Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pragmatic Optimism - Daisies, Part 1

I did a double take.

No, it can't be. But yet it was. Bright orange daisies, planted in dark brown soil in an otherwise inconspicuous white pot, next to a gas pump.

We had just dug out of two major snowstorms and much of the soft, white fluff that had turned into slushy, dirty ice was still in heaps and piles on the ground. It would be a while before spring would blossom again. So how is it possible that this bunch of daisies are in full glorious bloom at a gas station (of all places) brightening up a gray winter's day like a fresh breath of Rachel Ray?

I had to take a closer look. I felt compelled to touch those flowers. The minute I did so, I almost wished I hadn't. Plastic. I didn't know whether to be disappointed or amused. I guess I was a little of both.

Like all faithful Tweeple and FB addicts would, I immediately tweeted and posted the sighting on my status update.

"Is that cynicism or optimism?" I asked.

It would be interesting to see what my friends thought. Was the person who did this yearning so much for winter to be over and 'planted' the plastic flowers as a sign of hope? Or was he/she making a statement about how harsh this winter has been (for those without power, heat and couldn't get to work) and lamenting that spring would not come fast enough?

Was this person someone at the gas station with great work attitude and went the extra mile to provide a cheery distraction to the winter weary drivers reluctant to get out of their cars even for gas? Or was this person thinking ahead to not having to tend to real plants come the season for doing so?

The response I got set me thinking...and thinking.

"I think that's optimistic pragmatism."

Optimism and Pragmatism. One doesn't usually think of the two together. The pairing doesn't quite ring with the poetic partnership of Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility. Neither does it have the repartee of oxymoron relationships, like bittersweet or love-hate. Yet it resonates. (I love it when words resonate.)

In the case of the plastic daisies, the resonance worked. If the person responsible for them had been merely pragmatic, he/she wouldn't have even bothered to put the fake flowers in the soil. Why waste money? If the person had been purely optimistic, he/she would more likely have tried to grow a real plant a little too early in the year, in the hope that temperatures would warm up soon.

So then I guess the two are friends. Perhaps they are friends who don't usually see eye-to-eye. But nonetheless, they usually end up working well together. One who is too pragmatic may end up being overly cautious about taking chances in life; and one who is only optimistic may end up leaping in, both eyes closed, to certain peril.

But I still hadn't quite put my finger on how I really felt about the daisies. I kept thinking about them. In fact, the next time I went back for gas, I took a picture of them (and that story will be in Part Deux) on my Blackberry.

I also kept thinking about optimism and pragmatism. It was only in the last couple of days that I realized that I am all about pragmatic optimism. Yes, I reversed the order. Actually I did it inadvertently. In trying to find my answers, I had been thinking about "pragmatic optimism" and how it reflected my approach to life (it wasn't always that way, though). When I decided I was ready to write about it, I went back to check my posting and the quotes (nasty journalistic habit). It was only then that I realized that the response had been "optimistic pragmatism" and somewhere along the way, I had in my mind misquoted it. But in doing so, I had found my balance.

The truth is, I had never been a pragmatic person. In all the choices I've had to make, I had always rushed in where angels feared to tread, followed my heart without a head and done some knee-jerk reactions I fortunately lived to be able to regret. I understand now that all those had nothing to do with optimism. In hindsight, it's always easy to blame youthful foolhardiness on "optimism."

Living my yoga, I continue to believe in optimism as the way to approach all things in life. But now, I also understand the need to be pragmatic even as I am optimistic. This reflection couldn't have come at a better time.

I had recently started the process of reviving my career, and I couldn't have picked a tougher time. The media industry had seen a spate of retrenchments and numerous newspapers and publications have folded. New media and social networking have changed the way people consume news and information. For someone who had traded in suits and heels for yoga pants and mummy loafers for the past four years, getting back in circulation in the current job market is even tougher than for the average job seeker. For someone who had always kept abreast of news and trends (and continued to write and be published) I don't find it that hard to be part of this sea change. I had always loved and embraced technology. I have a HTML certification that is 10 years old!

But it takes more than optimism to convince prospective employers. That is why I'm back in school, pursuing graduate studies chocked full of credits for technical know how -- video production, video editing, multimedia, audio editing, online publishing etc. Journalism is far from a dying career. In fact, the role of the journalist will be even more important in an era when there is so much...too much...information out there, when the line between opinion and objective information disappears into the massive cyberspace.

Now, THAT is pragmatic optimism, as well as optimistic pragmatism.

So, I will plod on. Beyond journalism, I would be really happy doing meaningful communication and media related work in a non-profit. D.C. is the perfect place for that.

And yes, I'm looking forward to spring too. I won't be planting plastic daisies, though. I may not look like that kind of girl, but I do actually like real flowers. I have a decent sized green thumb that fares fairly well with orchids, herbs and ferns. With the job hunt and studies, I may not have much time for digging and sowing. But I could probably manage to revive my little plot of herbs in the backyard. And the phalaenopsis orchids on my window sill are still doing great and blooming beautifully.

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