Sunday, November 11, 2018
Chorvelle Johnson CEO, Sagicor Bank Jamaica
It seemed the right thing to do ahead of diving straight into the ‘silly season’, and in this time of incredible love and hate, confidence and fear, fake news and alternative truths, to hear shared voices of optimism. SO asked the question: What’s your take on optimism?
CEO, Sagicor Bank Jamaica
I remember as a child growing up in Spalding, Clarendon I believed that once there was a heavy shower of rain, the crime and violence happening in our beloved country, Jamaica, would cease for that moment. I was even more convinced especially if a rainbow appeared following the rain. Back then, the rain gave me hope that Jamaica, land we love, would be healed. As I grew older, I became wiser, but I never lost hope. Today, it is not rain and rainbows but rather, the innocence of a child that gives me hope.
Kindness also gives me hope. Recently my leadership team and I honoured a team member at Sagicor Bank for a good and selfless deed she performed while on her way home. She witnessed a policeman being hit off his motorcycle by a motor car. While other onlookers either stopped to take pictures/videos of the injured lawman or drove by, our team member, Suzan Foster, instead selflessly assisted the policeman by getting him into her car and driving him to the hospital. It was such a heartwarming feeling to know that one of my very own team members did such a kind act. It reminds me there is still hope for all of us if good Samaritans, who are kind, caring and compassionate, still exist.
As the Chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI – a sub-committee of the United Way) and an active participant in the Sagicor Foundation’s corporate social responsibility initiatives I am touched and inspired by people coming together to give back to their communities and by extension their country. Volunteerism, giving back and acts of charity always give me hope. The women of WLI, Sagicor team members and all groups of persons who continuously dedicate their time and work tirelessly to make a positive impact in our country gives me great hope.
Our children are our future and I strongly believe it is our duty to invest in them from an early age. At the WLI, our projects, including the Darkness to Light programme, Conversations with Boys, and helping Voluntary Organisation for the Upliftment of Children (VOUCH) to become certified by the Early Childhood Commission by providing guidance and mentorship to the teachers and students are all yielding positive results. I lift my hat to those unsung heroes who continue to play their role in shaping a better and brighter future for our country, giving hope to the future generations of leaders who will continue to build and improve our nation. My WLI women are making their contributions to youth development and education, while my fellow Sagicor Strong team members’ dedication and commitment to improving the lives of the people in the communities they operate are exemplary. I think of the volunteers in our Adopt A School programme and the hundreds of volunteers who help to execute the mammoth Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run every year. To all groups of volunteers who are always ready and willing to serve, you give me hope.
The empowerment of women gives me hope. Years ago, in Jamaica, there were not so many women as heads of businesses, CEOs and entrepreneurs. Today, it is amazing to see the number of women excelling in their respective fields, at the top of their game, managing the roles of career woman, wife, and mother like a true boss! As we continue to work together with our male counterparts to effect change over the long term, I have hope that women will continue to break the glass ceiling paving the way for our young, upcoming and budding female leaders.
Music gives me hope. The work and messages of the late great Bob Marley had the power to unite a people and country through his music. His songs transcend age, race, religion and time and continues to influence so many persons worldwide. He is still my favourite and if ever I lose a little hope, his music will always give it back to me tenfold.
I have been able to find hope in the courage and patriotism of men and women throughout history. The bravery displayed in the face of adversity by the late Nelson Mandela who led the Apartheid revolution and brought about such life-changing hope and change to an entire nation inspires me. Michelle Obama, a strong woman who stood by and worked alongside her husband, Barack Obama, the first black American president, gives me great hope. Her words of hope “when they go low, we go high” remind me to always hold your head high, stay above the noise and be the best version of yourself, always.
Finally, the beautiful prayer that is our National Anthem gives me hope. There is something so moving about its words; also our National Pledge. I get goosebumps nearly every time I hear them sung or recited. As I hear the first musical note for the anthem, I immediately feel the affirmation that Jamaica, Land We Love must change for the better and that change starts with me, with you and with all of us.
Managing Director | The LAB Limited
My generation grew from analog into digital. We saw the dawn of iTunes and witnessed the fall of Napster. From birth we experienced science fiction becoming reality; what was on TV became our reality. In my childhood alone, I saw technology evolve from dial to press to click to swipe. We grew up in a constant state of change so it should be no surprise that we expect our situations to evolve just as rapidly. Our generation and those after us were raised on the possibility of the impossible. I share this on behalf of my generation and those just beyond, because I want people to understand that our boundless optimism — that sense that we intend to conquer the world, that confidence that is often misread as entitlement — is there because we believe. We believe we can do and be and see and experience anything .
We are the Facebook generation and we have seen our peers change the world though innovation. Talk to any Jamaican under age 35 and you will find that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. Gone are the days of the “side hustle” being a little backup, now we are focused on building empires; everything we do counts. Multiple streams of income are considered normal and building from the garage is the new norm.
We know it is possible so we refuse to hold back. Instead of complaining about problems we innovate to create solutions. Being born native to digital interfaces we use these tools to turn thought into action no matter our passion. Usain started from humble beginnings and has become an international phenomenon, a living legend. Tashai and Blake Widmer founded Deaf Can, where deaf millennials learn and earn in the café business. Jessica Hylton-Leckie’s vegan food blog “Jessica In the Kitchen” has been featured everywhere from Self and Essence magazines, to Yahoo, Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post.
This generation didn’t arrive overnight. We are the product of centuries of innovation, the labour of those before us. Our lifetime has been spent scrolling through screens, soaking in knowledge. We’ve studied at the University of Google, networked in the dorms of Instagram, and have emerged with the understanding that we are all connected. The Jamaican millennial is one click, tweet or DM away from our heroes at home or abroad. Modern youth is one YouTube video away from learning to speak another language. We don’t see boundaries the way our parents did. For us no one is too far away or too high above. We don’t see failure as a mark of weakness or shame. For us a challenge is something we inevitably will defeat. We fail forward.
We are the “right now” generation, and while some see only impatience, I see acceleration toward a better future. There have been dark times in recent years, and young people often feel the brunt of it. But Instead of shutting down, or dwelling on our circumstance this generation has chosen to rise. This generation isn’t waiting for a hero; we are our own hero and we see no point in wasting time. Our parents solved problems in the 70s, 80s and 90s that have made our journey exceedingly easier. The immediacy that our parents didn’t get to enjoy, we take as normal. As a result, we are able to solve our problems right now. We create opportunities right now, we improve lives right now. And we demand to be heard. We are the generation that tells the world what we want, how we want it. No more waiting, no long talking. We simply do. We create our own destiny. We rise.
My own optimism has taken me further than I had imagined. Ten years ago I started a film production house and I am humbled to say I now run one of Jamaica’s most well-respected advertising agencies. It is not lost on me that this has all happened before age 40 and while I am grateful, I give credit in large part to the inspiration of my generation and those coming after, while acknowledging that I stand on the shoulders of giants.
So I say with conviction that when I look at the future of Jamaica, I do not struggle with my own optimism. Instead I salute my colleagues and peers who “tun hand mek fashion” turning fear into optimism, and challenges into opportunities.
Business Analyst: Group Strategy and Innovation at Sagicor Group Jamaica
The expression “everything happens for a reason” has become a form of punctuation — often appearing to be said with just enough conviction needed to convince the person saying it. It has become such a regular addition to discourse, like the polite conversation filler “how are you?” that isn’t actually intended to elicit its honest response; that it seems indisputable and whosoever dares to challenge the assertion may be declared treasonous to humankind. It was after a difficult summer of a near loss followed by a senseless tragedy, however, that I began to resent the statement. I felt that it was diminishing our worry and our pain in the name of a higher purpose that we were too small to see just yet. As I reflected more on the idea of purpose I came to understand that not all ‘reasons’ will be proportionate or holistically justify ‘everything’ and there simply might not be a reason that slaps you in the face and makes it all worth it- that is not the business of the Universe and it is not my business to get all the answers. I became grounded by the understanding that although some things might not ever make sense to me, I must decide to bring purpose to everything and create whatever value I can from my experiences. Enter: optimism.
Optimism is not the passive penchant for thinking that things will just work out, nor is it delusion; optimism is an active, deliberate sense of being rooted in the belief that purpose will be created. Optimism is wisdom. Wisdom as the nest of intelligence. Intelligence is the capacity to empathise. Empathy is fed by understanding. Understanding comes from experiences and it is optimism that enables us to extract the most out of our experiences in the pursuit of finding and creating purpose.
Mariame McIntosh Robinson
President & CEO First Global Bank
We live in a world of unprecedented change where the actions of our forebears have created unparalleled opportunities for us versus in the past. Never has the world been so interconnected with information travelling at warp speed around the globe increasing persons’ exposure and potential for learning. In addition, with the advent of this digital age and the 4th Industrial Revolution (the fusion of technologies blurring the lines between the real and digital worlds), there is the possibility to level the playing field across the world, to the benefit of developing countries such as ours. With this emerging reality comes a lot of hope.
Learning and earning: Digital skills can be learned by anyone living anywhere who can be hired globally. I see the potential for our youth to learn skills that allow them to make Jamaica more competitive whilst earning a decent living, working from anywhere.
Increased accountability and transparency: With most activities and transactions leaving a digital footprint which can be easily tracked and/or shared, it becomes easier to demand and expect increased levels of accountability and transparency. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ‘hide things’.
More choice for consumers: The ability to research and choose the best options to consume and engage in, and to share experiences with the globe at minimal cost have forced companies to ensure they are delivering superior value to attract and retain consumers.
Better physical environment: There is a clearer sense of the interconnectedness that the human race has with our physical environment and each other regardless of one’s location in time and space, and this has become more pronounced than decades ago. As such, we are seeing governments committing to increasing reliance on renewable energy technologies (GOJ has committed to increase renewable energy sources to >30% of Jamaica’s energy consumption), as well as civil society doing their part to protect the environment (eg beach clean-ups are well-attended — this never happened decades ago!).
More open-mindness: as more stories are communicated of differing models of success, it makes it easier for persons to live their purpose-driven life in our own authentic way versus having to conform to one stereotypical model. Status quo can be challenged because examples of how to do things better are easily available with the click of a button.
We are in an exciting phase of the world. Soon we will be able to live longer due to increasing medical break-throughs using technology; we will be able to have experiences without travelling (virtual reality); we won’t have to drive ourselves as vehicles will be fully autonomous freeing us up to rest or do other things; and so on. The key is for us as Jamaicans not to be left behind as the world evolves and shifts into this new era of the 4th Industrial Revolution. And with this, leadership demands and expectations will change.
Now more than ever leaders will have to transform themselves to lead in this new age. Whether pushed by millennials, global discontent, and/or more access to information, leaders in both the private sector and public spheres will have to transcend to being a conscious leader (open, curious, ethical, committed to learning) instead of an unconscious leader that uses the command and control style and is closed, defensive and committed to being right. And there will be more mechanisms and practices, including the increased access to information, to hold all of us who show up as leaders more accountable.
Nasha Monique Douglas
Senior Brand Manager — Red Stripe Global, Domestic and International Brands
I have always considered myself a fighter… a fighter to win… excel through my studies…my career … my ideals of what life should be. It has taken many spills, falls, defeats and life learnings to evolve not only my thinking but my innate belief that it’s not about fighting but having the resilience to continue to believe. A belief that there are always opportunities to do better, be better and make a positive contribution to the world.
As I have progressed on my journey through this life, I have learnt that resilience and my ability to leverage ‘badmind’ as a fuel and not a deterrent has been the driving force to my success. Tell me that I can’t do something and I will do everything in my power to not only do it but do it well. One of my favourite quotes is “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds” (Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos). Even though I am still driven by this motto, it’s now coming from an internal need, not one driven by external parties but one where I inherently compete with myself. A competition steeped in being a better person who chooses to focus on impacting the world for a better tomorrow. Bad mind did serve its purpose though, its forces you to look in the mirror and embrace the future by being courageous.
Here are my top eight tips to build personal resilience (note: I am not great at all of these all of the time but I work on them every day):
1 Develop realistic goals driven by a sense of purpose — Life should not be about self alone but self-impacting the greater good. Once you see life through these lens, you are able to focus and be completely unbothered by the distractions of the naysayers
2 Treat problems and failures as life lessons — I know it’s easier said than done but you have been through worse; deal with the pain… come out on the other side… learn from it and move on. Takes a lot of practice to master
3 Develop good habits & routines that allow you to run like a well-oiled machine- I cannot leave my house without making my bed. It’s the first thing I do when I get up. My father insisted I do this as a child and as an adult what it did for me was create discipline and a need for order. I would have loved military life. Other great routines/ habits are starting my day off with prayer, gym and of course my first conversation after God is my mom
4 Exercise self-care — If you don’t take care of you no one will. I’m a firm believer in Nasha days…Nasha moments…Nasha vacations…and at the end of the month, I always pay myself first
5 Celebrate successes — We go so fast in life that we forget to appreciate the wins. Spend the same amount of time celebrating successes like you would have done dwelling on your failures
6 Do more soul-satisfying things — Volunteer more, be a mentor and make a conscious effort to pass on positivity. #payitforward
7 Who is your village? – Surround yourself with the people who love you and appreciate you. My village is awesome; they are the people who tell me the truth because they love me and they are there for everything…the good, the bad, and the ugly
8 Love you despite the flaws and faults because you were put here on this Earth for a purpose.
In a time where we are bombarded by negativity and drama, it’s resilience, courage and optimism that get us through it. Choose to live free of ‘badmind’ by actively evolving your thinking to always see, be and receive the light.
Musgrave medallist, author, and screenwriter
A passage of scripture in Ecclesiastes famously lists a series of contrasts, noting that for everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. I believe we are living in a time of breaking down. Not just for us in Jamaica. In this universal time of disillusionment and disappointment with world systems, it is easy to see that so many things around us are collapsing. But I don’t despair because, as that same scripture informs, after this time of breaking down inevitably comes the time of building up again.
That’s what gets me out of bed each day, I imagine, rather than drilling down and burying myself into my neck like a turtle. The thought that what is being torn down will once again be restored. I don’t think one necessarily has to have religious faith to believe that things will eventually be better, either. If you’ve lived for any significant amount of time, as I have, you understand this principle. Any student of history can tell you: life goes through peaks and valleys. Ancient great civilizations (the Aztec and Incan empires come immediately to mind) have today fallen into decline, lost to history. We know that history is often told from the perspective of winners, and so, I guess, the question is: how will this time, this moment we are currently a part of, be recorded by history?
We will come out, I have to believe, purified after being tried by fire. I have no other choice.
On the streets of the Corporate Area, every day we encounter brokenness of the infrastructure which, we’re told, is to facilitate wider roads, glossier city centres. We can’t see that now. What we see is the headache and precariousness of the streets, and the inconvenience of the delays, and stress it is causing. Not to mention, when it rains. But one must always see the big picture: even if it means closing our eyes and visualising the change that must come eventually. I have to tell myself this daily. Bearing witness to the #MeToo and Time’sUp movements gives me extraordinary hope, as well, because in spite of everything conspiring to continue to stifle the voices of women across the world, the genie is not going back into the bottle.
My relationships with women (my sisterfriends) are, every day, being strengthened as we keep each other honest. My relationship with the editor of this magazine, in particular, is a thing of beauty even as she pushes me constantly to shake off feelings of crippling inability by, yes, kicking my ass and insisting I do what I have been put here to do: write. Novia, I only hope I have influenced you even a fraction of how you’ve influenced me.
But, back to the times in which we’re living. Understand this: our Kingston roadways are really only metaphor for the general sense of wreckage and chaos that permeate the news, both locally and internationally, oftentimes making me loathe to even bother finding out what’s going on. I find myself often in the position these days of studiously avoiding the TV and the MSN homepage, opting instead to employ an unlikely coping mechanism: immersing in cute cat videos. And, trust me, I’m not even that big of a cat lover. But, after all, isn’t that better than easier, more palatable, than pondering news items that only highlight man’s seemingly increasing propensity for cruelty to his fellow man?
Still, I am an artist. An artist who plays with words for a living. And what good are my words if I don’t use them to effect change in my world? I am heartened by the fact that, across the world, millennials are creatively incorporating technology into their works. I am excited to be bearing witness that, in spite of the harshness that exists now, beauty is still to be found in these works, and they have boundless potential to inspire mine! When I was coming up, I had no idea what my destiny was, let alone how I would fulfil it. I knew it would involve words and writing because I was a great lover of books. But seeing how young people these days have embraced their destinies as writers and are moving into them, unafraid, with their manuscripts and screenplays, is, to me, inspirational. The world I know will not pass away even when I’m gone. It’s in safe hands with the generation that’s emerging.
Angelie Martin Spencer
Principal of ASH (Angelie Spencer Home)
Is defined in the dictionary as:
hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something:
Truthfully, I don’t walk around telling my self to be optimistic. In fact, when I was invited to contribute, it actually struck me that I am, in fact, an eternal optimist.
Don’t get me wrong, I have deep doubts and fears like everyone else, but for me, the two key words that define optimism are actually words that define me as a person: “hopefulness” and “confidence”. These are what fuel me and give me the drive to always ‘Just do it’, once I set my mind to it. Whatever the “it” is.
I trust my abilities, and even more, I believe in my capabilities, so I therefore challenge myself always, to at least try anything my mind tells me, even once; I move forward in confidence, And give it 110%, hopeful, that in the end, whether I succeed or fail, the result is equal to my efforts.
Ralph Waldo Emerson says, and I quote:
“The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”
The key word: Tried.
He also says…
“A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best”.
Key words: Done his best… only your best is good enough.
That is my mantra, always. It’s a kind of competitiveness I guess. It’s both my strength and my weakness unfortunately, but honestly, for me, it’s a drive to always DO my best (strength), but to others it may seem like a drive to be best (weakness), a misconception actually.
When I look back at my life, I can think of instances where my optimism resulted in a successful outcome:
Ten years old, in a foreign country without my parents and limited experience of how to swim. With the knowledge gained from my father’s lessons I was able to swim long distances underwater, but not above. I was tired after a couple days of just playing around in shallow waters, so I decided it was time to just dive off from the deep end. Hopeful I would make it underwater all the way to the other side, my confidence in my abilities took me there and I never looked back.
Throughout primary school and high school public speaking and dancing on stage and at JCDC Festival and school concerts, with confidence in my abilities and hard work, and my efforts always equalled the result.
Participating in The Miss Jamaica Universe Pageant in 1994, confident from my result in The Jamaica Fashion Model competition two years prior, I was only hopeful for a good result, but my efforts yielded a victory.
Marrying my husband after only knowing him for 10 weeks was the heights of optimism. But I dove in hopeful, confident in our love and respect for each other
Having children, after having lost, a heartbreak that would make anyone give up. But God sent me a messenger, to tell me that my Anna would come, and she did and that experience alone, as I grow older, and am faced with challenges and disappointments and loss, teaches me to be optimistic in all things, and that no matter what, there will be joy after the pain, And smiles, even guttural laughter, after the tears that flow like rain.
With Angelie’s Cakes, that came about simply because I asked myself one day, “How difficult can it be to make a two-tiered fondant cake?” Then Angelie’s Lunch Service and Catering. Make-up, Fashion, and now ASH, Angelie Spencer Home, all born of optimism
It’s no wonder I’m mildly obsessed with opticals.
So now I see life through my 0.2 rose-coloured Krewe glasses and the forecast is beautiful. I don’t care to know what limitations are, and there is no such thing as “can’t” in my book. I know that I am truly blessed and highly favoured, and I move forward in this knowledge, always, with pure optimism.
Trade Development Manager Select Brands
I am an optimist! My firm belief in God gives me the conviction that only good things are going to happen and if something I consider “bad” happens, I see it as not being the right thing for me and I do not dwell on it. I know something better is coming…and guess what? Something better always does.
I am also a realist. So for me, life takes on a better hue when I see it through eyes full of optimism rather than pessimism, tempered with a dose of reality, and voila, I have balance.
My life has been a great mix of optimism and opportunity. From humble beginnings, my parents instilled that a good education is essential and they were right. I always thought I wanted to be the best PA ever (remembering that 35 yearrs ago that was one of THE jobs to have)! As fate would have it, my job placement through Alpha Business College was with the island’s leading public relations practitioner Jean Lowrie-Chin of PRO Limited and that is where the first curve in the line of my life occurred. I started as Jean’s secretary and I began to understand the dynamics of the PR world, became optimistic that I would play a greater role with the company. I subsequently became a Junior Account Executive, then Account Executive. The PR world interested and excited me and I loved it.
Full of optimism, I then moved to the UK and my 10 years there were sheer magic, and my second curved ball came when I started at Wray & Nephew UK. During that seven-year tenure, I moved from administration to marketing.
With my PR and marketing skills sharpened, I was optimistic about the role I would play on returning to Jamaica in 2000 and I went back into marketing where the next curve ball came as I discovered wines…and, as they say, “the rest is history”. I found my passion. I went from knowing nothing about wines, to embarking on a journey to discover all I can about wines, understand them, travel for them and have unique wine and food experiences, all fuelled by optimism and passion.
Interestingly, my optimism is the highest it has ever been as I have done so much, yet there is so much more to do and experience, and I know the best is yet to come.
I am the eternal optimist and always see the glass half-full especially as I know it can be filled with wine or, more delightfully, Champagne!
Director for Project Development Food for the Poor Jamaica
Every day is a blessing, an opportunity to do something new.
I read a book called One Happy Thought At A Time by Rochelle Gapere. It is a 30-day journey to being a happier you. Many of which we know but commonly treat frivolously. Understanding that happiness is deliberate and it’s not an emotion or a feeling that just happens is critical. Happiness is a choice based on decisions we make in every area of our lives.
Are we working in a job we enjoy? Do we like the people we are around every day? Do I get along with my classmates or co-workers? Am I doing well in school? Am I excelling at work? Is there growth potential for me in my current job? Am I eating right and exercising? Am I comfortable with my weight? Do I love myself? Do I feel pretty today? So many life decisions affect our happiness.
Research shows that happiness affords us better health. Happiness protects our heart helping to keep our blood pressure and heart rate low. I am sure everyone can understand that if we are angry or stressed it can affect our heart and blood pressure adversely. Studies show that happy people run a lower risk of getting sick. Of course, happiness combats how we are affected by stressful situations which we know can lead to serious physical illness. You can take the time to research and see the other health benefits to being happy.
Think about how many people didn’t wake up this morning, you evidently have breath and if you are reading this; you have life. How are you going to use it?
Are we going to waste time getting upset over trivial things or things we can’t control? Are we going to stay mad at people we love or even worse, waste energy on people we don’t even like? Don’t allow other people to control your happiness. We all have the ability to choose. We may not be able to control every circumstance but we can always choose how we react to our circumstances and that in itself is power beyond measure. Instant gratification may make us happy for the moment but be devastating in the long term so make wise choices.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “For every minute you are angry you lose 60 seconds of happiness.” Do you prefer to be happy or angry, miserable, frustrated or impatient? I am certain you prefer to be happy! When we are emotional we tend to make irrational decisions. If we take the time to take a deep breath and think about what we want our desired outcome to be and possibly another way of accomplishing that, it will save us the frustration and wasted energy of being angry.
The Bible tells us in Proverbs 23 “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The mind is more powerful than I think most of us realise. We have the power to change our mindset at any moment. Being grateful is something that helps me to change my mindset. When everything feels like it’s going wrong, I stop to think about what’s going right. What are the things you have to be thankful for?
At times, I am as equally grateful for the things that go wrong, as well as the things that go right by focusing on the lesson I can learn from a difficult experience. John Maxwell said it best, “Good management of bad experiences leads to great growth.”
Surrounding ourselves with people who motivate, encourage, support and even push us when necessary is a sure way to stay happy and encouraged. Being in a toxic environment is draining and cannot enhance our life in anyway; so avoid toxic situations and people. Surround yourself with people who will edify you, not those who sit around and gossip with nothing productive to contribute.
Choose to do things that enhance your happiness, treat yourself well. I understand that we don’t live in a perfect world but if we make a conscious decision to manage our mindsets, control our reactions, choose to do things that enhance our happiness and surround ourselves with the right people, we will be happier people…and a happier society on a whole!
Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown
While I was studying Philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, I learned about Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), a well-known scientist, mathematician and philosopher. Leibniz’s doctrine proclaimed that this world is “the best of all possible worlds”. He believed that, while not every single part of what makes up our world is desirable, the world as a whole is. While some things aren’t pleasing to me, the world is not made for me alone. “It is nevertheless made for us if we are wise: it will serve us if we use it for our service; we shall be happy in it if we wish to be.” (Leibniz’s ‘Theodicy’, 1710)
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told, and I paraphrase here, “You’re so positive and upbeat about everything, despite what you have to go through with your health,” or “You’re so brave, having the courage to speak up against sexual abuse.” I’m a bit embarrassed as I don’t think I’ve been hard-done by in this life. Sure, there are times when I am exasperated and worried, but I do not wish my experiences to be different, nor am I depressed about what I have endured. Like Leibniz, I believe this is the best of all possible worlds.
I was diagnosed with Behcet’s Disease (BD) when I was 28 years old, 10 years later developing neurological deficits through consecutive Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIAs). While in hospital, I contracted a deadly blood infection, MSSA Bacteremia, and was treated with antibiotics every four hours for six weeks, via a central line in my chest. Before turning 42, I was diagnosed with another autoimmune illness, Diffused Scleroderma. Between 2003 and 2015, I was hospitalised umpteen times with intestinal and brain issues. During my first pregnancy, I went into preterm labour at 26 weeks. Luckily, my ‘waters’ didn’t break until I was 36 weeks along and I gave birth to a baby who, despite spending the first nine days of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), has gone on to thrive in this life. Unluckily, my placenta had torn, I haemorrhaged badly and was rushed into surgery. Best possible world? My life was saved. But what was to happen when I was expecting my second son? Do as Leibniz suggested 300 years ago: improve the individual parts of my world. In other words, with the knowledge I had about my medical conditions, I had to put myself in the safest possible position for the upcoming birth.
Throughout handling my medical problems, which are far from over, medicine has played a large role in keeping me alive and maintaining my quality of life. Leibniz believed science, mathematics, theology and philosophy could improve the human condition. He was optimistic that science would reveal the truth, which was worth obtaining for both moral and practical ends. He also believed in the collaboration of scientists, provided it is moral, and it is precisely the collaboration of my doctors (you scientists all know who you are!) that has kept me “forward-looking”, an essential part of Leibniz’s, and my, optimism.
This optimism was almost destroyed on April 15, 2017, when I was sexually molested by a man I’ve known for most of my life. Stubbornly refusing to lose said optimism, I chose to speak up publicly that night. If scientists can fight disease, philosophers can fight immorality. Although I received support through social media and phone calls, the backlash I bore from some so-called friends was astonishing. I had to wonder where the world’s morals had gone or if indeed the morals, which shunned misogyny, even existed for the average person. This event in my life occurred three months after I had started writing a novel about abuse, but six months before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements came on the world’s radar. These movements inspired women, and men, from across the globe, to stand up and speak up about their own experiences. These advocates validated my optimism and my mantra: “Every form of sexual harassment, molestation, abuse and assault is wrong; if you are not with me on this, then you are against me.” I had drawn a line in the sand and I was, and still am, optimistic about what that line stands for.
There are 7.2 billion people in this world, half of whom are women. The devastation that so many girls and women, some boys and men, have had to go through when it comes to every variation of sexual abuse, unites us all. The optimism lies in this: You’ve either been abused, or you haven’t; you’ve either abused or you haven’t; whichever case applies to you, you likely have an opinion or feeling about it. This fact binds each and every person to this issue. By default, we are collaborating and a moral conclusion is the only conducive option for a world that is “the best of all possible worlds,” a world that only has room for optimism.
I want to make mention of the paper, written by Marc E Bobro, THE OPTIMISTIC SCIENCE OF LEIBNIZ, in The New Atlantis, A Journal of Technology & Society – Spring 2014, from where I gathered pieces of information I’d forgotten from my studies at LSE (1995-1998).
– Day dream believer, rainy day lover and educator
In my life there are no April showers.
There is, however, major torrential rainfall that causes serious and expansive flooding and the all-too-familiar, not-quite-welcomed-but eventually-appreciated after-effects for a while. During these times, I’m either dressed for the weather or I find myself soaked from head to toe. Either way, I see, I feel, I taste and I smell the effects of the extreme weather first-hand.
That’s about the time I say aloud to myself in true Jamaican style, “What a rain!”
When I was younger, rainy days meant time off from school and were greeted with much enthusiasm and excitement. What could I possibly do all day long? How much could I read? What games could I play? Would I be able to do all of what I had envisioned? These questions undoubtedly provoked an awakening inside that I would clearly remember in the years to come.
And, as I’ve gotten older and started to ride out a couple rainstorms and hurricanes, some back-to-back, I remain struck by hope. This is probably more of a necessity than any mere random desire. I know it is, because I believe it and I feel it. It’s this intense yearning to connect with this need to survive (and not just survive but you know, survive to still believe in that big-picture vision and to test the phrase my mother introduced me to a long time ago: “everything always works out for me.”
Admittedly, that was the most selfish-sounding thing I ever heard and defied all the hours I spent in Anglican church and confirmation class as a young teen. But when you hear something over and over, you tend to resign yourself to trying a thing; after all, nothing tried, nothing failed.
Between the consistent reminders that it doesn’t rain forever, practical rules of the law of attraction and my sister’s random pep talk every once in while, there is still excitement and the deep desire to find possibilities that exist in unfamiliar places when it pours. Necessity is after all the mother of invention. So I continue to find real and true sunshine in the word optimism knowing the sought- after figurative pot of gold is at the end of the rainbow that only comes when the rains are over.
This is not to be confused with me thinking my life is perfect, because it is definitely one coloured with clouds of chaos, changing landscapes (literally), and daily bolts of thunder and lightning that sometimes strike the same place more than twice. But the thing about floods is that if you survive one, you’re able to survive another. And you eventually bid farewell to skies of grey, you fall in love with starry nights, greet sunny days as and when they come and become gratefully obsessed with turning visions into realities.
This is how I define optimism.
Odette Dixon Neath
Hang on to the world as it spins around
Just don’t let the spin get you down
Things are moving fast
Hold on tight and you will last
Now an R&B standard, the lyrics of Someday We’ll All Be Free were written by Edward Howard for his friend Donny Hathaway, then in the throes of mental anguish. That the song would later become a rallying cry for the American Civil Rights movement is a testament to the strength of its premise — the idea that finding a reason to believe in the future, being optimistic, is exactly what will see us through.
In a time of wall-to-wall Instagram gratification and the cult of personality, is optimism still a thing? I think so. No, I hope so. Because if this is all there is, then we have nothing.
It is, after all, optimism that moves us to get up out of bed each morning and put one foot in front of the other. It is optimism that moves us to be kind when we have been hurt; to love when we have been shunned.
I discovered Someday We’ll All be Free while curating what I wanted to be the ultimate holiday playlist. This was pre-Spotify and Apple Music so one had actually to buy a whole CD to get one song. Hathaway’s This Christmas was my target, the perfect mistletoe, sleighbell ditty that was necessary for any holiday soundtrack. But before I got to that song there was delicate flute and guitar intro of Someday We’ll All Be Free followed by opening waves of warmth that defines Hathaway’s voice. It was as if time stood still. Here with clarity and simplicity was the carpet on which all dreams can ascend. Hope, encouragement, belief and freedom.
Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free
It won’t be long, take it from me, someday we’ll all be free
Above all, optimism is at the core of our humanity. And even at times when we post perfect narratives of our lives for all the world to see, there is still place for an unflinching belief in an even more real perfection. But you see optimism cannot flourish by itself. It must be lifted with gratitude, because as we desire more, we must also be thankful for what we have in hand.
The CD with the Someday We’ll All Be Free is now long gone, and the song is always at the ready on any of the multiple devices that store or stream modern entertainment. For some reason I find space in every overscheduled week to play it: in the car as I barrel through traffic or on the sound system while fudging through Saturday house chores.
Hathaway, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, committed suicide in 1979. The stark irony of the beauty of the song and the trajectory of the life of the man who gifted it to the world lurks in the shadows each time I listen. Perhaps that even further deepens its purpose.
Take it from me, take it from me, take it from me
But even in that darkness it remains an echo of our best hopes. This is, after all, what optimism sounds like.
Andrea Dempster-Chung, co-Founder Kingston Creative
Oxford defines optimism as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.” At its core, self-confidence is the most basic form of optimism and it’s instilled at a very early age. You have to believe that you can be successful and that you can make things happen. That hopefulness and confidence then extends out in concentric circles to your family, your community, your country and to the world.
Optimists have a positive outlook about the future and have a tendency to act on it. Despite how impossible a situation may appear; optimists are able to envision a positive outcome. That vision then motivates them to take action and make change, because they really believe that they can make a difference. You see optimism reflected in the flood of women and minorities running for office in the US. Despite the maelstrom of despair in their political climate, they believe that the future can be positive and this motivates them to be change-makers.
Optimists make great entrepreneurs and here’s why; one study reported that half of all start-ups fail in the first four years, while yet another reported that in the US, 96% of all businesses fail within 10 years. In the face of those statistics, you pretty much have to be an optimist to start a business. Optimists are able to see opportunity where others only see risk, uncertainty and failure. Try looking for the opportunity in every situation, in a traffic detour, in a delayed flight, a recession – and if you are looking for a positive or a good business opportunity, you usually find it.
Optimists are able to reframe failure and I think this is a key ingredient to being successful. In my book there’s no such thing as failure as long as you’ve learned from it. Oftentimes, what seems like failure in the moment is really life making room for an even better opportunity that is coming to you. Realism and optimism can coexist — optimists take a minute to process the facts and learn the lessons, but they also genuinely believe that a better opportunity could be just around the corner, so they tend to persevere and very importantly, they stay mentally ready for that next opportunity.
Of course there are the obvious health benefits — the link between optimism and longevity is strong. Mental health too is improved too, as optimists are usually able to keep things in perspective and limit unnecessary catastrophizing. As a friend of mine used to say – “Don’t worry until it’s absolutely necessary!”
Cultivating and maintaining an optimistic attitude
Lastly, here’s what helps me to remain optimistic, even in the face of what might seem like an insurmountable challenges or immovable obstacles:
“Vision” time. Call it alone time, dream time, creative time, nature time, hobby time, reading time, meditation if you’re very fancy – there has to be some window when you can let yourself recharge. For busy people I get that it is hard to do, but even if it’s just a couple minutes sitting quietly, looking at the sun coming up over the mountains, it’s worth it to be able start the day with an optimistic attitude and with your vision about what you want to create in sharp focus.
Letting it go. Optimists can be realists too — when things happen, it’s not that you don’t see the negatives, you just don’t fixate and hang on to them. Try to process whatever happened, take the lessons, and then consciously choose to let it go within as short a time frame as possible.
Monitoring my intake. Streaming CNN news stories about Trump 24 hours a day, or following all the negative news on Facebook may be draining your energy! It certainly doesn’t work for me. I try to spend time in a creative, relaxing environment, read something inspirational or listen to energising music during the day. I try to put positive interactions into my day and to limit the negative ones. That helps me to maintain my optimism!
Assistant Vice-President Human Resources & Public Relations
When you suffer great loss, receive devastating news, are down on your face, how can you be optimistic? I will not even pretend that somehow, like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, I have always been able to “simply remember my favourite things and then I don’t feel so bad”. I know that what keeps me optimistic is knowing that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
I have experienced for myself and witnessed enough pain and disappointment to know that optimism does not mean that you will not grieve and mourn. No sah! You will cry, your heart will feel like it has been shattered, you may even consider giving up. What it does mean is that, in the midst of it all, you cling to the lifeline of hope and put on your shield of faith, knowing that this too shall pass.
This brings me to my mother, who has a special brand of optimism. I remember when my first car was stolen. Can you imagine on Christmas night, dem tief me low-profile, two-door, black, almost-new Honda Integra, not even three months after I bought it! I called Marcia, barely able to speak through the tears and told her of my circumstance. This was my Marcia’s response: “The car was insured and they took it and left you, yay! What’s the problem? Look at how many cars on the road, but there is only one of you.” Then she went on to remind me that if this is the most devastated I had been so far in my life, I could give thanks.
I certainly learned over the years that a stolen car does not even begin to compare with the loss of a loved one, closed doors in my career or a broken heart. There have been those times when I have struggled with the question, “God how could you allow this to happen?” I can hear His voice through the pain saying “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for I am with you.” So whatever the circumstance, I know I am not alone.
I have learned that it is in my lowest moments that I have found my strength. In fact, sometimes all the strength I need is to be able to “draw” for a piece of paper and write a gratitude list. I remind myself, through the tears, that blessings and favour are new every morning. I have to stop and smile, when I think that no matter what I am going through, life is still going on around me. How dare it! However, optimism causes me to be grateful that life goes on and I will laugh again. What did Orphan Annie sing?
“When I’m stuck with a day
I just stick out my chin
The sun’ll come out
I am pleased to say that I have tried and failed many times. Yes! That simply means that I have been busy living. I know I will survive and thrive. Regardless of how far I feel I have fallen, I can rise and go on my knees and pray.
To be clear, optimism is not skipping through the meadows blissfully unaware. It takes courage, it requires fortitude; it is an unwillingness to give in! I choose to silence doubt and fear. I refuse to surrender. I choose always to envision that glimmer of light in the darkness and to pursue it…and I may just sing and skip while pursuing it. In other words I don’t hear No, I hear that you are thinking about it. I don’t see a closed door, I see a chance to create a new door. I cling relentlessly to hope and step out in my high heels of faith and look on the challenge and ask it “You know say a me name Rochy! Step aside, you are blocking my light!”
It is clear that my life is a Broadway soundtrack, so I will end as I have started, with the Sound of Music:
When the dog bites, when the bee stings,
when I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favourite things,
and then I don’t feel so bad.
Nicole McLaren Campbell
Founder, AIM, Educational Services
Optimism is my biggest superpower and I believe one of the most life-altering choices one can make. When I say life-altering I literally mean it — studies show that optimism, that is, the belief that good things will happen in the future, can extend one’s life span by almost eight years! I use the word deliberately — we must make the decision to see the glass as half-full, to intercept half-empty thoughts and actively replace them with affirming thoughts about our present and our future. Optimism has improved the quality of my life, and when I catch myself not being optimistic I shift on purpose and I feel much happier, more creative and open to possibility.
I am a self-professed “inspirational quote junkie” and I am so proud! I keep my brain on positive by filling my mind with inspirational quotes every day — quotes on winning, losing and bouncing back, on joy, on peace. I love quotes so much I even made my own inspirational quotes Instagram page – @nicspire. Quotes give me strength when I need it, encourage me when I don’t and I find so many of them, so easily, on Instagram.
Speaking of social media, I am very deliberate in terms of who I follow and don’t follow! I find that what we feed our brains affects our mood and energy, which in turn affects our ability to flex our optimism muscles!
Another strategy I use is self-talk, often out loud! People might think I am crazy but you might hear me saying “Nicole, get your mind right”, “Nicole, no weapon formed!!” Or “What’s the opportunity here?”. The conversations we have with ourselves are the most important conversations we will ever have! So, I proudly speak to myself daily! I also pray. I thank the Lord for things that have not even happened yet! I pray with a spirit of positive expectancy and focus on all the winning ahead, that I can’t even see, because I know for sure that what you focus on does multiply. Music, music, music, is one of the greatest tools that exist and it is essential in my optimism toolkit. Winning by Agent Sasco is one of my favourite songs ever, and when I listen to it I feel super-optimistic! I have a playlist which includes other songs that inspire the same feeling, and I play them when I’m happy and optimistic and I play them when I’m down and fearful or anxious about the future.
I have also been vision-boarding for almost 10 years and it works, it works, it works! I believe so much in its power that I now train companies and individuals on visionboarding, in person and on-line! Thinking carefully about what we want for our lives and putting images to foam boards takes tremendous optimism since the future is not guaranteed, but one must force oneself to “see” one’s future, in all its glory as though it has already happened. As I look at my 2018 visionboard in amazement, at all the things that have actually happened, I am so happy that I choose optimism daily.
Building a vision board and choosing to be optimistic are expressions of courage. To believe that great things will happen in our future is to expose ourselves to the possibility that maybe it won’t happen, and to the inevitable disappointment that comes with that. But life is happening to everyone and disappointment will come whether we are optimistic or not.
Optimism promotes the production of dopamine, dubbed the “ignition system” in our bodies responsible for making us happy and increasing our motivation and courage! Dopamine is absolutely essential for our wellbeing and success, and choosing optimism is a natural way to put ourselves in the driver’s seat of our own lives and success.
The cost of not being optimistic, though — increased susceptibility to depression which elevates the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, compromising our immune systems and leaving us more susceptible to infectious diseases — is simply too high a price to pay for me. So I choose optimism instead.
Principal, Forge Consulting
If I allowed myself to focus on the myriad of messages coming at me from just about every angle about the doom of the earth, I would lock myself in a room and never come out. From politics, to climate change, to murder, mayhem and everything else in between; it is really just too much. TVJ, MSNBC, Facebook, Twitter and radio; they are all 24 hours of talk about all that is going wrong. So how does one remain optimistic?
Firstly, optimism is a choice. Everything is a choice, really, and the moment you make the decision to go in a certain direction, in this case, being optimistic, then everything falls into place. Sounds so simple, I know. I used to roll my eyes at those people who would say things like “it is within” or “the universe will conspire,” other mumbo jumbo. Yeah, those yoga people.
Well, apparently I am now one of those yoga people spewing this same mumbo jumbo. I made a concerted effort, this year in particular, to really look at the brighter side of everything. I often heard that what you focus on is what you get, so I figured, why not try this route of looking at the other side of the coin and made it my priority to be optimistic..
Firstly, I stopped watching all these news programmes so often because I was somewhat addicted. Yes, I love watching Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell and every now and then CNN‘s own silver fox, Anderson Cooper, but I no longer consume them first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Instead, I meditate and I journal what I want to manifest. I watch more Super Soul Sundays or I now go on YouTube and consume the positive messages. I sometimes turn to the social media pages of some of Jamaica’s young, gifted and influential ones like Yendi or Terri-Karrelle because they give us all life. I realised if I wanted to have a new experience I had to start doing things differently.
In the midst of all the craziness I described earlier, there is a growing sense of optimism in the world today, which can be seen in programmes like Super Soul Sundays on OWN or Humans of New York on Instagram, or Profile on TVJ. With increased nationalistic views in politics across the world on one hand, there is a new wave of young, energetic and diverse breed who are challenging and taking a stand to get involved and take control on the other. We are seeing more women coming together to make changes in the workplace or to even redefine the workplace. There are more women like myself who are venturing into owning businesses at various stages of our professional careers and this is in response to us deciding that we want to be directors of our own lives rather than playing supporting roles. These things make me optimistic. I am optimistic when I see millennials who fear nothing and take on everything because they think audaciously. They show me that I too (although not a millennial) can take on new challenges at any time because failure or success are not things to fear but instead things to be embraced. They give me life!
I am optimistic because the very thing that feeds me the negative messages around the clock also feeds me positive messages. Technology and all that it affords makes me optimistic because if I decide tomorrow to be an author, I can write a book, locate a printer anywhere in the world and distribute it online right from the comfort of my home office.
So while there are many things that could cause me to lock myself away and not deal with the world ever again, there are equally enough things to make known that tomorrow will be better. We have what it takes because never before has it been so easy to reach the world, to access information, to start anew or to choose what we consume.