After his wonderful post on non attachment, venture capitalist Brad Feld had another great post up on his blog on the idea of paranoid optimism. Just like after his post on non attachment, I thought about this over the days that followed and found that it resonated deeply with the way I approach life these days.
Paranoid optimism, as I understand it, combines two ideas that are seemingly at odds with each other – optimism and paranoia. To take the business analogy that Brad wrote about, an optimist would look at the rosy market conditions today and want to believe they will stay this way forever. A cynic, on the other hand, will expect the market to crash tomorrow. A paranoid optimist, however, fully grasps the idea that the market winds may change any day (thanks to the paranoia) and still makes decisions driven by his/her positive outlook. That is a potent combination and can lead to great positive impact.
But, all positive impact aside, I think of paranoid optimism as a healthy way in which to approach the world. For the longest time, I used to call myself a “realist.” I’ve since realized that that term doesn’t do justice to my belief system. I am definitely an optimist overall – if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to live the idea of “every day I get better.” But, I’ve learnt to incorporate paranoia into my view of the world.
A few years ago, I’d written about this idea of checking in on the next potential “down.” I’d begun to observe a very noticeable pattern of ups and downs as I looked back at my mental states over the period of a couple of years. As a result, I developed this habit of checking in with myself every time I felt I was on a roll and asking the question – what could be the next “down?” For someone who was prone to high highs and low lows, this was a really helpful check in. It immediately grounded me and kept me focused on the present. More importantly, this injection of paranoia ensured that I wasn’t getting complacent. Falling down isn’t as painful as when we feel our pride has taken a beating. And, paranoia ensures pride doesn’t enter the picture.
I’ve written a lot about the idea of focusing on the process, of being mindful and of enjoying the present. These ideas make the journey incredibly fulfilling. And, when the journey is incredibly fulfilling, I find myself worrying less about the bad outcomes that inevitably show up and instead just focus my energy on plugging away.
It is paranoid optimism that makes this state of mind possible.