Put the Net Under the Trapeze Artist.

Or How to be a Pessimistic Optimist.

By Erika Hovland

Imagine the kid who won the award for “Most School-Spirited” in your school.  She probably had the qualities of enthusiasm, belief, excitement, energy and optimism. Perhaps a little starry-eyed, she would smile and clap for each success.  She wrote with exclamation marks!!! and emoticons :).

Now imagine the kid who sat in the back of the classroom, who cynically critiqued the curriculum and pointed out what was wrong in the world.  Other students gave her a little space when she went on a passionate tirade. But they loved the way she would challenge the teacher, and couldn’t wait to see how the teacher would respond. This kid was respected. She had critical-thinking skills, read a lot of books, and saw what needed to change in the world. Our ‘smart cynic’ may have been voted “Most Likely to Tell You Why You Will Fail.”

Imagine this was the same person. It’s a powerful combination.

This is someone who plans for success but stays aware of everything that can go wrong.  This is a trapeze artist who is willing jump, but makes sure there is a net. That doesn’t sound so unusual, does it? But she has also made sure the net has been inspected for fraying and holes. And that it has been installed correctly. And that she has practiced on a smaller scale to learn how to do the jump she is about to do. And she has a coach. And a partner to catch her. And… well, she’s a pessimistic optimist.

As a small business owner, you’ve got ‘school spirit’.  You might not doodle smiley faces, and you may not be cheering “we’ve got school spirit! how ’bout you?” at a game, but as a business owner you need that energy and belief. So, I know you have it, in your own way and your own style.

Our ‘school spirit’ side gets us to climb over obstacles and to celebrate successes. It provides momentum and gives us courage to make decisions. However, in its shadow, we can be tempted to ignore warning signs or develop plans for best case scenario.

Our ‘smart cynic’ side puts the net under the trapeze artist. This is the side of us that seeks out other ways to think, or different perspectives and puts back-up plans in place.

Together, these sides can balance each other out.  You plan for success, imagine failure, hope for success, plan to avoid failure. A few years back, I read an article that described the power of being a pessimistic optimist. By introducing pessimism, this person imagines the worst situation and begins to put plans into place to avoid those situations. By maintaining optimism, she imagines the best situation and begins to move in this direction. She isn’t as surprised or caught off guard by challenges and obstacles. She knew she could fall, and she was prepared to get up again.

Throw on a cheerleading uniform, pick up Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” exposing the dark side of capitalism, and get to work installing that net.


Put the Net Under the Trapeze Artist.
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