A Spoonful of Sugar and Graduate School Optimism

Being successful in a graduate school program like the MSW@USC requires perseverance, dedication and commitment. But one thing you may not realize is that going to grad school is also an act of optimism. By going to grad school, you are investing lots of money, time and effort because you expect good things to result, even in the face of a tanking economy, high unemployment and social service budgets being cut.

Maintaining this optimism may actually be the most important aspect of successfully going to grad school, according to Tali Sharot, author of The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain. He writes in the New York Times that students typically expect to receive more offers and higher salaries than they get. This optimism, which might be considered by some naive, actually serves an important career-enhancing function that also contributes to better health and more happiness.

“We now know that underestimating the obstacles life has in store lowers stress and anxiety, leading to better health and well-being. This is one reason optimists recover faster from illnesses and live longer. Believing a goal is attainable motivates us to get closer to our dreams. Because of the power of optimism, enhancing graduates’ faith in the American dream by presenting them with rare examples as proof may be just what the doctor ordered. Their hopes may not be fully realized, but they will be more successful, healthier and happier if they hold on to positively biased expectations.”

Optimism isn’t just typical of the young American. Eighty percent of the people in the world – young and old – are optimistic. Those who aren’t – the few who can fairly accurately predict what’s coming – are apt to be mildly depressed. We also know that what we used to think – we have a predestined “half-empty or half-full” approach to life – isn’t true. We can all learn how to develop more positivity in our lives.

Looking back over my own social work career, I realize I must have been one of the optimists. I sure wasn’t an accurate predictor. Along the way, I bumped into my share of disappointments and frustrations. But because of the diversity of opportunity in the field, when one door closed for me, I could always find another open. And most of the surprises were happy ones.

The other day, as I waited to cross the street, a young woman stopped in the sidewalk and spoke my name. “Don’t you remember me?” she said with a dazzling smile.

For a moment, I didn’t. Rather, I didn’t recognize the belligerent teenager I knew – the girl referred to me by juvenile court who had been going nowhere – or worse – in this poised and put-together woman. After a traffic-stopping hug, we walked a block together. She gave me a thumbnail summary of her grounded life and promising career. Then, she said, “You turned my whole life around.”

Of course, that’s not true. She accomplished that. But just knowing I’d been around to help reaffirmed a lot of my grad school optimism.

 

An MSW@USC faculty member, Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, CSWM, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment. She earned both her MSW and DSW degrees at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva Universit5y. In addition to teaching, she is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach and lives in Santa Barbara, California. Dr. Jones started her career as a social worker running a group home for teenage girls in the inner city of East Orange, New Jersey where, among other things, she learned to make a soufflé in a roasting pan to feed the large brood of teenagers and staff that she was responsible for. Learn more about Dr. Jones at her Dr. Lynn K. Jones website.

 

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