Robin Roberts has said, “Being optimistic is like a muscle that gets stronger with use.” Lately, in spite of the fact that I am a naturally optimistic person, I have had experience with actually contributing to the atrophying of that muscle!
I am in the middle of coursework to obtain a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Up until five weeks ago, I have loved the coursework. I believe this degree and one day being a Licensed Professional Counselor suit my talents, gifts, and interests. So what happened five weeks ago that changed the status of “loving” the work?
Research Methods in Counseling happened.
Two weeks into the course I told the professor I haven’t had to learn so much information in a single block of time since first grade! He thanked me for the feedback. I also haven’t felt as intimidated by a course since ninth grade algebra. Let me tell you something about ninth grade algebra. I passed it but barely. The next year I did well enough with geometry. But the summer between geometry and having to take Algebra II, I signed up for the summer school course of Algebra I of my own volition. I did that to tackle the intimidation that filled my body every time I just anticipated taking Algebra II.
Summer school made a difference in 1977. Graduate school doesn’t offer summer school make up (or get-it-better-the-second-time-around) courses! I need to get this stuff down the first time around.
I have pouted and huffed and puffed about this course. It has filled me with a knot in my stomach from which I cannot distract myself. It just has seemed like too much, too fast, too over-my-head-when-will-it-end stuff!
In as much as I often study with music on in the background, I have chosen music to match my mood these past five weeks. My music choices have mostly been soundtracks of movies with big life, death, and conflicted hero themes. The one I have had on most frequently, for instance, is the soundtrack to The Last Samurai. Now I love that movie. It is my most favorite Tom Cruise film. I think the photography is beautiful and the story inspiring. But that soundtrack, man, is mood making and depressing!
Yesterday I met with a fellow student so we could work on a group project for the Research Methods in Counseling course. I refuse to bore you with details of the project. The most important point about it has been how intimidating the project has felt! Well, yesterday we effectively worked through and past our intimidation and got a handle on that thing. That felt good, very good!
I just happened to have put one of my Keith Urban CDs in the car that morning. Driving to and from my friend’s house and while running errands afterwards, I let Keith serenade me over and over because his music was lifting me up. I felt upbeat because of what my schoolmate and I had accomplished and Keith was taking me higher! At one point I said out loud to myself, “The music I’ve been listening to has got to go! I want Keith Urban, his song choices (the ones he writes and the ones he borrows), his guitar, his banjo, and his voice on in the background while I write the paper and work on the project due for this course!
Keith’s music helps me feel optimistic and it has made a difference. Until yesterday, I didn’t realize I had contributed to the stress brought on by this course by no longer attending to the muscle called “the choice for optimism.” It made me remember Robin Robert’s quote and inspired this blog entry.
Growing up I was told it’s easier to frown than to smile. Smiling takes effort. It takes physical effort because it works against gravity. It takes psychological and emotional effort because it defies the gravity of life’s slings and arrows. Turns out the same is true for optimism. (I’ve got Keith’s Defying Gravity CD on right now! )
I choose optimism and with that choice comes the discipline of attending to subtle details that will either flex that muscle or cause it to atrophy. I’m glad to learn the lesson and grateful to be flexing that muscle again, building it up and lifting my thoughts and feelings to a higher place where I can better bless God, others, and myself.