I remember an awkward experience in a coffee shop about a year ago where a young man was describing how he can be optimistic regardless of any situation. A small business owner and a potential employee were conversing openly and loudly for everyone to hear. It was a casual interview I found curious because it was being held in a coffee shop and the pure optimism was annoyingly silly.

The interviewer appeared to be more drawn to the candidate’s great personality and optimism than hearing what he was saying.

As the conversation continued, we learned the company was a small professional services firm and fired the last two employees that held the position. Neither fit their high energy culture, extended hours, or their multitasking work environment. As the interviewer explained the work conditions, the interviewee responded with all the right answers and continuing his optimistic replies, “I can do that,” or “That’s not a problem.”

Then it was time for the interviewee to talk. At this point, the interviewer must have completely stopped listening. He began by expressing his high interest in the position. He carefully described how he was committed to high quality work by focusing on few projects and valued his time off.

To my surprise, the interviewer responded enthusiastically, “No problem.” I almost interrupted their conversation to find out what he was thinking?” I understand that I can be a bit of a professional skeptic, but I could not see any reason for his continued enthusiasm due to the candidate’s obvious misgivings.

Optimism is an important personal attribute. Our world could certainly use more of it. But on the other hand, can over optimism become reckless or put us at risk?

Everyone can appreciate an optimistic attitude. Here are a few thoughts about keeping our optimism in perspective.

  1. Optimism that crosses legal or ethical boundaries is always misguided. Regardless of the reason for optimism, it is important to know and respect these boundaries.
  2. Optimism that causes other people to question your reputation should be reconsidered. Since you don’t control your reputation, you should not provide ammunition for your destruction.
  3. Optimism should positively impact other people as well as yourself. Climbing to higher heights on the backs of others will create enemies you do not need.
  4. Optimism should be contagious. If other people cannot get excited, than it is worth re-examining.
  5. Optimism, on the other hand, scares pessimistic people. It makes them look or feel bad. Do not let your optimism be dampened by those who do not have your best interest in mind.

Thinking back to the coffee shop conversation, I believe their optimism is something we want to encourage, yet we need to consider the obvious facts. This candidate did not appear be a good fit for their organization due to his desire to focus on a few projects and his aversion to a fast paced work environment. On the other hand, exposure to optimistic people can soften the edges of our own skepticism, especially if it is the type of optimism that inspires greatness.

Do you agree with my perspective on optimism? If not, why not?

Be Optimistic without being Reckless