“If you are to become a true optimist, start by being a realist. Accept that life is difficult, and then get busy learning as much as you can about the challenges you face. Why? Because you’ve ovecome problems in the past, you have every reason to believe that you’ve got what it takes to overcome whatever problems life deals you.”
— This is an excerpt from Dr. Terry Paulson’s latest book, The Optimism Advantage. I just got my copy in the mail over the weekend and even though I’m only a few pages in, Dr. Paulson’s wisdom strikes me as exactly the kind of motivation and inspiration I need as I chase my writing dreams.

You may recall a couple weeks ago I shared Dr. Paulson’s twenty tips for claiming your optimism advantage and I promised that he’d back to do an interview for our Dream Chasers series. Well, today I am pleased to bring you that interview! Read on to hear how Dr. Paulson went from fearing failure and seeing life as “a list of obligations to be completed” to living the life of his dreams…and the powerful role that optimism played every step of the way.

Q: Tell us about yourself. What’s your dream and how are you working towards it?
TP: I’ve always resisted limiting myself to one dream. Life is less like a movie and more like a soap opera with multiple dreams, setbacks, struggles, new chapters, surprising detours, adventures, and new vistas that you didn’t even know existed. I try to keep my soap opera as positive as possible and let go of the disappointments as quickly as possible. In my nearly 65 years, I’ve been Baskin Robbins scooper of the month, a Christian youth director, long-suffering student, PhD psychologist, entrepreneur, professional speaker, author and national political columnist. Every one of these roles has been part of a journey worth taking. I’m also happily married to a wonderful woman who compliments me in every way desired and enjoys laughing and living every day. I have one son and four grandchildren that both excite and, at times, tire me out. I love the grounding of my Christian faith and the blessings life has given me.

As to current dreams, I am working toward a simple…or shall I say…complicated balance of speaking fewer times with audiences who need my message, driving the success of my newest book, The Optimism Advantage, continuing to make a difference as a political columnist and taking regular breaks to enjoy my family and grandkids. Part of my dream is not just pursuing my dream, but saying no to things that take time away from what gives me meaning and enjoyment. I’m saying “NO” more, so that I can say a big “YES” to what I most enjoy. I’m no longer pressing to prove myself; I’m now more interested in serving with the gifts I’ve been given.

Q: Describe a “gray” time in your life. How did it stand between you and your dreams? How did you overcome it?
TP: There was a time that I saw life as a list of obligations to be completed. I got my degrees, and I found a wife. Then I realized that I married for the wrong reasons. I had a belief that it was a failure to admit that I had made a mistake. I wanted a wife who would give me the space to have a vibrant life of adventure and achievement, but my wife wanted me home at five. One of my best friends had warned me days before the wedding, but I did not listen. My wife was negative, and I was positive. The more I tried to pull her up, the more her negativity pulled me down. The gray time in my life is when I settled for what wasn’t good for either of us but what I felt was the “right” thing to do.

I finally realized that I could survive in the marriage, but that neither of us would be happy. The hardest thing was facing my parents to discuss divorce; the most wonderful relief was receiving their understanding and support. It was only when I divorced that I was free to find my soul mate and complimentary partner. My current wife of 33 years is an amazing friend and partner. We share common values, political views, a strong faith, and a positive, optimistic attitude that makes every day a gift. We’re both laughers and lovers of life. My divorce was a necessary failure that freed me to pursue and live many more dreams. My ex wife thankfully found a partner that better matched her needs. Things happen for a reason.

Q: What fears have you faced as you chase your dreams?
TP: When I started our company right out of graduate school, I was worried about making it. Now, to my advantage, I was already used to poverty and had little to lose. But starting a company is difficult. I kept wondering, why don’t you work for others like the rest of the graduates are doing? What if you fail? I joined with a partner to start the Assertion Training Institute in North Hollywood, CA. My partner and I had part time jobs to take care of our survival needs. We had some marketing problems; the people who were most nonassertive were not assertive enough to call up. Finally, our business needed someone full time, so it was decided that I would leave my job and Marty would be our safety income. When I left my job, it was not more than a month later that my partner informed me that he had received a great opportunity he couldn’t turn down. I agreed, but I was panicked. I went into overdrive, seeking referrals and speaking to get clients. It was my accountant who sensed my concerns who finally said, “Terry, you may not know it, but you’ve made it. You’ve got a base of income and referrals that are stable.”

I’m sure there are many in this uncertain economy feeling the same fears I did, but I must say that the decision to work for myself is the best decision I ever made. Working for others is a controlled pay situation. Owning your own company puts you in charge of your own dreams. I would suggest that every one of your readers invest five percent of their time at all times in developing a “what I can do next” plan. They might want to consider making that plan a small business adventure that capitalizes on using their gifts to serve as only they can serve.

Q: What inspires you to keep pushing forward when the going gets tough?
TP: Maturity is having enough history to understand that life has both ups and downs. No down defines you. If you survive, you are not a victim; you are a resilient survivor! Optimism is earned from a track record of overcoming obstacles. I’m a problem solver, not a problem evader. I’ve been resourceful over and over again in such a way that I know I can handle what life throws me. Whenever I have a tough challenge, I say to myself, “When I get through this, it will be a great story.” In short, I have an optimistic perspective that experience provides. I know I can play a poor hand well, and I can do a lot to change the circumstances of my life.

My faith is my ultimate grounding. I believe God loves me and has a plan for my life. Difficult days just set the stage for new open doors. I love the Serenity Prayer—“God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Now, that is a centering, optimistic perspective. I also start my exercise by claiming one of my favorite verses of gratitude—Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” That’s a great way to start the day with a sense of anticipation of blessings. Finally, I don’t know who said it, but I try to pray as if everything depends upon God and act as though it depends on me. I know that by serving, you also are served. These are some of my anchors, and I believe optimists find their own. Memorize statements that work for you. Such self-statements can keep you up or turn your attitude around. In fact, at www.optimismadvantage.com you can sign up for a daily dose of optimism and receive a new quote every day for year. And it is free!

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is struggling to move beyond the gray and follow a dream, what would it be?
TP: Don’t wait for the perfect dream, the perfect plan, the perfect time or the perfect advice… The only places that perfect people exist are in educational movies and self-help books. As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Get started. Do something every day that moves you closer to the next dream. Don’t worry about wrong turns. In living, you will know when course-corrections are necessary. Life is like a moving vehicle with no brakes, no reverse and no easy offramps. All the action is out the front window. That is why your rearview mirror is smaller than your front window. If you can’t learn from the past, let it go. It’s done. If worrying about anything won’t produce anything to put into your to-do-list, let it go. Keep the pedal to the metal and enjoy life to the fullest one choice at a time. Don’t settle for sitting in the gray when you can get the excitement of the blur caused by a life in purposeful motion!
If you like this sample of advice, take the time to read The Optimism Advantage. Even I learned more reading it when it was done.

To learn more about Dr. Terry Paulson and how you can transform your attitudes and actions into daily results, visit his websites: www.OptimismAdvantage.com and www.terrypaulson.com.

Are you someone who is chasing a dream? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
E-mail me at Erika (dot) Liodice (at sign) hotmail (dot) com.