Jun 242014

Regret is often the product of not taking a chance, not embracing an opportunity, when we had it. While people offer a lot of excuses for why they missed out as they express regrets, the underlying truth is most often a failure of courage. If you are not making mistakes, it is a clear indicator that you are not trying enough new things. But it takes courage to try anything new, to embark on any new exciting journey, to try a road less traveled by the rest of the human herd.

The hardest step is always the first — getting started comes before getting motivated — and getting started takes courage.

Nothing gets in people’s way more often than fears, and fears are usually quite silly once one looks back on them and sees them for what they really are. It is often more than just the fear of failure that prevents people from trying the new. Others have fear of success, for with success comes far greater responsibility. Others yet fear change or the unknown, simply because they assume the the unknown is worse than where they are today. Small minded people fear people that are not like them, or people that think differently than them. In every case, those who decide to risk in the face of small fears or large fears, expand their lives and their horizons. This is courage and like every key to success, courage can be learned, courage can be practiced, courage can be expanded through experiences.


This is not to say that all fear is bad. Fear is what drives prudent decision-making, in other words balancing the chance of success versus the chance of failure. But those without courage allow themselves to become paralyzed. Fear prevents so many things that are good. A person with a fear of rejection doesn’t stick their hand out and introduce themselves to new people. Similar fears convince people to not try out for the team, to not run for class president, to not put in for that promotion, to not decide to have kids, to not be all they can be. In each of these cases, the upside potential usually outweighs the downside risk but those who have not developed the courage to take risks, shrink away from opportunities.

All the great leaders of the last century have observed the extraordinary importance of courage. Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest leader during world war two, proclaimed “Courage is the first of the human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all the others.” He is right. I have often written about the crucial importance of integrity. Is it possible to be a person of integrity if you do not have the courage to stand up for what you believe is right? Is it possible to have extraordinary character if you don’t have the courage to stand up to peer pressure? Your faith will be tested, as will your sense of duty. Even your purpose will be questioned and you will have to have to courage to swim against the ever-changing winds of “popular” thinking.

Courage takes practice. One doesn’t typically have the courage to speak in front of an audience of thousands if they have never spoken in front of an audience of five, then ten, then thirty. One doesn’t step onto a basketball court and hit two game winning free-throws unless they have played thousands of games first. The trick is to take every small opportunity you can, at least every one that makes prudent sense along the road of life, so that when the time comes, you have the experience and the courage to give it your best shot.


Fear is often driven by perceived risk, not necessarily actual risk. Irrational fear is driven by an irrational perception of risk and it leads to paralysis or irrational failure. Healthy fear — lets call it apprehension — is healthy, because it is driven by an accurate assessment of risk. It does not immobilize us, but helps us make good decisions when it is critical that we must. A great example is a person trapped atop a burning building. While most of us have a fear of heights, the prudent and courageous person can evaluate the situation, and decide that sliding down a wire over the yawning abyss is less risky than staying put on top of the inferno.

Courage therefore is not lack of fear but rather mastery of fear and risk. Mastery of fear and risk starts with doing your research, your homework, evaluating your situation. Preparation helps an extraordinary amount, yet many people are lazy and do not prepare. Using my example of speaking in front of a large crowd, it is far easier to master your fear and succeed if you have developed great material, written down a crisp opening, made some backup notes to keep in your pockets, and practiced your speech once or twice. Courage is bolstered through preparation.

Preparation may not put you completely over the top, but it makes that last bit of courage far easier to muster. Courage allows a person to become decisive, to grab opportunities that others do not, to take chances when the odds are good.

Take every prudent risk, face the world with courage, and your world will be a far bigger place, with far more expansive horizons, with plentiful opportunities. Don’t listen to your peers for you must realize that smart, courageous people are rare – most everyone you will know will have far more limited horizons than you.

The world can be your oyster if you embrace it. Envision yourself courageous. Take smart risks. Embrace opportunities with little hesitation. Most importantly, realize that courage requires practice.

Here is a quote I love:

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

Embrace opportunities. Life is better when you have the courage to live life large, with few regrets.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Watch Jim Carrey in Yes Man once a year.


Jun 212014

I think all of us, at one time, had our trust betrayed. When that happens — when someone breaks their sincere word to us — as just happened with my daughter’s coach of many years, it is easy to learn the wrong lesson. At such a seminal moment, most people walk away never able to place their full and complete trust in others again. Unfortunately, that all-too-understandable conclusion hurts the betrayed person far more than the betrayer in his or her moment of weak character. When you lose your willingness to trust, you damage your life’s true potential and promise.

This is a genuinely difficult time to be Optimism Dad.

The coach, who had often promised his loyalty and desire to take my daughter far in her soccer future, had never once pulled her to the side in the last two+ years to ask her to improve any aspects of her play. Not once did he warn us or her that she was “not safe” for next year. Even as he called me to cut her from the team, he admitted that she played nearly flawless games on the field and had done so, consistently, for years. In the end, she broke her leg, he found a replacement, and he simply decided to go with the new girl based on a newfound preference for a larger, sturdier, and currently uninjured kid. After three years of her faithful dedication, I was most surprised that he never talked to her directly in the end, making no attempt to help mitigate the psychological damage.


My daughter took it very, very hard. At times like this, it is hard to stay true to the optimism that is, in part, a product of the choice to trust. Yet trust is a crucial choice, if you are to get the most out of every endeavor and relationship. When you don’t trust the next teacher, coach, friend, manager, partner, or colleague fully, your odds of great success and achievement are reduced. Not every teacher, not every coach, not every manager will fail a crossroads character test.

She felt safe, secure, valued, and genuinely loved by her friends and the coaches that she completely trusted, only to be ejected by the “family” that intentionally and often sold the “this is a family” concept at every turn. She lost many of her best friends in the blink of an eye. Real families don’t turn their backs on the injured while he or she recovers. This must be what it feels when a spouse is shocked by unexpectedly served divorce papers, without ever having any arguments or counseling sessions. She has played top level soccer for nearly 6 years. At 12, she has experienced this shock twice already: she broke her arm when she was 8 and lost half her job then. She then broke her leg at 12, and lost her job entirely. The second one hurt much more, because she really trusted these coaches and she really loved the friends she had here. I played a sad part as well, telling her many times that I believed this coach was different and trustworthy. I was wrong. Life is not always fair and just.


Why did this really happen? In the end, I would place the blame on misguided raw ambition of the coaches and the few people they look to for counsel. This team is one of the best the coaches have ever had, consistently ranked in the top 5 in one of most competitive metros in America. They, and some of the parents, believe that scoring just a few more goals, or stopping just a couple more shots, or having two more games without an injured keeper — per year — is worth any price. But, blame doesn’t help and forgiveness makes you better, as I have pointed out before.

This is a difficult time for our family and a difficult lesson to teach my kid. I hope to convince her that, contrary to this painful event, life is better when you choose to trust. Through faith in others, greater highs are achieved — you are able to do your very best only through faith and optimism — but that the occasional lows may be much lower as well. Just because the path of trust is right and true, doesn’t make it easy choice to make, given the choices others sometimes make.

When you are faced with similar situations, I hope that you help your kids see the light. Choosing to trust matters, even after those you trusted decide to rip your heart out. Trust is the right decision until you have proof of a person’s poor character — don’t make the same mistake twice in those cases, of course.


I wish these coaches followed Lou Holtz’s simple formula for success in life — (1) Do Right, (2) Do the best you can, and (3) Treat others the way you would like to be treated — if they did, this event would never had happened. I sincerely hope they learn something from this event and at least pre-warn the next kids, months before they nuke them. For now, I hope that we can salvage a good, important, lasting lesson from this painful chapter.

A quote all of us have heard is:

Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

— Alfred Lord Tennyson

The same is true for trust. Tis better to trust and lose, than to never have trusted at all. 

The strong can choose to trust, and to forgive, even after the lowest low.

Optimism Dad

Jun 112014

dancing-in-the-rainSometimes I see something so concise, so brilliant, so crisp, so true, that I truly wish that I had written it.

Life will never go quite as planned. You can be meticulous in your ideas, your goals, and your execution, and Murphy’s Law will remain a potent force. Being flexible and enjoying what you get is important. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to plan a number of large, outdoor events, so perhaps the ever changing weather really taught me some valuable lessons.

Consider this little magnet, found in a small boutique at the Seattle airport. It really hit home for me:


Do you agree?

I.M. Optimism Man

Jun 022014

To be a true optimist who makes an impact, you must believe certain things must improve and that proactive action must be taken. Not every corner of any society, ours included, is rosy. Simply having faith that things will eventually get better is not good enough. For things to get better, we have to think about the uncomfortable topics, discuss them, debate them, and even argue about them — we have to demand progress so that we can move toward resolving them.

Some issues are disturbing, if one gets deeper than the simplistic and often out-of-context sound-bytes from Washington DC’s politicians, as quoted by the USA Today and Headline News.


One of these issues is why America has had an 8-fold population explosion of prisoners, going from 300,000 to well over 2,300,000 in just the last 40 years? This is a difficult issue, but it never seems to hit the top ten discussions of any presidential election.


I believe another difficult issue that cause many Americans to look the other way includes inequalities and injustice in our legal system. This includes the staggeringly disproportional incarceration rate of black young men and the question of whether God gives us the right to levy the death penalty as a valid tool of justice.

There are other, smaller, but equally perplexing “justice” issues as well. Let us not forget the extraordinary financial damage our justice system dispenses with frivolous class-action suits and I continue to be perplexed at the political and legal support for patent-troll companies, full of lawyers who do little but stifle innovation while enriching themselves.

For justice to get better, we have to make progress on all these fronts, and most of these topics are not comfortable ones.

Below is an extraordinary talk by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who is a leading spokesman about many aspects of injustice, especially as it comes to race. I highly recommend listening to Bryan, and contemplating the topics. It helps that he is such an accomplished orator. There will be no progress unless all of us first understand the issues — beyond just the sound-bytes — and then take action, sooner than later.


We can solve anything if we are willing to take it on. I find it hard to fathom why the USA, the land of opportunity, should lead the incarceration of the developed world.

I.M. Optimism Man 

PS. Here is one more chart to think about: