By Caryn Sullivan | St. Paul Pioneer Press | Columnist, TeamWomen Member
This column was originally published on the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Sept. 29, 2019.
Is it possible to become an optimist if it isn’t within one’s nature to be so? I’d like to think it is, for though I don’t have both feet in the optimist camp, I wish I did.
How does one become more optimistic?
In my case, the first step was to accept an invitation.
Last spring, a friend invited me to a Roseville Area Optimist Club meeting. I went as a guest and soon became a member.
Optimist International started 100 years ago. Today, roughly 80,000 members participate in clubs throughout the world. It seems others are also searching for a place where those things that divide us are secondary to a philosophy that binds us.
With close to 150 members, the Roseville Area chapter is the largest Optimist Club in the Midwest, says Don Salverda, who launched it in January 2017. Membership offers an opportunity to meet new people, support service projects, and listen to inspirational speakers.
The Optimist Club has a creed, written more than 100 years ago, that members recite at each meeting. The creed sets a high bar, not easily reached.
Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
In addition to camaraderie, our meetings offer the opportunity to learn from a speaker of note. Our September speaker, Bob Veninga, spoke about resilience.
A University of Minnesota professor emeritus, Veninga studied human nature and discovered patterns and lessons about how we respond to occupational stress, crises and loss. His findings form the basis of hundreds of talks and lectures he’s delivered over the years. He’s also published several books, including one I’m reading now, “A Gift of Hope: How We Survive Our Tragedies.”
In a brief talk, Veninga offered an overview of how resilient people navigate the tough stuff in life.
Support is integral to resilience and it can take various forms, he said. Whether dealing with crises stemming from death, health, or work, studies demonstrated that those who had strong support systems fared better than those who lacked support.
Though there may be reasons to deal with adversity alone (marital discord, for example), a bigger support system is typically optimal.
While it’s helpful to have a group of supporters, many resilient people also have what Venenga termed “adult guard rails.” Adult guard rails are people who offer honest feedback and opinions when asked and help to keep us in our lanes or steer us away from potholes.
In studies of occupational stress, Venenga discovered that teachers who have a principal they consider a friend or supporter were less likely to experience burnout. Real estate agents were better able to manage the ups and downs of the business cycle if their supervisors offered guidance and encouragement.
Resilient people recognize that most problems are solvable. They also accept that patience is an ally. Navigating challenges is a process, and it often takes more time than we anticipate or would like. Contrary to conventional wisdom that it takes about a year to deal with a loss, researchers found that it often takes much longer.
Resilience requires us to let go of the past. There is no value in belaboring conversations or decisions or nursing old wounds instead of letting them heal. Again, the Optimist Creed reminds us to forget the mistakes of the past and press on to greater achievements.
Resilient people have more than a “to do” list. They also have a “joy list.” A joy list helps to engender a cheerful countenance, to remind us to give a stranger a smile.
As Venenga spoke, I thought about the relationship between optimism and resilience. Can we have one without the other? Can we develop optimism, just as we can build resilience?
Up until a few years ago, adversity was my constant companion. It’s been difficult to shed a deeply-ingrained fear that the next bout of bad news is loitering nearby. Consequently, while I’m adept at resilience, the Optimist Creed’s charge to “maintain a cheerful countenance and to look at the sunny side of everything” often stumps me.
I’m ready to embrace the spirit of the Optimist Club, “to be too large for worry, to noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.” I’ve placed a plaque bearing the Optimist Creed in a strategic location so I will see it at the beginning and end of each day. Though putting both feet squarely in the optimist camp may be a lofty goal, it’s worth the stretch.
If you enjoyed this piece and would like to read more of Caryn’s work, you can sign up to receive her columns by email. You can also purchase a signed copy of her award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” here. If you’re looking for an inspirational speaker, reach out!