In support of optimism

In a week and a half, I’ll be a college graduate. Since this will be my last article for the Concordian, I thought I’d break from my usual format to voice a concern that I’ve been carrying with me for a while now: as a culture, it seems like we’ve given up on optimism. Bear with me, I’m about to get whimsical.

We’ve heard our folks and grandparents grumble that this generation isn’t good for much more than apathy and cynicism, and honestly, I kind of get it. There’s a lot out there to be apprehensive about: a still-struggling economy, poor job placement rates for recent grads and a lot of debate about just how much our diplomas are actually worth. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the negativity, but at times it feels as though we’ve built an entire culture around it.

Roommates come home from work and can barely wait to take off their coats before launching into the same tale of how work sucks and their manager is the worst. Television execs pocket monster profits from shows like American Idol and anything Gordon Ramsay is involved in that doles out failure to prime-time audiences every week. Only after weeks of reveling in contestants’ failures does one person finally realize their dream. Then it starts all over again.

If you’re thinking that this in itself sounds a bit cynical, then you’re right. I’m certainly not above it all. But the point that I’m trying to drive is this: in all of our lives, there will be tiny tragedies and minor inconveniences alongside all of the opportunities and joys; why focus on the former when we should be defining ourselves by the latter?

I spent a long time figuring out what I wanted from myself when I first came to Concordia, as I suspect most students do. My grades were awful, and I didn’t last a semester in the music program I originally came here to be a part of. I came to see myself as a failure. It was easy to see my shortcomings piling up without very many victories to balance the scales, but it wasn’t until I dug myself out from all of that negativity that I was able to focus on creating the opportunities I wanted for myself.

I couldn’t change the habits that got me in so far over my head overnight, but with each small step, I knew I was moving toward becoming the person I wanted to be. Celebrating each little victory brought me closer, step by step, to accomplishing the greatest challenge of my life.

None of this comes easily. It took constant reminders that even the smallest steps were important and worth the effort. Quitting, settling for good enough, never venturing outside of what’s comfortable or safe, those are easy things. But at some point, I think we all realize that we need something more.

It takes courage to be inspired, to believe in something and to be moved by it. It takes strength to demand more of yourself, to pick yourself up after failure and to resolve to do better. I don’t know anyone who can do these things all the time, but the more we challenge ourselves to see the best in ourselves and others, the easier it is.

So, I’m sorry if this all sounds a little evangelical, but I can’t help but feel the world could use a little more optimism. It’s simple but not always easy; celebrate victories, no matter how small and try to look on the bright side.

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