How to Stay Optimistic During Hard Times

Inspiring leaders are known for keeping a positive attitude in hard times.

Winston Churchill inspired the british people with radio addresses and speeches during the worst parts of WWII.

FDR encouraged a nation in tatters with his fireside chats during the great depression.

How do they do it? How do leaders, in the face of incredible challenges, remain optimistic and engaged with their work?

Let’s look at some of the key ways leaders find hope in the midst of turmoil:

What are you committed to?

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.” -Mother Teresa

Great leaders center their lives around great commitments. Commitments that exist beyond the conditions they find themselves in.

These are not reasonable commitments, they are commitments beyond reason. Mother Teresa worked with some of the most disadvantaged people in the world, but her commitment to serve, to elevate, and to love was deeply inspiring.

Many of us have commitments that only exist in the moment. We’re committed to loving so long as they love us back, we’re committed to writing so long as we feel inspired, we’re committed to voting so long as the candidate completely aligns with all of our views.

Great leaders get rid of the “so long as”. They are their commitments. They stay committed beyond where other people would stop. This kind of commitment creates its own hope and optimism because it’s the strength of the commitment that matters, not the results of the moment.

How humble are you willing to be?

“For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.” -Ira Glass

Great leaders are willing to be wrong, to learn, to grow, and to find new ways to succeed.

Many of us are full of pride in who we are or were as leaders. This pride exists until we read the edge of our capabilities. When you hit that edge you are humbled by what you don’t know, what you can’t do, and who you have yet to become.

If you allow yourself to be humbled you can pass through the gate and continue down the path.

If you refuse the call, you go back to where things felt safe and often become cynical about anything beyond what you currently see is possible.

Great leaders are willing to be humbled in order to go forward. They understand that humility in the face of adversity is not defeat, it’s the doorway to victory.

Are willing to accept what is?

When my master and I were walking in the rain, he would say, ‘Do not walk so fast, the rain is everywhere.’ -Shunryu Suzuki

Great leaders don’t exist in a state of denial or fantastic thinking, they accept what is, and work from there.

Many of us would simply like to forget that the world is on fire. This is true even if the world at large is on fire or if it’s just our personal world that’s burning. Your desire for things to be ok, or ‘normal’ can override your willingness to see things as they are. This denial can lead you to numb out on fantasy, distractions, or even anger that the world is not how it should be.

From this denial, it’s hard to do anything. How can you act on a world you’re not even living in?

Great leaders don’t hide the truth from themselves. While they may paint a picture of possibility for others or even put their faith in an inspiring vision of the world, they start where they are right now. They choose the world as it is, people as they are, and life as it exists as the foundation to build hope on. This radical acceptance grants them an integrity that makes optimism possible.

The SuperHuman Illusion of Leadership

Most people when faced with adversity complain or avoid the challenge of the moment. Great leaders choose to take on the moment, which can create an illusion that they are superhuman.

But they aren’t, and you don’t have to be either.

Leadership is mostly a choice. A choice to find something you’re willing to commit to beyond reason, a choice to be humbled by the growth being offered to you, a choice to accept what is and begin with step one.

The world doesn’t need any more false superheroes. The world needs leaders and people who decide the problem is theirs — even if they didn’t cause it, don’t know how to solve it, and aren’t sure it’s even possible to make a difference.

Optimism isn’t some magic spell you cast, it’s simply a way of relating to the world, something which has to be renewed again and again. You can start now, you can make the choice to lead.

I hope that’s what you choose.


5 thoughts on “How to Stay Optimistic During Hard Times

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