My personal cognitive dissonance? Pessimistic idealism

I’m guessing that buried somewhere in my genome is the heart of a sunny optimist, someone who always looks for the best in any situation and truly believes tomorrow will be better. Unfortunately (or not), life beat that predilection out of me pretty quickly. No, this isn’t a “poor me!” recitation; I don’t play the victim. It’s a simple statement of fact that recognizes how my experiences have shown me that, far too often, the goodness most of us long for – in people, in situations, in life as a whole – is but a dream. Many people would call that pessimism, but I consider it realistic.

Until my cognition dissonates.

Surprisingly, given the political chaos in the U.S. these days, I entered my first (and last!) ever political race in 2018 with idealistic – and somewhat optimistic – goals. Many of those (vetting for quality candidates, local party guidance and support, etc.) went down in the flames of reality within the first month or so of my campaign. But I also clung to a good deal of naïve hope right up until election night. I never expected to win (not in my heavily red county). All I optimistically (!) hoped for was a good run and a decent showing at the polls. As I’ve written elsewhere:

I’d hoped to make a positive difference for my community. I wanted to raise important issues, to help educate my neighbors on projects and behind-the-scenes activities that are detrimental to our shared ideals. And I wanted the complacent, too-often arrogant, elected GOP to have to work for their seat, not continue to inherit it as a matter of course (all 16 county-level offices are held by white male Republicans).

Reality crashed in Election Night when all the hard work I and other like-minded candidates had put forth in the preceding nine months (longer, in some races) barely shifted the historical margins in our county where most voters prefer straight-party choices over choosing the most qualified candidate.

Go figure.

This instance was only one of several where I found a connection between politics and the writing world. Even with our fragile egos and ever-present imposter syndromes, as authors, we start out assuming the words we pour onto the page after opening a vein or two* will be welcomed by 1) the publishing world, i.e., agents, editors, publishers as the art we strive for; and 2) readers who want enthralling stories, presented well, with (dare we hope?) decent grammar, spelling, and punctuation along the way.


For me, that thread of idealism didn’t last long in the harsh reality of the publishing world, where celebrities and fan fiction rip-offs and the latest fads win out over solid, well-told stories by those who labor over their craft. Far too often it truly is who you know not what you have to share.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve realized that maybe it’s not reality that’s the problem – it is what it is – but rather my expectations (as I alluded to in January). If I go into a situation or a relationship without blinders, with my feet firmly planted in what is, then I won’t be blindsided when reality wipes out rosy optimism. I also won’t be (as) angry with people or situations that shatter those mis-colored glasses by being exactly what they are instead of what I hope they might be.

I want to believe people are kind and honest and striving for a better tomorrow for all Noble Eightfold Pathus, I really do. But reality – whether on the mindless 24/7 news cycle, in the bottomless pit of social media, or in my community – shows me otherwise day after day. There are bright spots, of course; I’m not (usually) a full-on nihilist. And the more I study Buddhist philosophy, the more I find guidance for my struggles: right attitude.

Like most of life, those adjusted expectations are a work in progress. That innate idealism still creeps in occasionally, but I recognize it far sooner and temper my expectations. Or at least try to. When I’m successful, it eases the stress, the disappointment, and, believe it or not, the pessimism.

Reality bites, but it doesn’t have to leave a mark.

Will I ever run for political office again? Not on a bet.

Will I ever find an agent for my writing? Land a multi-book contract with a major publisher? Be able to quit my day jobs and write full-time? Who knows!

What I do know – what I expect – is that writing will continue to be a driving force in my life. I’ll continue to put words on the page, to hone my craft, to share my talents in classrooms and workshops and on social media, and to send pieces out into the wider publishing world. What the universe chooses to do with that work is out of my hands.

And that’s okay…on the days when I confront my dissonance. 😉

*”Writing is easy. Just open a vein…” ~ in various forms, attributed to various authors

2 responses to “My personal cognitive dissonance? Pessimistic idealism”

  1. The thing about a true writer, as you testified, is that they cannot NOT write. No matter how many rejections. They must write. And it’s fairly inevitable that they get better, and better. But still, no guarantees. It is walking away from that expectation, that assumption that talent always triumphs (easily disproved by cruising any number of bars on a Saturday night where singers equal to Lady Gaga perform for peanuts to a crowd who can’t remember their name)–it is in the moment we walk away from that expectation, that’s where sanity and freedom begin.


    1. Freedom, yes; sanity I’m not so sure of. 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: