Cruel Optimism

You can’t change the past and you can only influence the future.
— A friend's wise words

A colleague/friend lent me a book with an interesting title – Penis Envy and Other Bad Feelings: The Emotional Costs of Everyday Life (reminds me I need to give it back!). It was a thought provoking read, if you like to have your assumptions about the world exposed. One term that struck a chord with me was “cruel optimism” (the book below covers it in more detail).

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Cruel optimism is our constant state of belief that the future will be better that stops us living in the moment. If we work hard enough, we will get the rewards we deserve and life will be better in the future (that’s the optimistic part). Sadly, for most of us, it won’t work out that way (that’s the cruel part) and we miss out on today by focusing on tomorrow.

Without getting too philosophical, for the vast majority of people, life and their standard of living is going to remain roughly the same because that’s the way society is structured. No matter how hard everyone works, not everybody ends being a millionaire or CEO. To use a simplistic analogy, it doesn’t matter how hard the 80,000 odd young New Zealand rugby players train, they can’t all be All Blacks. In fact, not even 1% will make it because there aren’t enough places and never will be.

Equally there isn’t enough money to go around, at least the way we currently allow society to operate. So, no matter how hard we all work, we can’t all “make it” though the premise that we can permeates society. And that’s cruel optimism – the belief we can make it when we can’t. The result is anxiety, despair, unhappiness, crime, mental health issues etc etc.

Cruel optimism has become an entrenched feature of our society and we unknowingly pass it on to our children. Work hard at school and you’ll get a good job. Work hard at University and you’ll get an even better job. Work really hard and you may get to buy your own house, one day… Some will, most won’t and some, unfortunately, will fall by the wayside.

Think about those that don’t “make it”. Did they not work hard enough? Are they failures? Do we have 79,000 rugby failures? My answer is naturally NO. Success in society is a pyramid scheme, closer to a Ponzi scheme than a running race. Financial success is more due to how much of a financial head start you have than talent or determination. Donald Trump allegedly started out with $49M, that’s some sort of head start. Check out this video if you think life is a level playing field.

My advice, make sure your children enjoy life and their unique journey and let the future take care of itself. As we all know, the richest people are not the happiest.

Thanks for reading, feel free to buy me a coffee........ 😎

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