Optimism is Great, but it Won’t Get Your Work Done

I’m an unapologetic optimist. I can find the bright side of just about anything, even a growing to-do list. But no matter how high I turn up my optimism, that isn’t going to get my work done. Sure, typically speaking, I can thrive under pressure. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take a few seconds to kick myself in the ass for waiting until the last minute. There’s a better way. And while I can bring optimism along with me, it’s realism I have to put behind the wheel.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Stockdale Paradox. Named after Jim Stockdale, a United States military officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. As he tells it, he never lost faith that he would survive his ordeal. Yes, he had optimism, as did many of his prison-mates. However, some of these fellow captives relied only on optimism. And as year after year of disappointment stacked on each other, they did not survive. Optimism offers great short-term benefits, but without the mutual acceptance of reality, it can burn out quickly. That’s where Stockdale differed. He was optimistic while remaining aware of his realities. The paradox is stated as:

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties WHILE confronting the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

So how can you apply this to your growing number of responsibilities? You have to stare those responsibilities square in the eye. What is your current reality? Do you have 4 projects that all require immediate attention? This may be at work, in your personal life, or some combination of both. What tasks have a fast-approaching deadline? Once you know what you’re up against, without the rose-colored glasses of optimism skewing your view, you can make a plan. Once you’ve done that, then go ahead and put those rose-colored glasses back on and get to work.

How did Admiral Stockdale do it? He worked with others. He devised a tap code to be used with his fellow captives. This communication was essential to them, if only to offer comfort and encouragement. Who, in your life, can serve this role for you? Surround yourself with people you can communicate with to help you get through the tough moments. They likely have some ideas on how you can forge ahead and meet your responsibilities. If you’re an A-type who has to do everything yourself, work on delegating even small tasks to others or asking for help. There are friends, family, and co-workers who would be happy to offer their support.

Facing our realities while trusting that we will overcome the challenges will give us the best chance of living the life we so desire. Would you like to learn more techniques about balancing your priorities and meeting your responsibilities without burning out? Then I invite you to sign up for Michael Hyatt’s FREE webinar, The 7 Deadly Sins of Productivity – The Hidden Habits Undermining Your Performance  (And How to Change Them). He will be holding several this week only. Click the link to find the day and time that would work best for you.

I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments, so let me know how well you balance optimism with realism.

If you would like to work together and develop a plan for living a life by YOUR design, then an Empowerment Session is for you! Take advantage of the complimentary strategy session!

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email April@AuthenticLifeChronicles.com 


  1. I absolutely love that April. 🙂 I’ve tried very hard for years and have worked with many coaches, etc. I would believe in myself, but only to a point. I would tell myself that I can only do so much and that I had the right to believe that because of my situation. It’s hard to explain, but that statement says it just like it is. Coaching, etc. will not completely work if you don’t keep in mind that that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties in your life and what others may tell you, etc. You have to believe in yourself first. I love that. 🙂

    • Angela, I love how you connected your story to this paradox. You’re exactly right, that coaching isn’t convincing…we all need to believe that we will overcome challenges and ultimately prevail in order to really reap the rewards. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Love this April! I am an optimistic person but having optimism can only get us this far. We have to face reality, overcome challenges and others support to be successful, but still, having a positive altitude is the way to go.

  3. “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties WHILE confronting the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

    this is such an important message, april. all too often we think that, if we just remain positive, things will work themselves out. it is all well and wonderful to have an optimistic attitude towards life. but without facing our challenges, no matter how difficult that may be, we don’t get very far. thank you for this crucial piece of advice.

  4. I love this post! I think I am a pretty optimistic person.. and I am also a realist.. They somewhat relate for me.. I usually look at a situation from a realistic point of view.. has to happen to find solutions and/or tackle the work, or whatever it may be. Once I have the reality check, I move forward.. and typically, optimistically. If I am challenged and when it starts to feel too much, I step back and take a deep breath and try to find a positive to the situation.

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