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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Optimism: a hard gig


When I work with young people who are miserable, angry or scared I ask them what they think the next day will be like, or the day after that, the following week or the next year. If they think it’s going to be more of the same sadness I change tack and ask them what they would want it to be like if I could ‘magic’ it up for them. Most play the game and offer up something that looks and feels better than the day they are currently having. But it’s hard to move oneself from the immediacy of one’s misery. It’s hard to believe that the current challenges will be anything but an immovable object that we are eternally destined to fruitlessly continue to push against.But nothing could be further from the truth and I look to my own past to explain.

When I looked back at who I was as a young person growing up in a small regional city in Tasmania I had no inkling of the world I’d step into. I considered myself an optimist and idealist; I wasn’t without big dreams. I did, after all, spend one summer holiday writing and rehearsing my Oscar speech! But it always seemed like a fantasy, it was just a story in my head that had little chance of being real. I was in a world of realists who were not particularly committed to imagining that life could be better. Life had to be safe and my day-dreaming was not a means to an end. So at some point I burned my Oscar speech and kept my hopes to myself. And for a short time I truly thought that life would be a daily struggle and that for some reason hoping for more was akin to selfishness. Life, however, is bigger than the collection of experiences and miseries of any given day or year. And I wish I could have gone back in time to say to my 10 year old or 15 year old self that things do get better. That when life seems impossible and challenging, the pain of it will be transient but the strength gained from keeping your head up will not. Optimism is not the easy road as some people would have it.

There are those who think the ‘happy clappers’ have delusion for company and are somehow simple. They are very wrong. To be in despair and wallow in the desolation of current circumstances is easy by comparison. To lift your chin up and look forward to something better takes courage and strength of character. To survive failure, loneliness and hardship is made possible with a hope for a better tomorrow. And history provides us with thousands of examples. From the depths of despair the hopeful rebuilt their lives, their cities and industries. They made a world from so very little but they could not have done it without first imagining that they could be happier, more successful or stronger.

So if it is your nature to see the glass half empty I urge you to take your optimism and hopefulness out for spin. Give it some exercise and try to imagine what you could do to fill your glass and perhaps those of others around you. Imagine the better life in great technicolour glory for the sadness or disappointment of today can only last as long as you give it permission to stay. It will be like training for a marathon if you’ve practised pessimism for a while; your imagination might be a bit unfit and you might not be able to do much other than shuffle it around the block. But like the long distance runner, the more you train the better you get.

An elderly relative, who may have been misquoting someone, used to say ‘if you’re not dead, rise.’ I think I might put it on t-shirt and make it a motto for the year. 

Dream Hope Rise

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