Optimism Is A Key To Career Success

The cover story of the June 6, 2011 issue of TIME Magazine was called “The Science of Optimism.”  I’m an eternal optimist.  I think that optimism is a key ingredient of self confidence.  If you read this career advice blog with any regularity, you know that self confidence is one of the seven keys to life and career success I have identified in my research of career success.

Tali Sharot, the author of the optimism story in TIME has some interesting things to say…

“The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias.  It abides in every race, religion and socioeconomic bracket…You might expect optimism to erode under the tide of news about the violent conflicts, high unemployment, tornadoes and floods and all the threats that shape human life…But private optimism, about our personal future, remains incredibly resilient…To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities – better ones – and we need to believe that we can achieve them.  Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals.  Optimists in general work longer hours and tend to earn more.”

Read that last sentence again.  “Optimists in general work longer hours and tend to earn more.”  That’s the important career advice here.

Tali Sharot is a neuroscientist.  He backs up his claims with a lot of brain research.  The article makes for fascinating reading.  But you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to figure out that choosing optimism is simple common sense when it comes to life and career success.

Tweet 42 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Choose optimism.  It builds your confidence.  Believe that today will be better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better yet.”  Tali Sharot says…

“Even if that better future is often an illusion, optimism has clear benefits in the present.  Hope keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress and improves physical health.  Researchers studying heart disease patients found that optimists were more likely to than nonoptimistic patients to take vitamins, eat low fat diets and exercise, thereby reducing their overall coronary risk.”

This reminds me of point four in The Optimist Creed.  “Promise yourself to look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.”  In other words, be optimistic about your health — but eat right and exercise to make sure you stay healthy.  Or, be optimistic about your career success —  but work hard and smart to create the career success you want and deserve.  It all starts with optimism.  You must first believe you can have a healthy life and career success.  Then you have to do the work necessary to “make your optimism come true.”  Or as Tweet 44 in Success Tweets says, “Be an optimist.  Believe that things will turn out well.  When they don’t, don’t sulk.  Learn what you can, use it next time.”

There are two important pieces of career advice about optimism and life and career success in Success Tweet 44.  First, optimists believe things will turn out well.  Second, optimists see failure and defeat as temporary.  They treat them as learning opportunities.

Have you seen the movie, Remember the Titans?  It’s a sports movie about an improbable situation based on a true story.  Denzel Washington stars as the coach of the T. C. Williams High School Titans.  Williams was a newly integrated high school in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971.  Denzel’s character, Coach Herman Boone, was a black man chosen to be the head coach over a very popular coach who had been the head coach at the high school prior to it being integrated.

The team had a lot of good athletes.  They were undefeated as they entered the State Championship game.  Things didn’t go well in the first half.  In the locker room at half time, Denzel makes a speech in which he congratulates the team on coming so far in such a short period of time.  He tells them that win or lose he is proud of them.  It seems as if he has given up.  It sounds like a speech losing coaches give to teams after a game – not at half time.

One of the players speaks up.  He challenges the coach.  He says something like, “We were perfect when this game started.  We’re still perfect until it’s over.  I, for one, want to finish this game like we started it – perfect.”  This impassioned speech rallies the team, and they win the game.  It’s a feel-good movie about a group of young men who learned how to pull together regardless of their differences.

And it makes the first point about optimists.  Even when the coach seemed ready to give up, one player wouldn’t.  He was an optimist.  He believed they would win.  His optimism was contagious.  The team rallied and won.  I don’t know if things went down exactly that way in that locker room, but that scene reinforces the power of believing things will turn out well.

If you don’t believe you can win, if you don’t believe you can create your life and career success, you won’t.  If you do believe, if you’re an optimist, you’re on the right path to winning and life and career success.

But believing is not enough.  It will set you up for career success, but you will still find times when you fail.  That’s where the second piece of career advice in Tweet 44 comes in.  Don’t sulk when you fail or lose.  Treat every failure and loss as a learning experience and opportunity.  Use failures and losses as stepping stones to creating the life and career success you want and deserve.

I was frustrated early in my career.  I saw other people getting promotions for which I thought I was better qualified.  I worked hard in my first few jobs out of college.  I did a good job – and kept getting passed over for promotion.  The reasons were vague – “you’ve only been here a little while,” “the hiring manager thought the other person was a better fit,”  “you need to polish up some of those rough edges.”

I decided that I had an opportunity to learn from my frustration.  I got one of those marble-covered notebooks and made a list of all the people I admired.  Then I made a list of all the people in the companies where I had worked who got the promotions I didn’t.  I made another list of the people I knew whom I considered to be positive role models.  I didn’t stop there.  I started reading biographies of successful people.  I created a page for each person.  I wrote down the characteristics that I observed in these people.  When I was finished, I had a notebook full of the characteristics I observed in successful people.

It was a long list.  So I started looking for patterns and groups of behaviors.  When it was all said and done, I found seven distinct characteristics that the successful people I had studied had in common.

They all:

  • Had a clearly defined purpose and direction for their lives.
  • Were committed to succeeding.  They faced obstacles and overcame them.
  • Were self-confident.  They knew they were going to succeed and continue to succeed as they went through life.
  • Were outstanding performers.
  • Were good at creating a positive image of themselves.
  • Were great communicators.
  • Were good at building relationships.

These are the ideas I cover in my writings on life and career success.

I kept refining these ideas — making them easier for others to understand and apply.  You never learn something as well as when you teach it.  By this time, I was working for a very large (Fortune 50) company in New York.  I applied the lessons I’d learned from observing successful people – and I began getting promotions and good assignments.  I became the confidant of several senior executives and I began coaching up-and-comers in the company – teaching them the basic principles I had discovered by writing my observations in that marble covered notebook.  I became the most sought-after internal career success coach in that company.

In 1988, I was faced with a decision: accept a big promotion to Vice President, or strike out on my own.  I decided that I have an entrepreneurial bent and chose the latter.  I opened up a small career success coach, consulting and speaking business.  The idea was to reach even more people with what I knew about creating a life and career success.

I tell this story not to pat myself on the back, but to illustrate the second point in Tweet 44 in Success Tweets: When things don’t turn out as you hope, don’t sulk.  Learn what you can, use it next time.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Successful people are self-confident and optimistic.  Optimism means believing that things will turn out well.  More important, when things don’t turn out well,  optimists use the experience to learn and grow and do better next time.  Follow the career advice in Tweet 44 in Success Tweets.  “Be an optimnist.  Believe that things will turn out well.  When they don’t, don’t sulk.  Learn what you can, use it next time.”  I’m big on optimism.  My optimism has helped me create the life and career success I wanted.  Your optimism can do the same for you.  As Tali Sharot points out optimism is hard wired in our brains.  Take advantage of this.  Do the work to make your optimism come true.  Finally, if you want a copy of The Optimist Creed to hang in your workspace, go to https://budbilanich.com/optmist for a free download.

Thats’s my career advice on the importance of optimism.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of my latest career success book Success Tweets Explained.  It’s a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to http://budurl.com/STExp to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

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  1. Hi Bud,

    I enjoyed reading this post and like to see myself as an optimist too. The future is where we spend almost all of our time so why not try and influence it positively!

    I was also interested to read this insight you shared into your own career story, “In 1988, I was faced with a decision: accept a big promotion to Vice President, or strike out on my own.”

    I could hardly believe how accurately this describes something I did about four years ago. It made a real difference to learn that someone else chose the same way before me and that you (i.e. the someone else in question) still see your decision so positively looking back on it now.

    Just wanted to thank you for sharing this Bud.

    All the best


  2. Thaks for your comment Paul
    It’s nice to meet a kindred spirit.
    I’m glad things are going well for you in your life and career.
    I also love your thought — “The future is where we spen almost all of our tie, so why not try and influence it positively!”
    That’s an optimistic way of looking at things.

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