It could be harder – a lesson in optimism

Photo by Evie Shaffer

Whenever anyone offered the perspective that placed my challenges in a context of even more difficult circumstances and obstacles, I used to reply “yes, but it can also be much better!“.

In my defense, I blame perfectionism and also, a sincere aversion to settling for something that can be enhanced by thoughtful effort, as opposed to left as is because of laziness.

And sure, setting high standards and looking to consistently raise the bar have their place. Improvement hurts no one. And also, settling for “good enough” isn’t exactly an inspiring goal, or a thrilling incentive for growth.

But the “it could be better (and also easier)” perspective isn’t always helpful either. Especially when the not settling involves refusing to accept a very difficult situation for what it is, and lingering too long in regret, grief, self-pity, hopelessness and inaction.

Acceptance was a tough one for me my whole life. I mistook it for weakness and defeat. But it isn’t that at all.

When I became very sick last year, it was not the “it could be better” that got me out of bed, determined to heal. It was a video of a girl who, despite being blind at such a young age, got herself to the school bus without assistance. So I thanked the universe for being able to see, and got out of bed.

When I looked to resume doing things I very much used to enjoy but couldn’t bring myself to take up again, it was the story of a young man struggling to play games with a young family member after his best friend, with whom he had shared the same games for years, committed suicide. So I thanked the universe for family and friends who were and remain by my side, and pushed myself to resume engaging in activities I enjoyed.

When work challenges beyond my control showed up and kept me stuck under a cloud of perceived catastrophe at every step (as was the case for so many during this pandemic), what helped restore balance and sanity was the awareness that my daily challenges are part of someone’s dream life somewhere. So I thanked the universe for having a job and a home and bills to worry about, and learned to meditate, take deep breaths and manage stress a little better.

So then…in moments of sadness or loss or illness, on difficult days that seem to drag on, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and uncertainty, it turns out that acceptance and ambition towards improvement or healing are not mutually exclusive.

Yes, it all could be so much better and easier. But so many times it isn’t. Things are what they are. Life is complicated. And because things could be much worse, the silver lining, even if barely visible, suddenly appears.

And with it, some hope. Faith. Trust. The courage to take action and move forwards. No matter what.

Definitely a good lesson in optimism.

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