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Stuff Happens

Okay, I don’t really mean “stuff” but since I want this posted on the board in squad rooms I am using a simple euphemism.  I speak all over the country about the power of optimism but there is a lot of confusion about what exactly optimism is and what does an optimist look and act like? 

First off, is optimism about being smiley and oblivious to bad events and negative outcomes?  Of course not; optimists laugh, cry, cheer, boo, celebrate and mourn like any healthy human but what does an optimist do when bad stuff happens?  They may curse, mourn, cry, groan, or lament, then they put their head down and push through the storm.  I can point to an optimistic performance after every weekend of football when we see a team or a key player decide a bad event was an excuse or a challenge. 

You all know what I mean.  Champions see bad “stuff” as a challenge and forge ahead, losers suddenly have an excuse, a sense of “oh no, here we go again.”  We laugh about the Eeyors in our lives but how many times do we just say, “Just what I was afraid of!” and fail to continue in an endeavor or goal. 

All this was bothering me as the football season came to an end and my favorite ball teams either didn’t make the playoffs or lost right off the bat so I could sit back an just enjoy football without having a “dog in the hunt.”  The problem was, I knew when a certain quarterback had an interception he was going to the bench and pout as opposed to the guy who beat us who had an immediate case of amnesia and went right back out there trying to win.  We call those types “Champions!”

Simultaneously, January is full of news of how few of us actually fulfill our resolutions and worse, we tend to fail in relatively short order.  So who accomplishes great in things in spite of bad things happening?  In fact, who accomplishes relatively small things like New Year’s Resolutions in the face of such obstacles as shift work, short meal breaks, court, kids, and off-duty jobs?  If you do it with ease you are probably one of the folks who sees life filled with challenges not obstacles, failures are lessons, success happens from effort not luck, and no one but you is responsible for your life.

I write and talk about practical optimism, not a “happy happy, joy joy” outlook on life but a realistic way of looking at life as the great adventure it is and looking forward to the next hot call, fishing trip, or novel event coming down the pike.  Realistic optimism is what you see in the great leaders of sports.  Throw a “pick six” interception and sit on the bench and pout and pretty soon the offensive line is wondering if you’re blaming them, the receiver wonders if the route was sloppy, and a relatively common event becomes the ESPN play of the week.

How about all of the other teams that suffered the same fate that week and just came back to win?  Those pick six’s become just a statistic, a lesson for all and a challenge to be overcome…period.  No lingering memory or lamentation, just a lesson learned; ironically making the quarterback harder to intercept next time, the receiver tougher to cover, the linemen more resolute in their blocks. 

I know you’re a crime fighter not a pro athlete, but did your new diet go to hell because your best friend threw a party and your low carb resolution ran head on into deep dish pizza and peanut butter cream pie?  The in-shape folks said “my bad” and six months later had to buy a new (much smaller) suit for their cousin’s wedding.

“Obstacle or challenge,” that is how I want you to consciously facing things for the next two weeks.  If you have a badly arthritic knee and you resolve to run 10K races in 2014 you will find an obstacle that will probably make you fail and worse make your knee vastly worse.  The old saw about “don’t expect to look like Schwarzenegger” when you start a fitness program has a powerful grain of truth in it.  Trying to do the impossible will often teach you to be helpless.   Losing twenty pounds of fat and gaining ten of muscle probably is a realistic goal and when you achieve it you will be even stronger in your resolve.

Little wins in small challenges make us stronger and stronger.  The true test for us is when the bad guy sucker punches you and he discovers the true meaning of a “can of worms!”  Bad things are going to happen to you this year and how you deal with them is critical, since winning has to become a habit, a reflex, an automatic response to all challenges you face and too many of us expect bad things to happen, or, at the slightest misstep to give up as if the mistake is some great obstacle instead of a learning event. 

Being a warrior optimist doesn’t mean your raft is never going to spring a leak, but that you will never quit bailing, head down into the wind, encouraging others, when yours does!  So, if you made resolutions you’ve already given up on rethink them and if they are realistic give them a go again.  Fill your heart with hundreds of little wins so when the time comes for a truly great one you will be ready.