Mark Le Dain: Optimism, the Learnable Career Skill and Key to Success

By Mark Le Dain, vice-president, of corporate development, at Neo Financial in Calgary.

When students ask about the best career skills, I increasingly mention optimism.

Optimism is a learnable skill, and if they had to focus on one, that should be it.

Optimism becomes easier the more you consciously practice it.

In the same way, negativity and cynicism can become your standard mental attitude.

The mind develops ruts, like grooves in a record, which is why developing these habits earlier in life is easier. It’s worth thinking about how you approach things and whether it’s with a positive mental attitude. Doing so is beneficial for your career and just simply more enjoyable for you and those around you.  

Optimists have a positive outlook on life and believe that things will turn out well.

This is required in most of the businesses that have been successful in Calgary. Whether it’s energy or tech, you are building for a future you cannot see but need to believe in.

Optimistic individuals can hold these beliefs even if, at certain times, it doesn’t seem warranted. I certainly do this when I believe I will beat my brother at basketball, despite his height and skill.

This attitude can be particularly beneficial in the business world, and several dynamics are making it more so. 

Let’s address the classic benefits first.

Optimists are more likely to persevere in the face of setbacks and challenges. They can bounce back from inevitable failures more easily and adapt to changing circumstances. They believe they can learn from their mistakes and try again.

A lot of success, even in creative pursuits, has been now shown to result from iteration. Continuing to try is a requirement for this.   

Interview success is often a function of optimism.

People want to know you have energy, believe you can solve their problems, and are excited about what they are building.  People want to know you like their work; otherwise, it’s an indictment of how they’ve chosen to spend their days.

An optimist naturally conveys this and is further buoyed in an interview by the simple fact that if you were to pick a type of person to spend your days with, an optimistic one is a natural fit.

A new and perhaps most important benefit has emerged due to the current rate of technological change and ingenuity. This benefit is the ability of the optimist to believe solutions are out there.

There are solutions to problems today that just recently appeared and are not known by as many people as they should be. This is a natural result of an accelerating rate of change.

Only optimistic individuals would actively assume that an unknown solution to their problem may exist and follow through on double-checking if that was the case.

Read Insights and Wisdom on Optimism and Innovation

Think about everyone grumbling right now that “my business would have an app if I could just tell someone what to make for me and it didn’t cost a lot.”

That exists. Several tools exist that create an app out of your idea without any coding. Bravo Studio is an example.

Or someone who says, “I wish we could buy that business, but we have no money.” There are more than enough seller financing structures that have paved the way for this now.

Or someone who says, “I wish there were a way to put all my notes into nice paragraphs.” ChatPGT will do that for you in seconds, and you don’t even have to learn how to use it; you ask for it.  

People who are discouraged by their options will never find any of the above solutions.

Optimists will likely double-check, saving time and succeeding.

Be optimistic for yourself, those around you, and the future.

The adage remains true: cynics are more likely to be right, and optimists are more likely to be successful.  

This essay was first published in the Calgary Herald (January 2023)


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