Are You a Pessimist?

I’m a recovering pessimist. I admit it. In fact, there are times I’m kind of proud of it. Being a cup-half-empty guy doesn’t mean that life is miserable. Quite the contrary; for me it means that I’m never extremely disappointed when something bad not-so-surprisingly occurs. I’m also frequently pleasantly surprised by that positive thing I was pretty sure wouldn’t happen.  In fact, I would argue that being a realistic pessimist (some would call us healthy skeptics or even pragmatists) allows a certain freedom. Because I’m pessimistic I take the extra time to help prevent that horrible event that just might happen. This allows me the comfort of knowing that, when I celebrate a success, the celebration probably isn’t going to be interrupted by something awful. Healthy skepticism or pessimism encourages us to prepare for the worst. It frequently keeps us from being surprised and, in many ways, it makes us better managers.

The challenge, Pessimismas a pessimist, is to not let your expectations bias other people’s actions. For example, whether or not I believe that the Zags (Gonzaga) will go out in the second round of the NCAA championships, despite being ranked #1 in the nation, shouldn’t impact how the team will play. If I were the coach however, it would be best if I kept my doubts to myself.  As a leader, it is important to project confidence and a “can do” attitude. If you let your pessimism (or skepticism) rule then you are far less likely to succeed.

To lighten things up on our blog I’ve created the following quiz to help you determine if you’re a secret or out-of-the-closet pessimist too.  Count the number of statements you agree with.

  1. When I don’t hear anything on the dispatch radio, instead of believing everything is functioning smoothly, I’m more likely to believe the radio isn’t working.
  2. When no one raises any questions after a complex training, I’m as likely to assume they didn’t “get it” rather than assuming we did such a good job teaching and they did such a good job learning.
  3. When the kids were young and they were “playing quietly” I just knew something was wrong.
  4. When the host or hostess tells you it will be a ten minute wait for your table, you know it’ll be longer (but they don’t want to lose you as a customer.)
  5. “No news” probably doesn’t mean “good news.”
  6. When you see a pint glass that has only 8 ounces of water in it you think either a) half empty or b) someone’s inefficiently assigned the wrong size glass for that water.
  7. When the weather forecaster says it will be clear with light breezes this weekend he is just as likely to be describing what’s going on in his head as the actual weather forecast.
  8. When the service company says they’ll be there between 8 and 12, they really mean they have no clue when they’ll be there and they’ll probably be there at 12:15 just after you’ve left home.
  9. The bus inspector will almost always choose to inspect the one bus that we were too nauseous to finish cleaning last night when returning from a nausea-inducing ride down the mountain.
  10. I’ve always had a fondness for the saying “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
  11. Rush hour seems to change based upon the time I get on the freeway.

If you agreed with 6 or more of the above statements, welcome to the club, fellow pessimist.  Hold your head high (but watch out for low hanging objects.)

Posted on April 1, 2013, in Modern Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I always think that when I haven’t heard from my boss in a while that he’s busy planning my rehabilitation plan!

  2. I don’t know, Pete – a true pessimist would believe he couldn’t “prevent that horrible event that just might happen.” There may be hope for you. I, on the other hand, confess to fearing the worst when a loved one isn’t home when they expect to be, or if I see an ambulance headed in a direction I recognize – things like that. Lately, with the inconsistency of air travel, I am just sure that no plane will leave or arrive when the schedule says it’s supposed to.

  3. I agree. Maybe I can’t “prevent” the event but at least I can prepare for it. I think that gets to the real dilemma. How can you prepare for the worst while expecting the best? It’s difficult to do your best preparing if your optimistic and believe the event will never occur. As we train for emergencies, for example, we frequently see people who don’t give it their all because their optimism (or laziness) convinces them the emergency will never occur.

    Re: air travel – my pessimism tells me that whether or not the flight’s on time, you can pretty much count on it being very full and somewhat uncomfortable. Safe travels my friend.

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