The Spark of Optimism

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Pessimism is one of life’s great energy suckers.  It is flat out draining, and at times, SELF DESTRUCTING.

Optimism is Pessimism’s arch rival.  It’s the force multiplier for action and positive energy.  It came to life last week on a trip….

On a business trip last week, I had the privilege of traveling with some fascinating, lifelong Memphians and we talked about a variety of topics.  But the most fascinating (to me at least) was when a past blog post was brought to life and we all went through one of life’s great questions:  Where are you from?  It’s a question that never fails to reveal a gold mine of learning….

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One thing has struck me over the past year:  Memphis seems to be in a consistent fight with a self-imposed image problem.  I hear countless people focus on problems, almost all negative, with no end in sight.   It’s a complex indeed.

I find it odd when people speak negatively about the very place they choose to call home.  The reasons are far and near, from crime, politics, school systems, you name it.  I’ve lived in multiple cities in a handful of states:  NJ, MA, CT, IL, OH, and Memphis for past 7+ years.  And I have never seen a city that fight with negativity more than Memphis.  And I still can’t figure it out.  Yes Memphis has some problems it deals with.

EVERY city has their challenges, no exceptions.  In short, Pessimism often tips the scales on the “sentiment” of Memphis.

But the negativity was nowhere to be found on this trip, far from it.  What did we talk about?

  • Great restaurants, one after the other.  From dive bars with great sliders to white table cloth to Vietnamese…
  • Great entertainment, family entertainment and surprise visits from stars in great local venues
  • Infrastructure that has great building blocks for a foundation of growth
  • Cost of living advantages, character and grit.  Great hotels, spots for a quick weekend getaway with family or just a couples retreat.
  • And in a meeting this week, something simple that too many take for granted: “Great tap water, no need for bottles!”

In short, what I took away is Optimism, not Pessimism.  2 views of the world that were could not be more opposite.

Downtown Memphis

After the trip I started writing things down.  Places to explore and visit that I have not yet done.  A feeling of possibilities.  Then I texted my wife with a couple, told her to check them out so we find them.  And her excitement increased too.

Don’t think psychology matters for economies and wealth?  May I present you the stock market!  Many a fortune has been made or lost on less than rational thinking, but I digress….

What if I was not engaged with Optimism for multiple hours?  What if  I were speaking with Pessimists who found every reason to feel bad about the place they call home?

I’m a pretty thick skinned person who always believes tomorrow will be better than today.  But I would be flat out lying to say I would have texted my wife with an idea or two had I’d been with Debbie Downers.  In fact, 4 hours of negativity probably would not have ended there.

Whether we like it or not, intense negativity lingers in the brain, few people are able to completely hit the Ctrl-Alt-Delete reset button on negative experiences.  The only way not to endure this?  Try your best to avoid negativity.  Like the plague.

Optimism by its very nature is contagious.  Unfortunately, so is Pessimism.

Optimism is a spark that creates forward momentum, energy and action.  Positive change.

Sometimes, the change is something simple, like a text message to your wife.


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  1. While I agree that it’s important to focus on your city’s strengths, I think one of Memphis’ biggest issues as it relates to image is that those who scream the loudest about how fantastic a city it is, give little to no acknowledgement as to its faults. Which leads to those who live here and dislike it, and everyone else outside of the area who have a negative view of Memphis, to think, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!”

    So while extreme negativity is bad, extreme positivity (including blinders to the very real problems here) is also bad.

    Memphis regularly makes the list of top cities for crime and poverty, and those problems really aren’t anything that realistically can or should be ignored.

    As a related side note, we take advantage of all the area has to offer much more than the average person here. For the entire 10 years we’ve lived here, we’ve regularly come into contact with Memphis natives who say things like, “People LIVE downtown?!?! I had no idea there were homes on Mud Island! I haven’t been down there for over 30 years!”

    • Great points Liz. Ignoring realities is never a recipe for urban (or personal for that matter!) development. Blind Optimism is simply wishful thinking, just like being consumed with negativity is a circle of doom. Balance is certainly key, then positive energy to move things forward is critical. I hate to see young talent flee Memphis or not consider it in their career choices.

      Having grown up in NJ, I remember vividly how NYC in mid ’80’s-mid ’90’s, where people were timid to go downtown, crime was high and overall economic development was a shadow of what it is today. Giuliani gets a lot of credit for a great urban turnaround, profiled it well in his book “Leadership.” IF NYC can experience a turnaround, Memphis certainly can.

      • Great example with NYC and Giuliani!

        Both Craig and I tout the positives of the area whenever to speak to others about it because it is better to focus on the good vs the bad, and I think it would help the entire area if more people appreciated and took advantage of all the good stuff here much more often than they do. But I think it would be so much better if those who choose to wear blinders while screaming from the bluffs that this city is fantastic and wonderful and perfect, instead put some of that energy in trying to improve the very-real problems here. Crime, poverty, and – like what you mentioned – young people not wanting to stay here. That’s also a very real issue, and one that does not bode well for the future of the city.

  2. Harry Hustle says:

    I totally hear you on this post. Growing up in Cleveland, I used to slam the city on reflection. Now older, I appreciate many of the qualities that I overlooked. And, if the opportunity presented itself, I’d jump on the opportunity to leave Atlanta and return to Cleveland.

    Love the optimism vs pessimism comparison too. Someone who is a lot smarter than I told me a quote I’ll never forget: “A pessimist looks at opportunity and see’s difficulty. An optimist looks at difficulty and see’s opportunity.” The choice of o vs p is ours!

    • Especially in the game of sales Harry, Optimism is critical. Not many professions hear “NO” so many times a week, if that’s taken personally or with a strong dose of negativity, the end is certainly near! Thanks for sharing your thoughts as always.

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