I met David two summers ago at a session of the LeaderShape Institute. He was actually fairly quiet by comparison to many in the group of 60 students from throughout the U.S.A. Yet, he had a quiet strength and humility that was a magnet for other participants. We knew he was special but now it has become even more obvious.
David was just featured in Psychology Today as an example of the power of optimism in the face of tragedy. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer as he was going off to college at Georgetown, David did what he could as his mother slipped away but in addition, he created AMF to help other students cope with the grief of losing a loved one.
The Psychology Today article supports what I've always believed - that optimism is a choice that is cultivated rather than a personality characteristic (pessimists would call it a personality disorder). With David as an example, instead of suffering the loss of his mother, he chose to take steps to create a better future. His action focused on creating an organization that would support young people who had lost their mothers or fathers or other loved ones - the kind of organization that was not available to help him cope with his grief. Another part of learning to be optimistic is journaling about the good things that have happened in your life - the research indicates that identifying just three a day will help. And ultimately, optimism is looking at your present circumstance and visualizing the world you want and acting on it.
The post that preceded this one was about Randy Pausch and now I'm blogging about David. What's the point - optimism in the face of challenge and tragedy? Yes, in fact it is. How we are impacted by life's experience is completely up to us. We can bemoan that life isn't fair and we didn't have our chance or that someone else snatched our opportunity away. Or, we can accept the gift of opportunity that is right beneath our noses. Passivity is most often accompanied by its companion, hopelessness. On the other hand, if we are optimistic, there are always opportunities to chart our own life course and to influence that of others. Optimism then becomes an interesting antidote for passivity. Choosing passivity and resignation are comfortable because they allow us to abdicate responsibility for our own beliefs and action. Randy and David have, in their individual striving, provided an alternative. Which will we choose?