Let me ask you a question: Do you want to help someone who is complaining about what has happened to her/him, or someone who is optimistic about her/his future? I think that optimism is a decision: Once you've made your decision to look up, optimism creates an irresistible magnetism inside of you. By deciding to be optimistic, you can build a successful business, a new life, you can have loving relationships—how you think and act today will create your outcome for tomorrow. Our thoughts create our reality.
My friend, Sarah Miller Caldicott, great-grandneice of Thomas Edison, wrote a book called Innovate Like Edison. Edison cultivated a "charismatic optimism." As he "became a national figure, his positive outlook had an even broader effect. He helped to encourage the nation through tough times. People from all walks of life were uplifted when he said, 'Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always, America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be as brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!'"
I learned from my grandparents to remain optimistic even when a situation appears catastrophic. I was at the Pulkovo International Airport in Leningrad. I stood in line to get on a shuttle which would take me to the airplane to America. I could not believe all that had happened to me in the last few days—from collecting all that cash for Vladimir, to rushing to obtain a visa, to convincing my mom to send more money to Valdimir—to being robbed on my way to the American Consulate in Leningrad! A gift from my grandmother, gold earrings and a necklace, had been stolen from me. Was this all just bad luck? Was it an omen?
Looking up as I stood in line, I saw thousands of stars like white pearls all over the sky. It was maybe the darkest night of my life. But Charles A. Beard, one of the most influential American historians of the 20th century once wrote, "When it's dark enough, you can see stars." And my grandfather would often say to me that a starry night meant a great day tomorrow. My fond memories of my grandfather began to calm me down.
As a child, I loved sitting on the porch with him to stargaze. I had always admired his optimism, and I missed being with him most of all. He didn't make a particular effort to be optimistic—he was graced with optimism. He looked on the bright side of everything.
My grandparents, like many other Korean families, were exiled to Chechnya in 1953. Halfway there, my grandfather was struck by a train. My father remembered the enormity of the train, how the wheels were taller than he was at age seven. The bolts were as big as his fist. The wheel cut off my grandfather's left arm. He was unconscious for weeks, and the family prepared for his funeral. But he survived! "I am not disabled," my grandfather told the doctor in the hospital when he regained consciousness. "This is just a little inconvenience."
He refused a disability pension, and when he finally arrived in Chechnya, he built a collective farm, and then was offered a position as a senior agriculturist and awarded with the Order of the Badge of Honor for his work. My Grandmother, White Pearl, remembered that he never complained, continuing to work long hours. As one of the best senior agriculturists, he was selected to go to Moscow every year to visit an exhibit of national economic achievements. His team became one of the top producing teams in his region.
Like my grandfather, optimists are can-do-it people. They focus on solutions, not problems. Optimists think about what could be done differently next time, what lesson did I learn here—rather than what and why it happened to me, and who is to blame. When we begin to identify every lesson we learn in every difficulty we face, we begin to move ahead faster than ever before.
We all have to make decisions. Optimism can be mastered. Optimism is a choice. Start today with an experiment: Expect something good to happen to you. Right now. Right here. Change does not happen overnight; it happens in small increments, when we decide to make a change. One day, one hour, one minute, one moment at a time. It is in your hands.