Author, Speaker, Theater Critic

Maintaining Optimism: An Artful Reminder


“Optimism can change the world.”

I believe this.

But I’m not so sure I realized it until I saw the words painted on a wall under broken window panes amid peeling paint.

I took this photo recently while walking back to my car after having breakfast with my son at one of our favorite restaurants on the edge of downtown Winter Haven, where revitalization has been on an upswing in recent years. Not only do I appreciate positive tag art, but the words painted on the dilapidated building struck a beautiful chord inside me.

I can say with certainty that optimism not only changed my world, it changed ME.

For most of my life, I was an avowed pessimist. My mantra was, “Hope for the best, but expect the worst.” I was a great believer in Murphy’s Law.

And I was steadfast in this belief.

Until I turned 50 years old.

Something about hitting this milestone age made me uncomfortable remaining in constant view of the proverbial half-empty glass and bored with my ever present Eeyore-style mourning. How could I possibly make my dreams come true if I didn’t have the optimism to believe they were possible? It was time for me to adopt a new way of looking at life, the world, and myself.

However, actual change was a long time coming. With all due respect to Oprah, there was no “aha! moment” resulting in instant Donna-changing optimism.

Sure, the decision to leave my career as a reporter to write books was a monumental change – one that took longer than the time I spent composing my resignation letter. It took even longer to wrap my head around the idea of practicing optimism every day, of looking for the good or a lesson to be learned in any uncomfortable situation, of motivating myself when the going became rough.

Could a book proposal rejection really be a good thing? What about missing out on a freelance job?

Yes, even rejection can be a catalyst for changes in thinking and lifestyle, for making one stronger. I began to realize something better must be ahead. I learned to focus on positive possibilities – instead of mourning what was perceived to have been lost.

I started to develop optimism.

The process was not a quick one. It has taken several years and required changes in my daily routine – waking early enough to meditate and journal, finding time to take walks and resume my old hobby of running, fitting reading into my schedule, and hanging out with folks who push me out of my comfort zone. I had to rearrange my thinking and replace the knee-jerk, “I can’t” with “I will.” I needed to uncover the paradoxical truth of feeling better about oneself through helping others – leading writing groups, teaching classes, tackling public speaking, writing more books, mentoring teenage writers.

I had to rediscover myself.

It WAS an ordeal. Change can be difficult, uncomfortable, and unwieldy – even while you’re certain it’s also positive and life-changing.

It’s sort of like the continuing downtown revitalization effort my city started several years ago. Yes, it’s irritating maneuvering around road construction and blocked sidewalks. It hurts to see familiar features removed to make room for something new, something better. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the future through the upheaval.

And not everyone likes changes, whether they are in people or surroundings.

These days I’m calmer, more confident, and definitely more positive about the future. While I’m more apt to reach out and help others, I’m also more likely to speak my mind, walk away from snarky people rather than tolerate their comments, and calmly defend myself when necessary. I’m also better at letting things go.

I like the change.

I like the evolution of downtown Winter Haven too. There’s a positive vibe with new businesses moving in, young adults becoming involved in the community, and a renewed focus on the cultural arts. Yet, owners of older companies are keeping traditions while looking into better ways of doing businesses. By combining the tried and true with fresh and new, Winter Haven is becoming a better place to live.

In a way, my city and I are growing up and maturing at the same time. Somehow, the thought makes me feel grounded.

I thank the unknown artist who painted those five powerful words on the old building downtown.

We can all use a positive message once in a while.

We all need to experience the power of optimism.

1 Comment

  1. Jane Waters Thomas

    Optimism is indeed the key component to success and paramount to eventual satisfaction in life. Peeking at a world upside down but always half-full is the way to live. I have found amazing urban tags all over our mid-sized and lovely town and my newest mind twist is to the “Winter Haven 2.0” tag – the thoughts that are randomly posted in art and tags that make you wonder what is next, what is possible, what DID I MISS! Love it – ART can change the world. Love this post! -JWT

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