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The Pessimist’s Dilemma


For most of my life, I’ve been an optimist.  In high school, I was even given a character award for it.  As an entrepreneur, I’m a rugged optimist…I think my ideas are good enough and better than what I see out in the field. . .and will succeed.  And if those ideas don’t work, I’m sure we’ll figure out another way to get the job done.  As I’ve aged, I’ve probably moved a bit left to realism as a measure of what can affect my ideas (particularly when I haven’t done the hard work of developing a plan around them).  However, I still maintain that positive outlook about what can be and what is coming.  


For the pessimist, though, there is an entirely different outlook on things.  They see the world in the ways that it can’t be done, not in the way it can.  They have obstructionist’s tendencies to shoot holes in the ideas of those moving forward with a plan.  The “new ideas” that they bring to the table are why it won’t or can’t work.  All too often, they hold this pessimism as a righteous calling.  

I’ve seen this all too often in my client base.  The pessimist enters the room claiming they are just being the realist or holding the arbitrary standard they feel applies. . .and their “righteous work” is, seemingly, to kill accomplishment…to kill growth.  I’m thinking of one individual in particular as I write this but there are many others I’ve seen over the years.  


The experienced optimist knows that there is a way to deal with the pessimist.  A good idea backed up with a solid plan can defeat the negative perspective of the pessimist.  The pessimist will out themselves as a “Negative Nancy” given the time and opportunity and the crowd around them will grow weary. 


However, the pessimist has a dilemma in any forward-thinking, growth-minded organization.  Will they choose to change their perspective on the ideas placed before them with a positive attitude? Or, will they succumb to their bent?  Their bent is comfortable for them.  They can play the role of “just looking out for what’s best” or “quality.”  In the end, they will settle for less and hold back those looking for increase.  When they stay with their normal, it will lead to misery for themselves and for those around them until someone makes the executive decision to move them out or they self-select out.  Either way, it will be a breath of fresh air for the group when they do.  


Alternatively, they can CHOOSE a new perspective.  It won’t be natural.  It likely won’t be easy.  They will have to change their attitude and thinking patterns.  They will have to gain a new understanding of how quality works.  They will also have to gain a new level of trust from their compatriots who know them as a pessimist (because likely by now their compatriots have learned to expect the negative from them).  It won’t be easy to change.  It will be a daily, perhaps hour-by-hour challenge to make the adjustments.