Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. my sixteen-year-old leaves for Phoenix and his first big tournament since his doctor released him to play soccer again this past December. He was out of the game so long (three surgeries over the course of a year), that I wondered “will he be able to make it back?” I hoped for the best, feared the worse, and felt a great deal of disappointment at not seeing him run like the wind down the field this past year. He never lost hope that he would return to the game that he loved so much and he still talked about playing soccer in college. Beyond the physical healing process, I worried about how to guide him emotionally. Should I be optimistic: “with hard work you can achieve anything you set your mind to,” or do I prepare him for the possibility that he may not be able to play at the level he was before his accident? As it turns out, research would advise me that a healthy dose of both isn’t a bad thing.
Optimism, or maintaining a positive attitude even in the face of adversity, is not to be confused with a “Polly-Anna” or “Rose-Colored Glasses” approach to living. In the book, The EQ Edge by Steven J. Stein Ph.D. and Howard E. Book, M.D., Optimism is an emotional intelligence competency described as “the ability to stop thinking or saying destructive things about yourself and the world around you, especially when you are suffering personal set-backs. True Optimism is a comprehensive and hopeful but realistic approach to daily living.”
As leaders, in both our families or in the workplace, we must encourage others to dream the biggest dream imaginable and yet remain realistic about what it will take to achieve it. I know that it has been challenging for my son to get his body back following two knee surgeries. He recovered, and then recovered again. He pushed himself too hard at one stage and had to have hernia surgery. Once he accomplished getting his body back in shape (after countless hours of running), he found himself on the field working to regain the confidence of knowing where to be at any given moment.
It’s not been easy and there is still much work to be done, but I would say we both remain realistically optimistic that he can regain what he lost in terms of time and experience. There is another outcome that this difficulty may have facilitated for him; the realization that one’s GPA may be as important as success as a soccer player. He is currently a straight A student, who is taking all honors and AP classes as a Sophomore. I am proud beyond words of what he is creating for himself!
I wish I could be there to see him this weekend, as he sprints down the field and lives the dream that true optimism made possible. As I sigh deeply I’m reminded of a saying that I hold close and remember often, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” I believe that was spoken like a true optimist.