The Perils of Optimism

KT and I recently completed an online version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. We discovered that, according to this test (whatever its validity), we have extremely similar personalities, a fact which came as no surprise. Perhaps most expected was that we both identified as introverts: we both enjoy spending time with friends, but prefer smaller groups and also need a lot of time on our own. Generally, KT and I are frequently on the same page when it comes to personality.

One area in which we differ, however, is in our balance of optimism and pessimism. KT is a person who, while generally very positive, at times approaches a situation from the angle of pessimism. I, on the other hand am a person who, while (I think) realistic in my expectations and goals, am frequently indefatigably (KT might say insufferably) optimistic: not only do I look at the prospects of a future event with optimism, but I also strive to find positives in the results of past (sometimes not ideal) happenings. Usually, this serves me well, as my optimism can give me a lot of motivation and helps me to work flexibly towards a goal.

This past Sunday, I had cause to question my optimism. I had a relatively long ride (100km) along the river and through the hills planned for the day, a workout which came at the end of a hard but productive week. Unfortunately, as I reported in a previous post, the weather in Heidelberg these past days hasn’t been great. It was cloudy all day Sunday and, as the time came for me to go out on my ride, the sky began to look more black than grey. In my typically optimistic fashion, I nonetheless got my bike ready, put on my gear and headed out the door.

Within three minutes of clipping my shoes into the pedals, it started to sprinkle. Once again, my optimistic side said, “it will probably only be a light shower, and at least it’s pretty warm today”. I pushed on and in my mind pictured the future of the ride with skies like this:

Blue Heidelberg Sky – Courtesy of KT

Within a half hour of cycling down the other side of the river, the weather actually looked like this:

Miserable Rainy Weather – Courtesy of KT (the photo, not the weather)

Not only did it not stop raining altogether, as I had hoped, but it turned into a torrential downpour. I was in a very short time soaked to the bone, with the rain pelting my body in a rather painful manner. To make matters worse, there was a strong wind coming up the river, which was starting to make me rather chilly. “At least”, I thought with ironic optimism, “I remembered to put on my sun screen” (I kid you not, I was that optimistic heading out). Actually, at that point in the ride I was starting to doubt my optimism, and was beginning to feel pretty miserable. But 40 minutes into a 3.5 hour ride, I wasn’t about to turn back. I picked up the pace a bit to keep warm and pushed on.

At the 1.5-hour mark, as I was heading up through the mountains, things got better. The rain and wind were blocked by the trees and the rain also started to let up somewhat. The temperatures got cooler the higher I went, but I also was working harder on the hills, which was keeping me warm. At the 2-hour mark, the rain had stopped and I was beginning to dry off – and then, a vision, a hazy circular shape through the clouds that appeared to be the sun. My optimism had, in the end, not been mistaken!!

10 minutes later it was raining again. I was beginning to have thoughts at that point that I would once and for all give up my nasty habit of optimism – what good had it done for me on the day, and what real positive could I take from the fact that it was raining: a fresh shower en route with no need to bathe after the workout was the best I could think of, but then I’d forgotten my shampoo, which would in any case be awkward to apply while wearing a helmet.

But just as I was about really to despair, the rain stopped again, and this time for good. This was particularly welcome as I came to some of the steeper descents. The roads (and I) remained wet, even when the rain stopped, so I took it easy on the descents, so as not to wrap myself around a tree. I was soon down from the hills and on the flats heading home with just about 10km left in the ride, and starting to feel much more positive: it hadn’t been a pleasant day, but the workout had been a reasonable one, and at least it gave me some experience riding in really wet conditions.

With about five kilometers to go, I came to a small roundabout that I’ve gone through many times on my bike. The roads were still a bit wet, but by that point I was in familiar territory and almost home. I wasn’t paying attention like I had on the descents and perhaps took the turn a bit too quickly. I may also have hit the white line (which is always very slippery). In any case, before I knew what was happening, my back tire slid out from underneath me and I fell hard onto my left side.

The initial impact hurt a lot, especially up around my hip – my Lycra fortunately hadn’t ripped, but I had scraped skin off my ankle, knee, and (as I learned later) a large chunk off my left hip/buttock under the Lycra (I will spare readers photographs, which were not taken – but KT’s initial reaction to seeing it was ‘Ohhhhhh… ohhhhhhh…..that’s disgusting….”, before recovering her innate sensitivity and making me a bandage). As the bike just slid out lightly, there was no damage to it, and I soon realized that, although the fall stung, I wasn’t seriously injured in any way. There were fortunately no cars around and, after 30 seconds of swearing and checking out my bike, I was back on the saddle and pedaling home.

This, needless to say, was a serious test of my optimism, but even then I couldn’t let it go. I reflected that, although I’d had a fall, it wasn’t serious and there appeared to be no damage done. Overall, it was still a good workout, and I’d soon be enjoying a warm shower and a nice meal. It’s just so much more pleasant to look on the bright side. The bruises have hurt a bit this week, but they haven’t stopped me from getting on with things. After a rest day on Monday, I was back to the track for interval training on Tuesday.

And, after all, optimism does sometimes really pay off. The skies were grey today when I set out for a shorter 75km ride followed by a 25-min. run off the bike, and I was actually myself feeling a bit low on energy at the prospect of another rainy ride. But KT pointed out cheerfully that the skies were looking brighter and it would probably be okay – in fact, my ride was a dry, and after about an hour, even sunny one! I’m glad that KT’s optimism is coming around.


About philosophersrun

Not actually a philosopher.
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One Response to The Perils of Optimism

  1. MBeeee says:

    Ohhhhhh, A-Man. You are a superstar. (I’m with KT on the pessimism thing…though over the years I’ve trained myself to look at a situation for the worst angle, then search for some good in it.)

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