A common theme in history is that progress happens too slowly to notice while setbacks happen too quickly to overlook. There are many overnight tragedies (US/Iran War). There are no overnight miracles.
It’s a shame, because the amount of progress we’ve made during most of our lifetimes is both astounding and overlooked.
When measuring progress, we must remember that it took 15 years from the time penicillin was discovered until it was widely used, and 20 years from the invention of the car until the time Henry Ford figured out mass production. These things take time.
A real optimist wakes up every morning knowing lots of stuff is broken, and more stuff is about to break. Big stuff. Important stuff. Stuff that will make his life miserable. He’s 100% sure of it.
He starts his day knowing a chain of disappointments awaits him at work. Doomed projects. Products that will lose money. He knows that he lives in an economy due for a recession, unemployment surely to rise. He invests his money in a stock market that will crash. Maybe soon. Maybe by a lot. This is his base case.
He reads the news with angst. It’s a fragile world. Every generation has been hit with a defining shock. Wars, recessions, political crises. He knows his generation is no different.
This is a real optimist.
He’s an optimist because he knows all this stuff does not preclude eventual growth and improvement. The bad stuff is a necessary and normal path that things getting better over time rides on.
So, he expects the world around him to break all the time. But he knows – as a matter of faith – that if he can survive the day-to-day fractures, he’ll capture the up-and-to-the-right arc that learning and hard work produces over time.
The difference between an optimist and a pessimist isn’t usually over substance. It’s the time frame they’re looking at. Problems are easier to spot today, but progress is almost always more powerful over time.