Persistent Unreasonable Optimism

Due to recent events, I have discovered that I have a serious mental dysfunction that I am tentatively calling Persistent Unreasonable Optimism or PUO. To be honest, I see this one played out in lots of other folks as well, but I have had it really, really bad.

PUO is characterized by continuing to stubbornly believing that something is going to work, when it is pretty *&^% clear that it probably won’t. For example, in the 80s, I was employed by a company that I thought was going to make a zillion dollars. This was a technology think tank in Dallas officed in the Infomart. In every way, this company was cool except one: Their payroll checks had a tendency to bounce. I would take my check and dash to the bank in an attempt to get my check cashed before everyone else did. For several months, I continued to hang in there with this group, all the while my wife was looking at me cross-eyed. She was wondering (with great justification) why I was putting the family at risk by continuing to work at this job.

I simply could not admit the downside was now very likely. I ignored all of the signs. When the company was finally dragged down by the Pizza Inn bankruptcy, I was left high and dry.

That’s one example among many: I have had many crazy schemes in my working life. Most of these did not work out. A few of them did, but for reasons related to PUO, I was not able to fully exploit them. For example, I went to work for late-stage startup NetApp in 1997. Eventually, the stock options with NetApp were worth millions, but I stubbornly refused to sell them, convinced that the stock would keep going up forever. When the predictable business downturn in 2000 happened, the stock dropped like a rock, and we ended up with a million dollar tax bill. Eventually, we rode the market back up, and were able to sell the stock and cash out, paying off the tax bill. But we would have been sitting pretty if I had simply had the common sense to realize that it could not go on forever.

The effect has been that I have been spectacularly successful at times. I am very creative and hard working after all. But at other times, I have also been as spectacularly unsuccessful at seeing events which would be obvious to someone else who was not dealing with PUO.

The most recent event involved facts which I will not share here: They are too personal. Suffice it to say, I put myself and my family through a lot of trauma, stress, and needless suffering all because I would not, indeed could not, admit to myself that my mad scheme was very likely going to fail. It will be a while before we can dig ourselves out of the hole that I have dug.

But perhaps that’s actually a good thing, because I am now thinking more clearly. Now that I see the dysfunction, I can deal with it. Hopefull, if I can learn my lesson well, this will make it more likely that I will be wiser in the future. This would be good: I have a limited amount of time left in my working life and I need to take care of business at this point.

More later.