Partner School Stories

Why Optimism Matters

By Joey Pagano

I can fail to accomplish a goal 100 times, but I won’t hesitate to take the 101st swing. I will continue to follow the pattern of watching my efforts fall short, slightly improving my approach each successive attempt, and repeatedly starting my next iteration by telling myself, “things are going to work out this time.”

Sometimes, it seems impossible to find a reason to try again. Other times, I feel that every failure is a sign pointing me towards another go-around. Either way, hope and optimism are my driving forces in a future marked by uncertainty.

Being optimistic is underrated. It’s often synonymous with being positive. And, while optimism and positivity are similar, there are important differences. As Mike Erwin, a co-founder of The Positivity Project, likes to remind people, “Positivity is not about wearing rose-colored glasses and rolling over when the going gets tough. It’s about staying focused on the good in any situation.”

When I go through something that drags me down, I hold on to the sense of optimism I have carried throughout my life, and the same optimistic mindset that has traveled beside me, even when I have failed to recognize it.

It convinces me that the future is bright, whether the sun is shining down on me or I am in the middle of a thunderstorm. Although it isn’t always easy to find, it’s always within my reach and pushes me up the hills and digs me out of the valleys every second of my life.

And that is very important. There are times when I experience pure frustration and become very negative, but optimism digs me out of that hole. Things don’t always go as well as planned, and I rarely take the path I originally intend to take, nonetheless I believe that life brings us down the path that was meant for us, and everything works out in the end.

That idea becomes really relevant when I think of achieving my goals. I experience setbacks from time to time, so that always has to be in the back of my mind. Whether it’s the obstacles that society presents or the ones that naturally come with having a disability, negative influences come along, but my hope always lifts me above whatever is in my way.

As I overcome the obstacles and pursue my goals, I come across times when I do fall short of accomplishing what I had planned. It’s natural for us to beat ourselves up when we don’t reach our expectations, but that’s just a waste of time. Instead, I use failure as a reason to have even more hope and even more faith.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be disappointed when you don’t succeed, because you should, as being emotional is just a sign of heart and represents how much you care. What I am saying and what The Positivity Project emphasizes is it’s important to get over it, because there’s nothing you can do once it’s in the past. Ruminating about it wastes the time you could instead spend living in the moment or preparing for the future.

The ability to look beyond the sadness that failure brings is extremely important. Because that’s what hope is. “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness,” said South African Anglican cleric and theologian Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Those words have guided me through the barriers that I have encountered in my life. It isn’t logical to expect yourself or anybody else to be positive all the time. However, we have to force ourselves to be optimistic no matter what. And yes, there is a difference between the two.

We are emotional creatures, and we have thoughts that are dictated by our feelings. When we are sad or angry, negative thoughts run through our mind, and there’s very little that we can do about it. With that said, we have to escape the negativity and remind ourselves that things will improve at some point.

The problem with that is hope fades away when we need it the most – it gets hidden behind the problem and becomes difficult to grasp, but we have to find a way to get it. We can’t use our brains to conquer it – we have to use our hearts.

Without a doubt, our brains are our biggest weapons. Yet at the same time, they are also our biggest threat. They are meant to guide us with thoughts, and we need them for that. However, they naturally analyze everything to its core and try to think of every possible negative consequence — which sometimes, in turn, leads us astray.

Our hearts never fail us, and when we second-guess what they are telling us, we are simply overpowering ourselves and choosing not to listen to how we really feel. Some would say our hearts keep us alive, but I will always argue that they keep us living. Unlike our brains, they don’t consider anything other than what we really want.

When we think with our brains, we constantly ask ourselves “what if” questions, and they usually surround the possibility of a negative outcome: “What if I fail?” “What if this doesn’t work out?” “What if I regret this in a day, a month, a year?”

Those questions are nonexistent when we think with our hearts, which value and want to seek the adrenaline rush success brings me more than they want to avoid the disappointment that failure brings, but more importantly, they are optimistic enough to be completely convinced that they are going to succeed and hopeful enough to know that it isn’t the end of the world who we fail.

Thinking with your heart will never leave you with a shortage of hope nor will it ever make you question taking another swing at your goals.

Joey Pagano
Student, Syracuse University

Building the Other People Mindset and remembering and emphasizing its importance is what I aim for day after day. As I continue to pursue a career in journalism and attend the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, I aim to show people that buying into The Positivity Project doesn’t mean you have to be happy and positive all the time, but instead means we have to work together more and build positive relationships. You can also find Joey on Twitter @WheelchairQB_ and at his blog