I recently attended a 99th birthday celebration for a wonderful woman who has blazed trails her entire life. Her name is Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne; she is Chancellor Emeritus of Jacksonville University, my alma mater. I have written about Fran in the past, probably more than once. But, a point made during the celebration of the beginning of her hundredth year prompted this post. That point was a reflection on the important role optimism plays in life. Fran is always optimistic and shares her optimism with all who come into contact with her. She has coached me on it many times over the years since I was at J.U. and had the honor of working in her office when she was President. But, it is hard for us mere mortals to sometimes grasp a concept like optimism in the ways she does. As the current J.U. President Tim Cost put it, she has “ferocious, tenacious optimism. This is not Pollyanna, this is not ‘It’s sunny out when it is raining,’ this is Fran Kinne choosing to take the positive road…and it is hard work, but it is worth it.” The last part of that quote caught my attention. It is hard work. It is hard work to be optimistic, to see light at the end of the tunnel – and be looking for it. Operating a business has many challenges that we’ve written about in these many posts. But, I will say, with Fran’s encouragement and example, I do try to see the positives and persevere in being optimistic that hard work will have a pay off. So, I was glad to hear Tim Cost say that it is hard work to see the world this way. But it is following Fran’s example that I see putting forth that effort can pay off. It requires a “can do” approach, persistence, and patience. And, I’m working at it constantly.
My late mother, who lived until the age of 93, frequently said, “You can choose to be happy or you can choose not to be happy.” She also had a scrap of paper, attached to her refrigerator door, on which she had written, “I am alive. Life is good. God is with me. I am going to have a wonderful day.” I now have that piece of paper (laminated, in fact) on my refrigerator door, where I look at it each and every time I open it. I am reminded by the similarities, despite their vast differences, between Dr. Fran Kinne and my mom, who both strive on a daily basis to maintain a positive outlook and choose happiness over other emotions. I agree 100% with Tim Cost, the President of Jacksonville University: Optimism is, indeed, hard work. As much as my personality does not portray an outwardly sunny and cheerful demeanor, I have decided I must be something of an optimist due to the fact that, even when things are tough, I keep on keeping on. I am writing this post soon after the passing of one of my heroes, Muhammad Ali, whose life was filled with struggles too huge for most of us to bear. Despite everything he went through, he persisted in telling everyone, “I am the greatest,” which served in large part to reassure himself that he was the greatest. If that isn’t optimism, then what is? Choosing happiness, believing in oneself (even when we are not self assured enough to say, “I am the greatest”), persisting toward one’s goals in spite of setbacks, and seeing the good, instead of the bad, in the world are traits for everyone to aspire.