Late last week, on more than one occasion, I was called an "eternal optimist", a compliment which I accepted gratefully but one that I reject wholeheartedly. Now, those who said it meant it as a compliment, but I felt the immediate impetus to correct it.
It's great to receive a compliment, and it's humbling when others recognize the results of your efforts. But to accept "eternal optimist" at face value marginalizes all of the planning, hard work and late nights that go into positioning oneself to capitalize on the next opportunity. It shouldn't diminish the satisfaction that comes with realizing ones own potential or the recognition of making a dream a reality on the path towards facing a new challenge.
Dreaming big is nothing new. To attain the dream, though, one must position themselves.
Lead with confidence that you will accomplish great and meaningful things, but unlike an optimist, don't wait for the result you expect. You must work tirelessly to create results. I have recently lead a team of 100+ men and women from whom I must earn respect daily so that they will produce at their best. My decisions are based on experience but guided by an entrepreneurial spirit instilled in me by several brilliant mentors. I connect people and processes that had not yet connected, and I help change minds. Fight every fight instead of picking and choosing specific battles, but do it constructively. We must make decisions based on what is right, regardless of whether or not it has a detriment of professional stability. Challenge people's assumptions regardless of their positions, and attempt to reconcile regardless of personal feelings.
Those practices can create the confidence needed to look others straight in the eye and tell them that you can accomplish what is needed, and then do it. Just like work ethic trumps ambition, principled action eats optimist for breakfast.
I have had amazing mentors over the course of my career, and during that time I have acquired lasting and meaningful wisdom. In my years of working with Dr. Nido Qubein, I learned that one should always expect the best but prepare for the worst. It is neither optimism nor pessimism, but rather intelligent business prudence. What is much harder to capture is the mechanism by which one makes and delivers on courageous decisions. If you want to learn that, you must experience it side by side with one who has mastered it.