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What It Really Means to Be an Optimist

Let's lose the old glass metaphor. It's time to rethink the true meaning of optimism.

You've heard the old saw that "a pessimist sees the glass as half empty while the optimist sees the glass as half full."  That's a stupid comparison.

Defined that way, optimism means giving your life experience a positive emotional spin while pessimism entails giving it a correspondingly negative spin.

If the only difference between optimism and pessimism is your emotional perception, it doesn't really matter which viewpoint you have. "It's half full, and I'm happy about that" isn't much better than "It's half empty, and I'm bummed about that." They're both a passive acceptance of the situation.

As I see it, the true difference between being an optimist and a pessimist isn't emotional spin; it's the belief that you can, should, and will take action to change things.

A true optimist sees things as they are, visualizes how they might become better, and then takes action to make them so.

A true pessimist sees things negatively from the start, expects things to get worse, and can barely summon the energy to prevent disaster.

In other words, a pessimist stares at a half-empty glass and mutters, "Why me?" while an optimist sees the same glass and says, "I'm gonna add some ice and drink that sucker."

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Last updated: May 21, 2014


Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

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