Inspiration for Nearsighted Optimists

I was born optimistic. But it wasn't blind optimism: Rather it was optimism based on seeing better ways to proceed. From the earliest age, I could see easy ways to improve on what the adults around me were ignoring. Take choosing a driving route, for instance.

Most people simply went the same way they had gone before whenever the mood struck them. Plan your route with a map and pick a time when others are not driving, and the same trip can go faster and easier. Once you know the real conditions, be flexible. Don't sit stalled on the freeway when the access road is wide open. More importantly, I noticed that when you do things effortlessly, your quality of life improves as well. But there was a challenge to my optimism; it was limited to improvements that I could effortlessly see.

There was an irony about my ability to see better ways to accomplish things: I actually couldn't see much unless something was a few inches from my face. I was legally blind but no one knew it. Here's a funny example: Whenever our family visited my great grandparents, I wouldn't put their binoculars down. I wanted to use those wonderfully adjustable lenses nonstop because I could see at a distance so much better with them. I was, however, puzzled, by the way that others always had to readjust the binoculars so much after I used them. What could that be about? Here was an early lesson that something else is going on worth investigating if others take a different approach.

In fourth grade a teacher noticed me squinting close to the blackboard between assignments and taking notes like mad. She sent me to the nurse's office where I failed to be able to identify the big E at the top of the eye chart. A quick trip to the optometrist soon left me sporting glasses that seemed a mile thick and with distance vision that still wasn't very good.

I preferred binoculars. My mother promised me, based on her sunny optimism, that I wouldn't have to wear those awful glasses all of my life. She was sure that something better would come along.

She taught me an important lesson about the value of optimism a year later when she determinedly arranged for me to become one of the first children to wear contact lenses. Each time I put on my contact lenses for the next 50 years, I reexperienced the miracle and joy of being able to see clearly at a distance all the time. That daily recognition that the right solutions could transform lives in miraculous ways led me to seek out how to help others who couldn't yet see the opportunities in front of them. One day after about a year with contact lenses, my mom told me that someday I wouldn't have to wear the lenses any more. I couldn't figure out why she was telling me that.

I loved my contact lenses! What could be better? Of course, 50 years later after cataract surgery, I have perfect vision without any glasses. Now, wasn't that worth the wait? My mother's optimism paid off! Copyright 2008 Donald W. Mitchell, All Rights Reserved.

Donald Mitchell is CEO of Mitchell and Company, a strategy and financial consulting firm in Weston, MA. He is coauthor of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. You can find free tips for accomplishing 20 times more by registering at:


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