Lessons on Optimism

You’ve probably heard that “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”—the sentiment of Charles R. Swindoll, an evangelical Christian pastor, presumably a man of faith and optimism.

In the second volume of Anaïs Nin’s diary, she cites two different people who proclaimed that her diary would never be published. Stuart Gilbert, a famous literary scholar said: “You have the makings of a Proust. This is too natural and will never be published.” Denise Clairouin, a French translator of novels, said: “The diary will never be published. People can’t bear such nakedness. You are so much in life.”

Of course, seven volumes of Anaïs Nin’s diaries were eventually published, making her a feminist icon of the 1960s, a woman studied and celebrated and often quoted.

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image via typewrittenword.tumblr.com

The thing is, she started seeking publication of her diaries as early as the 1930s. It took thirty years to see her diaries in print and yet she never stopped writing them. Some of the closest people in her life fought to break her dependence on her diary–her mother, her mentor, her lover, her therapist, her friend. But it was her diary who became her best friend and confidante (wikipedia). She wrote 15,000 pages, which today fill two four-drawer filing cabinets in a Brooklyn bank vault.

She didn’t need the permission of others, not even her loved ones, to fulfill this deep calling. She gave herself permission to do it. May we all be so bold.

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image via etsy.com

May we all stop thinking about what it is we are supposed to be doing, how we are supposed to be parenting or working or spending or living. Forget about what you’ve started and what you’ve promised, not for always but for now, and think about what you freaking want to do with your life.

Maybe you want to quit your corporate job and move to the country where your children can run free.

Maybe you want to move to a bustling metropolis and devour culture with every one of your senses.

Maybe you want to live like a monk and write poetry.

Maybe you want to tell your boss to fuck off (maybe in polite terms, maybe not) and then go start your own company.

Maybe you want to create pockets of passive income so you can travel the world and work 4 hour weeks à la Timothy Ferriss.

Maybe you want to break up or get together or have children or stop having children or read more or kiss more or sleep more or move more or write more.

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I think you should do what you’ve always wanted to do. Give yourself permission. Don’t seek it outside of yourself. Be inside your body. We feel trapped beneath the skin for a reason, right? There is a time and a place to transcend the skin, but right now, while pressed against this earth, it feels good to be grounded in our bodies. Who we are, what we want to do, what and where we feel called to live.

If we don’t follow these tugs, these whispered callings, we’re not playing with the universe. We deprive the greater good of our individual goodness, our gifts, our passions. No one else is me or you. Our DNA is 99% the same but it’s that wild card of a 1% that makes each of us irreplaceable.

I wonder what these comments about her diary being unpublishable did to Anaïs Nin, if anything. Obviously she didn’t believe them. She believed in herself instead. Do I believe in myself? It’s a question I keep asking.

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Anaïs Nin famously said: “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” An optimist sees opportunities, notices blessings. An optimist takes criticism as fuel rather than bullets. An optimist knows that she can do a whole lot with her reaction. If Piper Kerman had wallowed in her prison sentence rather than immersed herself in it and written about it, we wouldn’t have my new favorite television series, “Orange Is the New Black”

I’m talking to you as much as I’m talking to myself, perched upon a soapbox of beautiful intent: I hope you believe.

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To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

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3 comments

  1. Awesome post. “People can’t bear such nakedness. You are so much in life.” Love!!!

    Anais Nin was one of the first writers to free me from that jail. People telling me that I’m too sensitive, too intense, too happy, too sad.

    Being an optimist allows me to feel all the things I feel and know that it all has purpose. How we use all those feelings is our art. You captured it perfectly. Thank you!

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