Re-examining Optimism:
What Does Your Try Look Like?

There we sat! My seven year old son, Cayden, and myself were going through another weekend session of trying to tie shoes. My wife had tried session after session with him for the past few years. Everything we read was to not give up, and if the child didn’t seem interested, don’t push the process. We were concerned that Cayden was approaching eight years old and still couldn’t tie his shoes. The sessions were frustrating for him because he tried so hard but couldn’t get the way my wife taught him or the way I was trying to teach him. I sat thinking about what we could do. Our son was trying hard with the ways we were teaching him but the processes weren’t connecting. Why, weekend after weekend, did this process fail? I took a deep breath and asked myself internally, “What is another approach we haven’t used yet?”

It hit me! I had seen a Ted Talk on tying your shoes once before. I pulled the Ted Talk up remembering it was pretty short. I watched it, and it was a different approach than what my wife used and what I had used. “Let’s try it,” I thought. I went over the new process with my son. For the first time, I could tell he was able to follow and connect to what was being shown to him. Within just five minutes, he was tying his shoes! I couldn’t believe it. Weeks upon weeks of trying and just like that…one change in approach, and he got it. He began to cry with joy. He was so happy. He wanted to tie his shoes so bad, for so long, and he just couldn’t get the process down. All it took was a slightly different process and he did it. We celebrated big time! It was a learning lesson for me in what “try” looks like and how we approach it in different ways when we keep optimism at the forefront.

Let’s look at optimism for a moment. A large misconception exists between positivity and optimism. I’ve encountered many who believe the two words, positivity and optimism, are one in the same. However, there are some distinct differences, including the way we try, that separate the two words.

Optimism is an acknowledgement of what the current situation is, whether perceived good or bad, connected to the belief that the future holds hope for positive outcomes. There is an understanding that in order to get those outcomes, a form of try will have to take place. An optimist will recognize and acknowledge though if the current situation isn’t great, but will look to how it may be great in the future. Alternatively, someone who is bringing forth positivity will usually not acknowledge the true reality in front of them. They may say things like, “Let’s just be positive about this,” and sit by waiting for a better outcome. It is important to acknowledge what the reality in front of us is though, and plan actions to make a better future outcome. It requires us trying though and usually trying something different than we did before. We also must be ready to acknowledge that we may fail.

A few years ago, trying shifted perspectives for me. I was reflecting one day on what it takes to be successful. I envisioned a twelve inch ruler that many of us used in school. I thought about it as one end saying start and the other end saying finish. Each mark on the ruler represented a failure on the way to success. For me, to that moment, success and failure were interconnected as what happens between starting and finishing. As I thought back to the shoe tying experience with my son, though, I saw success, failure, and that ruler completely different. We often times put parameters or things like, limiting beliefs, around our journey to completing a goal. The reality is, the ruler may become a yard stick, and our try may well exceed the amount of marks on the stick. I instead like to envision the ruler, with no specific length and with all types of different tries on it. Some tries are bigger than others, and came with more excitement. They didn’t lead to what I was ultimately working toward but they felt close. Other tries are much smaller, but as I looked back, those tries were actually big breakthroughs that lead to the outcome of success I was looking for. I share all this, because when we are able to move past our limiting beliefs and keep our optimism moving forward, our try will get us there.

I stayed optimistic that my son would learn to tie his shoes. There were many frustrating moments for us in the process but we kept hope success would come. It came from a short video, on a Sunday afternoon, when we almost quit trying for the day. That last try was the difference maker though. We never know when it is going to come, which is why it makes it so vital to keep trying.

I encourage you this week to think about what your try looks like. Do you have limiting beliefs around the processes you use? How do you keep optimistic on what lies ahead while acknowledging the current reality? In what ways can you move from a defined ruler to one that simply involves trying and an understanding that both success and failure are intertwined with our ability to try?

Your try could take you to success tomorrow, or it could be in two years from now! We never know, but with determination and action come results. Don’t forget to celebrate along the way as you try!

Encourage courage and inspire action this week and beyond. Be well my friends.