They’re Wrong About Pessimists

multiple paths
image by hockadilly

“You’re always so negative.”

“Look on the bright side.”

“Nothing pleases you.”

So-called pessimists are used to hearing this kind of talk from family and friends. I should know–most of those closest to me consider me more or less a pessimist, and never fail to remind me of it.

I’ve always kind of felt they were a little off in their evaluation, though. Like, a naturally negative person? Me? It doesn’t seem right. My observations don’t seem negative to me; they just seem real. They just reflect reality. And besides, if I really pressed them on it, I know the same people calling me a pessimist would agree I present the sunshine-and-rainbows side of things just as often. I’m an idealist if there ever was one.

So what the hell? Clearly, others are noting something that’s different in me from themselves (god, what else is new?), but if it isn’t pessimism, what is it?

I have an idea.

They Call You a Pessimist…

My loved ones constantly point out that I “find something wrong with everything.” Well, you know what? That’s because there is something wrong with everything. You follow? As in, nothing’s perfect, right? I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer; I’m just trying to consider all possibilities. All angles. All outcomes. Good and bad.

Now if I were a pessimist, wouldn’t I be all doom-and-gloom and find every situation completely hopeless and not see any good in anything? Wouldn’t I be feeling like the world is unfair and nothing ever works out and no choice is a good choice and so on?

See? I’m not negative; I’m just real. I’m just careful and deliberate and conscientious and painstaking.

I’m just a strategic thinker.

…But Maybe You’re Just a Strategic Thinker

This distinction became clear to me when I completed the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment. “Strategic” is my #2 strength.

According to the researchers at Gallup, publisher of the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book, the Strategic theme showing up in my top strengths means I’m able to see repercussions of an action or plan more easily than others. When faced with a decision, my brain goes down a million possible paths, visualizes where each one likely leads, and either stores the option for later comparison or eliminates it.

So when I explain, Mom, that I agree academia would be a great fit for me BUT there are so few jobs in the subjects I care about AND I’d need to be willing to move my future family around to seriously pursue an academic career AND I suspect I love learning way more than I’d love teaching, I’m not trying to be difficult. I’m just doing what I do very well: assessing all potential roadblocks.

I like a rosy picture as much as the next person, but I’m unable to ignore the what ifs. That’s not pessimism; that’s strategic thinking.

The World is Lucky to Have You

Apparently, the ability to anticipate possible obstacles “…is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large,” says Gallup. Well, how ’bout that? And we can agree this is a highly-valuable skill to possess, right? A brain that sees multiple futures and informs and warns others accordingly?! Hell yeah. That’s, you might say, a helpful person. That’s, perhaps, a caring person.

That’s not, necessarily, a Negative Nancy.

So, let me be the first to say: Thank you, “pessimists.”

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Discuss

Have you been called a pessimist? Have you maybe wrongly called someone one?

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Your thoughts?
  1. Saul says:

    I completely relate to this! I had a pretty rough time adjusting when I moved to LA five years ago, and my friend was convinced I was “depressed”. I tried to explain that no, I’m just super-idealistic, and I knew that my life in LA could be a lot better than it was, so of course I was a little bummed out about it. Once I started looking at my negative side not as a reflection of how bad things were, but as a quest for something better, things made a lot more sense!

  2. Layla says:

    Whoa, great article! 🙂

    ‘Strategic thinking’, I like it! I agree there may be power to pessimism too, though constantly being exposed to such comments (I suspect my mum is another strategic thinker!) may not be so easy lol!

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