Where is the line between optimism and lying to yourself? Or is optimism a form of denial? As an unrelenting optimist who also has veins of stark realism running through her personality. I tend to believe that it’ll all work out if we’re flexible and open to change. It’ll all work out is too passive a philosophy, as though life is something you can leave to its own devices, by which it will flourish. It’ll all work out suggests no work need be done, no reflection or learning or choices made either. You can just drift in a direction, or check a box and let it go, because it’ll all work out, whatever it is.
Kate H. will tell you stories about people making major financial decisions like having children or buying property, without talking about it, or thinking about it. It’ll all work out, they tell themselves, and watch as their lives become impossibly complicated, difficult or unmanageable. There seems to be conventional wisdom that when it comes to certain life choices, it’ll all work out, because that’s what people do. It’s a blind assertion of faith, with no follow up action. How the hell do things work out if you’re not driving? At worst, this sentiment smacks of entitlement. At best, resignation.
I’m all for sunny optimism, but it has to contain a dose of realism to succeed. When I finished graduate school and moved back to my hometown (with its high cost of living and extremely competitive job market) I knew it would all work out. I had a new degree and credentials, and so did my partner. We were going to get great, well-paying jobs and buy a cool condo in the city. Because that’s where we saw our life together going, we knew it would work out. It didn’t matter that we had no professional connections or job leads, or that my partner was struggling with crushing mental health issues that limited his ambition, or that we hadn’t done any groundwork towards employment, or that we had a finite amount of money saved, with no prospects in sight. We wanted the life we wanted, and it was all going to work out.
It didn’t. The optimism that propelled us through the final months of graduate/professional school and an out-of-state move added up to zero, once we arrived (or didn’t). The lack of planning and foresight led to months of soul-crushing unemployment (which gave way to years of underemployment), bitter anger and resentment toward life, and dwindling cash reserves (which gave way to massive credit card debt). At no point had we been honest with ourselves: can we afford to live in this city? can we compete in this job market? do we have the personalities and drive it takes to succeed in this place? We spent close to seven years trying to stay afloat in a place that was all wrong for us. It never all worked out.
Don’t fall into the lull this false sentiment provides. Platitudes belong on fridge magnets, not as life philosophies. I think we don’t want to deal with the work of taking a critical eye to our own choices, because it might mean we have to say no to ourselves, or face uncomfortable truths. While those realities may suck, acknowledging them and using them to inform your decision making could save you from a life of slow-burn misery.