Cynical friend brings personal balance


Katie Whaley

Somewhere along the years of jamming out to music, making perhaps the most ridiculous inside jokes of all time and fueling an otherwise lifeless group chat with memes and random spurts about our days, my best friend has given me a part of her I never knew I needed: pessimism, and that little gift is the greatest thing I’ve ever received.
Before all the antics and questionable singing, before my best friend, I was a walking pandemonium of optimism. Every step I took was toward a bright and prosperous future no matter the obstacles ahead. For example, if I had a huge exam coming up, I wouldn’t worry about it because I’d always done well on previous tests; I used my past successes as fuel to think positively. I could visualize being on top of all my work and getting perfect grades because those were tasks I’d accomplished with ease. Though this thought process may sound heavenly to a Negative Nelly, it became burdensome as I grew older.
I was a freshman when I first felt this stress. I did all the work I was supposed to in my classes, paid attention and took detailed notes, yet my grades weren’t what I wanted them to be. No matter how much I studied math, I could not get above a B on any test; I struggled with the daily quizzes in Spanish even though I reviewed the content daily, and I performed poorly on my final exams even though I spent every night buried in my notes.
These setbacks were detrimental to my mental health.
As a person who only thought of the positives in every situation, I was confounded that my grades were sinking despite my relentless work, and I was stressed because I did not know how to salvage them. I found myself unable to cope with failure. It was an intimidating, foreign concept, something I had never experienced let alone imagined, and I had no idea what to do in the face of it.
Luckily, this problem occured when I was becoming closer to my future best friend. We didn’t have any classes together, but we shared mutual friends and ended up eating lunch together every day. Through talking about similar interests, our music tastes and bizarre things that ended up becoming legendary inside jokes, we grew very close. Yet, her perception on her academics was a striking difference to mine. While I looked to the future in happy haste, she cooly resented it, as she was not expecting great results.
When I first learned of her pessimistic attitude, I was lost as to what purpose it served her. I couldn’t understand why she, a fully capable and intelligent person, would discourage herself about things she could do and easily achieve. But, as time went on, some of her pessimistic mentality rubbed off on me unintentionally, mixing with my bubbling optimistic mindset to create a combination of the two that would help me resolve my battle with failure.
Instead of inhibiting my thinking to only the positive prospects of a task, such as getting straight A’s or receiving perfect scores, I began incorporating the negative consequences of a task when preparing for it so I had both ends of the spectrum. Usually, this meant I would think of short term negatives and long term positives to a responsibility. For example, if I had a big exam coming up, I would think of what impact it would have on my grade and upcoming classes if I performed poorly. Then, I would think that even if I failed the test, I still had opportunities later on in the class to improve. This thought process was beneficial for me because I had a plan just in case I bombed a test, whereas before I never thought about it and therefore did not know how to deal with it.
I also applied this mindset to how I organize my priorities and optimize my time management strategies. I make a list of everything I need to do in a day and determine which thing on the list would have the most negative effects on my life, whether it be school related, family related or otherwise. With this method, I can easily see what I need to do in order to have the most successful and least stressful future, which allows me to maintain a positive outlook on what I’m doing so that I’m not unmotivated.
Overall, this is, what I think, the best way to look toward the future, in short term negatives and long term positives. Before, I was struggling to cope with failure, but by applying this mindset to my everyday life, I was able to optimize my time toward reaching my goals and plan solutions for potential disappointments. Since I’ve started thinking this way, I’ve been more motivated to do schoolwork and have completed my work faster, subsequently giving me more free time. For others having trouble with staying positive or struggling with how to get back up after a falling down, they should consider using this balance of pessimism and optimism mentality.
Better yet, this mindset also allows an individual to understand both optimistic and pessimistic people and how they feel about the future, so from incorporating it into my everyday life has helped me understand and offer advice to my best friend. And if it weren’t for her, I don’t know if I would have ever learned how to cope with failure.