Optimist on Purpose

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Even before the pandemic, I didn’t consider myself to be a hopeful person.

I was raised as a realist. Looking back, I probably would have become a big, blubbering optimist if our father hadn’t died when I was three years old. Instead, my pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mother mourned in silence and paved a stalwart path of fortitude for the four of us all to walk. And, so, it stuck.

It’s not to say that I’m great at handling awful things or disappointing setbacks. I cry over seemingly small things. My temper is a bit of a demon I’m working to overcome. I’ve carried a lifetime of depression and, more recently, anxiety in this invisible backpack that, at times, becomes unbearably heavy. I have also grown a very thin skin for people who whine unnecessarily or, though capable, are unable to do things for themselves. It vexes me, and cynicism sometimes sets in.

But, out of the dozens and dozens of lessons the pandemic has fashioned, one of the biggest is that of hope. I feel cheesy just typing those words, but the truth is that as gnawing as despair sometimes can be, there’s a constant sunbeam of hope that touches everything.

Humanity needs hope. It doesn’t say that anything wonderful or perfect or heartwarming – or, these days, even normal – is guaranteed; it simply says that it might

It might happen.

So, my biggest pandemic lesson – and it may help you, too – is this: try to be an optimist on purpose. It’s difficult to change oneself, but there are parts of ourselves that we can make choices to hone a bit; every day is a choice and how we look at it is all about the “might.” Start looking for the might. Any forward motion or even a simple glance towards the future counts as hopeful.

Kids are exceptional at this. A Christmas list to Santa is brimming with hope. It’s belief. It’s looking forward to something with sheer excitement. It’s gratitude. It’s possibility. It’s a glimmer of hope that shines in their eyes.

Blowing out a birthday candle. Saving up coins and dollars in a piggy bank. Answering, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Kids are hope experts.

One hope of mine? I hope to let my kids teach me their ways.

I’m not always good at following through, whether it’s because I don’t know enough to

I used to start planning our summer vacation after Christmas. The sullen reality of the post-holiday slump always calls out for some hopefulness. This year, I’m looking around me, instead, for hope by taking control back in small ways. I may not make those summer plans because summer may not be normal yet. Sometimes admitting possibilities can temper hopes in order to help new ones grow.

I’m creating the hope, myself, by doing some other planning. Putting actual garden plans in place and purchasing the seeds I actually want to grow. Setting up a seed growing station before supplies become scarce. Buying fabric to learn new sewing projects. Setting reading goals for myself to work through my to-be-read pile. Investing in myself as a writer.

These steps don’t seem like much. They’re small and quiet in a world of big, thunderous movement. But, right now, when things seem so uncontrollable, a bit of self-driven forward motion seems like just the ticket.

And what is hope except for an optimistic glance forward?


This essay was written thanks to a monthly theme from Illuminate, a writing community from The Kindred Voice.

Read more stories on HOPE from some of the other wonderful Illuminate members:

Stay Hopeful, My Friends by Christi Jeane
hope in the time of 2020. by Eunice Brownlee
Shifting Sands of Hope by Mia Sutton
In It Together by Laci Olivia
The 2020 Storm by Adeola Sheehy
Hope Over Survival by Sarah Hartley
A Story About a Dog by Jenn Norrell
Both Fragile and Enduring by Danni Brigante