Ep 54: The Gifts of Pessimism

As the eternal optimist in my relationship, I’ve found myself becoming frustrated and even ending up in tears more times than I’d like to admit, due to my overestimation of my abilities and underestimation of challenges. My optimism, while usually a positive trait, has sometimes misguided me, leading me to realize that there is indeed a place and a purpose for pessimism.

This episode takes a deep dive into the often overlooked gifts of pessimism and discusses how it can offer a unique perspective, especially for those of us who tend to lean more towards optimism. The aim is to dispel the stigma around pessimism and appreciate it as a tool for realistic foresight. 

This Episode is For You If: 

  • You’re a pessimist and you think they should change
  • You think there’s something wrong with you
  • You wish to explore the balance between optimism and pessimism
  • You want to understand how to honor and not shame traits in others

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Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Transcript:
 Welcome to the Mom On Purpose Podcast. I’m Laura Johnson and I’m here to teach you how to get out of your funk, be in a better mood, and play more with your kids. Manage your home better. Get your to-do list done and live your life on purpose with my proven method. This is possible for you, and I’ll show you how you’re not alone anymore. We’re in this together. Hello, welcome to the Mom On Purpose Podcast today. All right, so today I’m going to shake things up just a little bit and really give your brain a chance to think outside the box on this episode, and that is talking about the gift of pessimism. Optimism, I feel like get a lot of airtimes and it’s something that I feel like a lot of people. Strive to achieve, but I think pessimism is sometimes given a bad rap and I am very much guilty of that. But just like we talk about, you know, positive and negative emotions in the end, they’re just vibrations in your body. They’re just emotions and we label them either good or bad. It’s the same thing with optimism and pessimism. We are the ones that are labeling it with our own thoughts. On something that’s good or bad. And so that’s the purpose of this podcast today, is to talk about the purpose of both and to really give some airtime to the gifts of being a pessimist. So, you’ll know this episode is for you if you know a pessimist and you think they should change, or you are a pessimist and you think there’s something wrong with you. I usually give a little bit more than that, but we’re just going to stick to those two today. So, I want to just briefly share why this has been on my mind a lot, and I think it’s because as I’ve studied the gifts of my children, study the gifts of my husband, I spent a lot of years being really frustrated with the person he is. I mean, he is just this way and I absolutely love and adore him. But I am definitely the natural optimist in the relationship, and I have a lot of gifts as being an optimist. I love to dream. I love to dream big. I have a wild imagination. I love to be spontaneous. There’s like that wild and free like spirit that’s. Naturally just part of me. And I like to think big. I like to think outside of the box, and I’m always looking at the bright side of things and I’m always trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. And for the most part, I’m pretty content with just about anything you. Put up a picture frame on my wall. It doesn’t have a picture in it. Chances are it’s going to look just fine to me, it becomes house decor, which sounds ridiculous, but it is that way. Like I just, it just doesn’t faze me. It doesn’t bother me at all. But there is a downside to being an optimist and this is where we really don’t spend a lot of time talking about what these downsides are. And so, like for me, I know that I will always underestimate what it takes to reach a goal, but I will overestimate my abilities to achieve it. And that really sends me spiraling a lot because I’ll start working towards a goal. And since I’ve underestimated what it takes to get there, I get really frustrated very easily. And there was, it was just a random story that came to my mind, but. An example of how I get really flustered and really frustrated on things and have a desire to give up very easily. My daughter was making friendship bracelets and I’m just not a crafter. And you know, with the, I remember when we used to do that in elementary school, and you’d sit there and you’d like, you know, braid them in all these special ways to make all these bracelets. Well, I’m far removed from that. I have long forgotten any of that besides being just like a regular braid. Anyway, she had these bracelets that she was making and she was trying to take them to school the next day, and I got to this point where she could continue working on the bracelet and stay up late, or she would go to bed and I opted for her to go to bed. And I committed to her. Okay, I’ll try and work on these bracelets. And you know, we had some printouts on how to do it and how to follow it and I’m not great at directions and, you know, so I overestimated my ability that I’d be able to do these bracelets while she went to bed. And I underestimated what it would take to actually get it done. Because I got flustered. I was trying to read the instructions, and I’m sitting next to my husband. He’s working on the computer, and he is kind of just watching me and he can see that I’m doing it totally wrong. He’s like, let me help you Hun. You know, in a very sweet way. And he can read the instructions and, you know, follow along. Well, he starts doing it and I start crying. Like it’s friendship bracelets for my daughter. That was in third grade at the time. But because I had gotten so flustered and because I really thought I could do this and it wasn’t working, and I just started crying over these friendship bracelets, and then I start, of course laughing and then I start crying because he is, can figure it out better than I can, yada yada. So, it becomes an ongoing joke. This is not the first time. Let’s be clear that this has happened either, but I do know that’s the reaction of my body being a natural optimist, that when things get hard, I get really flustered and really frustrated. Also, it can be super annoying to be around an optimist if you need to have a pity party, if you are really feeling some big feels. And this is something, a skill that I’ve had to develop in my coaching because I am that natural optimist that I’m always telling people, oh, look, on the brighter side, oh, what? Think about it this way. But if that’s not where your body’s at, and if you haven’t processed that emotion, that can be really frustrating and annoying, and so that’s something else to consider when you’re thinking about being a natural optimist. The other thing to consider is that I. I mentioned this before, I’m pretty happy and content with most things, which means for the most part, I live a pretty mediocre life in a lot of ways. There’s nothing big and sparkly or spectacular. I’m just pretty content. And I’ve always joked with my husband that if I didn’t marry him, I’d probably be living with a trailer storing money under my mattress, and I’d be fine with that. I would not be living the life that we have right now in the house that we have right now. So, it’s not a bad thing, but I really am grateful for my husband because although I love to dream, I love to dream big. I’m also super content with some things, and I would never push myself outside of the box. And so there are definitely some downsides to being an optimist, and I don’t think we really think about those things sometimes. And so, with my husband and the years that I spent being frustrated with him, On. Like, why can’t you just see the brighter side of things? Why can’t you just do this? What I realized is like he is totally opposite from me. He is the yin to my yang, and it was because I didn’t see his gifts. I couldn’t see how we fit together. So, before I really outline what those gifts are, I want to use a real-life example to kind of. Illustrate the gifts of pessimism before I share what I have learned being married to a natural pessimist. So, in the 2008 recession, there was the big, huge bubble and the housing market collapsed. Now the interesting thing about this, as I’ve studied it, you know, I look back and I look at all that went on at that time. So, for us, we were in college, we were watching our friends not be able to get jobs. We were watching people losing their houses, you know, people that we knew it, it was a really. Stressful time. It was really uncertain as we were starting out our marriage and our life, it was very scary to be watching that. But at the same time, we were young enough that it wasn’t like we lost all of our money. We didn’t lose our house. We didn’t have children at the time, so I can’t imagine the amount of stress that other families were under. It’s interesting though, as I’ve gone back and studied some of this, you know, my husband’s a finance geek, so he invites me to study some of these things alongside him, although I probably wouldn’t otherwise. What’s interesting is that the pessimists saw it coming and you can’t see me. I’m doing error quotes with pessimists because again, that’s like what we call them, but they tried to warn people. They saw the writing on the wall. The fascinating thing is that many of them were demoted. They were told they weren’t believing hard enough, that they weren’t visionary enough, that people were making a lot of money. So it can be, it was a good thing, you know, this is what everybody was telling them. It’s a good thing you’re not being a team player. You know? Why are you running around saying the sky is falling? The sky is falling when clearly the sky wasn’t falling. Yet, but they knew what was coming and because of the way that they naturally work with their gifts, they could see all of these steps and what they were adding up to, and they knew what it would take to create the real results that they wanted, and they could see that disconnect and they were told to be more optimistic. That’s what I want to spend time on, is being able to recognize that. Me as a natural optimist, I would’ve been like, yeah, this is amazing. Let’s all spend our money. It’s so cool. Why can’t you think of more happy thoughts? When in reality it wasn’t that they weren’t thinking happy thoughts, that they were using their gifts. Using their gifts to see into the future, not of what could be. That’s more of an optimist gift, but what is and what will be, that is more the gift of a pessimist. So as we dive into this, I want you just to spend some time really thinking about the pessimists, or sometimes they call themselves the realists that you know and study them for their gifts just for a time so that you can truly see them for who they are and what they bring to the table. Because whether or not you are a pessimist at some point in. Discovering and answering your purpose. You will encounter someone that is, and if you are the pessimist, there are some things that you need to learn about yourself so that you can harness and better live up to your full potential. So, the first gift that I wanted to outline is, the gift to see the current trajectory. Now where an optimist can see what could be a realist, can study the facts and see what will be, and that’s a very big difference. For example, my husband is an accountant. He’s a C P A, he runs a finance department of a team, and. It is his job he always says that the numbers tell a story. I’m like, oh, that’s so geeky. But he, it’s true. He is studying facts of what is so that he will know what will be, and they can I. See into the future, that is their gift, is to see how things will play out, and that is critical in building a business, but that is also critical in seeing a parenting style and how it will play out. Or seeing a decision you make to save money as a family and seeing how that will play out, that is a huge gift to be able to see the current trajectory that you are on so that you know what will come in the future. I. The next gift that they have, and I’m always amazed at this gift, is that they have a desire to share their knowledge, to warn people or to inform others. It’s not like they will hold it to themselves. I feel like in some ways that’s so opposite from me because I get in my own dreamland and I, it’s like a playground to me and I love it and it feels good, and I want everybody to think happy thoughts. Whereas the pessimists are doing the hard groundwork to educate people to really let them know what’s going to happen. When you think about this in terms of like scriptures, yeah, the prophets for sure had that desire to warn and to inform, and they were probably looked at. As a pessimist, and so it’s important to recognize like this is a gift that people have when they’re seeing that current trajectory, and they want to let other people know where they’re headed. That is a beautiful thing and I think it’s also cool to see this as like these are our social or our justice warriors, where they’re not ever going to settle for what is like they see that current trajectory and they can see the inequality that’s happening and they will not settle for it. They will push and push. For change to happen, not because they’re spending time in some playground la land that I like to be in, but because they can see currently what is happening and what will continue to happen unless someone steps up and makes a change. So that brings us to our third one, they’re what I would call the modern-day preppers. They will think through every scenario. They will live. The Boy Scout motto, which is always be prepared, like they will take that kind of phrase to heart and as they prepare, this isn’t just like physical preparations like end of world stuff. These are like, hey, we’re going to need this much for retirement. I probably would’ve. Retired on it, the money under my mattress and a stick a bubble gum if it weren’t for my husband, because that’s just who I am. And so, he has taught me so many amazing things about thinking about the future and saving for the future and making money right now for the future. You know, all of those things come because of. His gift is to naturally prepare because he is thinking through all of those scenarios. The other thing that I love, you know, this is our fourth gift of the pessimist, is they’ll tell you exactly how it is. And I used to be really afraid of that because you really have to give yourself a hard look. Like do you want someone to really tell you how it is, or do you want someone to agree with you and tell you what you think you want to hear? And when I started dating my husband and I have a lot of friends now because I really love and admire this gift. I’ve realized that I used to surround myself with a lot of people that would tell me what I wanted to hear, and my husband was really honest, and he wore his heart on his sleeve. And you know, when we started dating, he wanted to date me, and I was not sure about that yet. And I was still dating a lot. And when I would make that suggestion to him, I’m like, go date, you know, go have fun. And he’s like, nope. I don’t want to, it was just like so blunt, and I was like, okay. But I appreciated that about him because there were no guessing games. And this is the beautiful thing I believe about a natural pessimist is they will tell you what’s on their mind. Don’t shame them for that. It is truly a gift and it’s our job as natural optimists to really spend time and do our own work so that when they offer that information to us, that we are in a place where we can receive it. Even if it’s hard for us to receive, we can use that to our benefit because they are willing and loving to give us that information. So, then the fifth thing that I wanted to mention about, you know, having the gift of pessimism is they are the best people to vent to. They will honor what you are feeling. Now, they may try and fix it for you because they care about you, and they can see the current trajectory that you’re on. But if you let them know like, hey, I just want to stay here right now. They are so much fun to have a pity party with, and they will honor what you are feeling really well, and that truly is a gift for every single one of us. Now, where does that leave us going forward? I think for me it was really easy to think I should just tell my husband to stop being so negative all the time. But every time I said that what I was doing was I wasn’t honoring his gifts. And so, what I want to just offer, you know, a couple different. Options for you. The first is, if you know a pessimist, I want you to spend time studying their gifts. Go back and re-listen to this. I’ve listed five of them. Really take time to see where these gifts are showing up, because that will allow you to honor them and to really see those things as gifts and as things that can benefit you in your own life. And then the second thing is to study strategic pessimism. Now this is a term coined by Adam Grant. This comes from him, and he talks about strategic pessimism, where it’s important to have strong beliefs. It’s important to practice, you know, manifesting and being a visionary and doing all of those things. But at the end of the day, there are things that will happen that you can’t plan on. There are. Times where everything will go wrong. And if you haven’t spent time in strategic pessimism, those things will knock you off course and they’ll knock you hard. And so, the more you spend time practicing and studying and applying strategic pessimism, I. You can enter into that world to see, okay, what is the current trajectory of this? What do I need to shift? How can I think through worst case scenarios so I can be prepared for these things? How can I be more honest with what I’m feeling and communicate that and tell it how it is instead of kind of glossing over it? So really being able to practice that, that strategic pessimism. Can be a gift for you as well. A second side of this is if you are the pessimist. I want you to practice embracing your gifts. They truly are gifts. Surround yourself with people that see them as gifts. I promise we are out there, and I promise we will see you for who you truly are. The second thing that I would invite you to do is to visit creative optimism. This is not a term I borrowed from anyone else. This is what I pulled outta my own brain. Just like the natural optimist needs to practice strategic pessimism, you can also step outside of yourself and visit creative optimism. It doesn’t mean you have to think happy thoughts all the time. It doesn’t mean that you have to. Try and foster some imagination that doesn’t feel right to you, but it does allow you to brainstorm and think outside of the box about what else could be. And I’ll tell you, my husband said this to me one day where, you know, in his business, as you know, Over the financial side of things. It’s his job to help them stay within a budget. Not all departments love that, you know? And then he has people that are bringing things to him and asking for budget or approval for those things. And he spends so much time saying no. And that is frustrating to him because it’s like this push-pull constantly. And so, we were having a conversation about this one day and he said, you know, if everybody kept to my no, then. We could never progress in the future because I don’t see what they see. He said, I’m finally getting to where I can see that both need to happen. And so that’s why I would just invite you, if you are a natural pessimist, to spend time on that creative optimism. Think about what could be, think about what things could be tweaked in order to, you know, progress there, brainstorm. Think outside of the box. You don’t have to stay there forever but try it on for a while and just visit it for a time. Alright, so there you have it. Have a wonderful week. Thank you for listening. Please share, review, and subscribe to this podcast so that together we can live life on purpose.

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