Adjusting the Sails


I supervised a dispatch team for Whirlpool in Knoxville in 1995-96. We were responsible for dispatching service technicians on the West Coast – Seattle, Northern California, Arizona and Southern California. It was a fast-paced job with surprises every day. We were a team that pitched in and did each other’s jobs when necessary and basically just got it done. I loved that team, and I loved that job. I loved it because I loved the people and their enthusiasm for the work. It was a young workforce, and they were a lot of fun. I was learning how to supervise people, and I’m sure I made lots of mistakes. But, they knew how to roll with the punches.

When I was offered the sales training job in Seattle, I took it. I wanted excitement and adventure. I wanted to move to a city where I’d never been. My staff gave me a paperweight made of stone with a sailboat on it. The caption says The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. It is a quote by William Arthur War. I’m sure the compliment was that I was a realist, and, in many ways I am. But, I’ve also been the other two as well. Every time I see it, and I still have it in my office, I’m reminded that I have a choice. I can be any of the three that I desire to be.

I tend to be a pessimist when I feel overwhelmed and shut down. And, at times I feel that way. Just this week, I felt very pessimistic. Sometimes its caused by hormones or fatigue. Sometimes it’s my own attitude. And, frankly, sometimes it’s just normal. I’m more forgiving of myself than I used to be. I think it’s okay to have down moods. It’s okay for me to be pessimistic about my life outlook, to complain about where I am in life, and to not see any hope in the near future. It becomes a problem when I get stuck in pessimism. It becomes a problem for me – not because I’m a bad person for being stuck in pessimism – but because there is no way out. It’s an endless cycle of hopelessness, back-steps, complaining and fear. There is no chance of joy. The answer to pessimism is not optimism. It is realism. It’s looking at my situation as it is…deciding what I can and can’t change…and changing what I can. For the moment, the only thing I might be able to change is being gentle with myself. Something as simple as being compassionate with myself is often the first step out.

I’ve gotten stuck in optimism, too. I’m bad about that in relationships. I don’t see them as they really are. I see them as they could be…as they should be. I was talking to a friend this week who is in a desperate situation that she can’t seem to leave. I advised her that she could only make a decision on being in the relationship as it is NOW. She can’t make a decision based on how it MIGHT be or how it WAS. I’ve been stuck on that merry-go-round a million times. I know that’s codependency, but it’s also a type of optimism. Optimism is defined as a worldview that believes that everything is at it should be, and it’s at its optimal state. It is easier to live in optimism because my spirits are up, I feel better, and I live in a sense of hope. It’s also healthier to be an optimist. Our physical bodies respond when we are hopeful. I have more energy, I’m happy, my immune system keeps me well, and good things continue to flow into my life. When I’m so caught up in everything being the way it should be, sometimes I let myself think that I don’t have to do anything to change things. It can be a lazy approach to life.

My safest and most comfortable state is in realism. I’ve learned through my personal work that I can’t ask for things from people that are unable to give them to me. If someone is unable to love me, I need to quit trying to make them. If they are incapable of understanding me because of their past experiences, I have to accept them as they are. A job will not give me love and acceptance. It is a job. Money will not give me security. It comes and goes. I denied reality for a long time. I didn’t know any better. I assumed that the world always worked out the way it should. I learned the hard way that just because God hates divorce, it doesn’t mean He’ll help me save my marriage if I keep trying. I learned that things don’t always happen like I want them to just because I step out in faith. Sometimes I have to do more than step out in faith. Other times, I have to let that dream go. Realism has been both the hardest and the most rewarding place for me to live. It keeps me humble. It keeps me hopeful. It keeps me involved in my life. It requires faith that, as more is revealed, I will learn to handle it…sometimes gracefully….sometimes not.

One of those slides on Facebook the other day said If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you are fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him. Life isn’t fair. It doesn’t always make sense. The good guy doesn’t always win. The guy doesn’t always get the girl. The lessons don’t always come easily. Sometimes, we don’t ever learn what we need. I’ve seen people die from addiction and suicide when the answer was right there in front of them, but they couldn’t take it. Sometimes we are rewarded with good things that we don’t deserve. It is what it is. I find myself constantly adjusting my sails…my perceptions…my actions….to fit with reality. I hope I’m always stuck in realism but that I visit pessimism and optimism on occasion. I think that would be a realistic expectation.

Talk to me, please...

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