a blog post at work, see it as an opportunity. You just started at your company, and it is a way to meet a few new people in Marketing. And writing is a skill that will serve you forever.
Finally – there are times when you need to risk failure. Some things ahead of you are scary and the outcome is not clear. If the worst that can happen is a bit of embarrassment or you simply waste your time, then that is okay. If the best that can happen is you overcome an injury, or you make a new friend or discover a new passion; remember that bravery is being afraid but acting.
Let us be serious for a moment. I am not trying to give you a fix for everything. There will be times when sadness and grief are right. There are times when reframing the situation is not the solution. You need to push back or move out. Or if you feel trapped, I hope you find the help you need.
What I am trying to illustrate is how to turn the mundane into the best parts of life. By shifting your perspective on the small obstacles in life, you can gain positive momentum. There are only so many hours in a day, and you influence how many of them bring you joy.