Life is hard. Do something.

With the plague and related closures putting a damper on our normal avenues of entertainment, more people are heading to the outdoor spaces. In Texas at least, that means our amazing state parks have seen a spike in visitors. Because many of these are newbies unfamiliar with the fact that nature will kill you given the chance, there have been a lot more rescues than in the before times, according to a recent Texas Monthly article. People who have never done more than take a walk along their urban greenbelt decide to hike into some of the least hospitable areas of the state with little more than hubris and sandals. Things end poorly. 

But one park actually saw a decrease in rescues despite more visitors because they instituted a trail advisory program where volunteers make sure visitors know what they’re getting into. I imagine it goes something like, “Texas is beautiful, but she’ll kill you if you let her. Don’t overestimate your capabilities or underestimate her lethality.” And then some advice about proper gear and water and whatnot. 

Something veteran homeschoolers know and all the new homeschoolers are about to learn is that February is a difficult month. Whether just the weather and the shorter days or the distance from breaks or the fact that you’re past the midway point but not really seeing the end yet, February is hard. Add a pandemic and the general state of societal strain, and you know this one’s going to be a doozy. There’s a general tendency to want to hide until it goes away.

Whether it’s a hike into an unknown canyon or a particularly wearying season of life, our perspective facing a challenge will make us or break us. There are three basic ways to approach life: with unrelenting positivity (“Everything will turn out fine!”), with world-weary cynicism (“This will all end in tears, just like everything else.”) or with clear-eyed realism. 

For those who believe in always looking on the bright side, that can mean hope for the best and keep hoping through the tears. There’s a concept termed the Stockdale Paradox that posits that unrelenting and unrealistic optimism is actually detrimental. You can read about it in full here, but it’s based on the experiences of Admiral Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He noted that the prisoners who didn’t survive were the optimists–the ones who said, “We’ll be out of here by Christmas.” Unrealistic hope broke them.

The power of positive thinking is the power to leave us ill-equipped to answer life’s challenges. Hoping for the best without acknowledging reality will bite you in the butt every time. Overestimating your abilities or resources or underestimating the true nature of the situation and/or human nature is a recipe for disaster. If you haven’t prepared–mentally and materially–you’ll be knocked out when you hit your first obstacle. It’s not pessimistic to say trails in the backcountry of far West Texas are treacherous and I need to be well-equipped for them. It is not a virtue to embrace ignorance in the name of positive thinking.

On the other hand, you can expect the worst and enjoy your cynical mockery as you slide into a pool of pain. As a Gen-Xer, I appreciate cynical mocker as much as the next disillusioned member of my generation. But y’all, it’s not actually helpful and we know it. And we’re bringing the optimists down even faster. If we look for the awful, we will find it every time.

The real issue with the perpetually negative is not that they don’t see the potential problems, it’s that they rarely act to meet those challenges because “it doesn’t matter. Things are awful and will never get any better.” Pessimists tend to give up without trying or to look for the problems and enhance them. Everything may not be awesome, but it isn’t all awful either. Let’s stop doom scrolling, stop “I told you so”-ing, stop expecting all things to always suck. Looking at the world through poop-colored glasses doesn’t benefit the world or the viewer. 

Full disclosure: I do not lean toward the former viewpoint, but I can definitely fall into the “everything is awful and nothing matters” school of thought. I have an unpleasant habit of bursting happy little bubbles. I’m working on it.

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Is the solution some sort of happy medium between optimism and pessimism? Actually, I think that unrealistic optimism and unrelenting pessimism are two sides of the same coin. They view the world in such a way as to make affecting change unnecessary or useless. Both the head-in-the-sand cheerfulness and the LOL-nothing-matters cynicism suffer the same fatal flaws: lack of perspective and lack of action. 

The reality is that life is full of difficulties, but not impossibilities. So what are you going to do about it?

February is hard. We’re a month away from our last break and more than a month from the next. The days are short, the weather is often miserable, and two-thirds of the way through the school year means the excitement of the new has worn off and the end is nowhere in sight. That’s the reality. So what am I going to do about it?

I’ve written previously (and repeatedly) about the things we do to survive February. And I’ve come to understand that the main thing is to do something. We can’t just hunker down and hope it goes away. It will go away, but the goal is to come out the other side mostly intact. That will not happen if we aren’t working to make it happen.

Whether it’s February or the stupid pandemic or a thousand other situations, we have to be honest about the challenges and then we have to act. This is all very difficult. Things will not improve on their own. So what are you going to do about it?

To look at our problems and challenges honestly, without sugarcoating or overstating them, and to take decisive and productive action is not easy. Sometimes the honest look at our problems is overwhelming. Very often there is no “solution” that completely or even mostly fixes the problems. Life’s a jerk like that. But there is always some action that we can take, even if that action is walking away from the situation.

Fortunately, once you do start to take action, it’s easier to keep going. The laws of physics apply: bodies in motion tend to stay in motion; bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. The first step is the hardest, but once you get the ball rolling it gets easier to act.

So, yeah, life is hard. What are you going to do about it?

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