Ask Augusten Burroughs: On Optimism, Irony, and Anorexia

Augusten-Head-LargeIn this installment of Ask Augusten, the self-help sage waxes philosophical on the perils of attempting to plan your life, the pleasures of moving beyond the protective filter of irony to true experience, and the mysteries of anorexia.

Do you think that if someone chooses to be a realistic, that precludes them from being an Optimist? Does "planning to fail" - or having a Plan B - mean you're a realistic, or is looking at the glass half empty or planning just in case a way of being a pessimist?

I see it is as protecting oneself... be real and look at the "what ifs" instead of thinking that everything will be fine. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. – Susan

Dear Susan,

Being a realist is in no way incompatible with optimism: the reality of most peoples’ lives is that something quite wonderful or interesting, positive or exciting could absolutely happen tomorrow or the next day or even in an hour. Though it is also just exactly as true to say that something painful or difficult or disappointing or infuriating could happen next. To be a proper realist, you must accept that both the positive and the negative outcomes are a possibility.

One must have respect for both the light and the dark. If you live your life expecting the worst, the day-to-day actions you take will be wearing bio-hazard suits and this will weigh you down, which will limit the speed, fluidity and agility with which you move through life, thus rendering an outcome that favors those already dressed for failure.

This-Is-HowLikewise, if you refuse to acknowledge that even the most fortunate and blessed life does come factory-equipped with eventual periods of loss, grief, failure, etc., then one can end up entirely unprepared for the fall, when and if it happens.

The cliché “when you fail to plan you plan to fail” is one of those dangerous pieces of free-floating wisdom that we have all heard at one time or another and it sounds so much like something true, we never actually think it through to see if it is.

It’s not. The medicinal treatments for several diseases were arrived at by accident; they were the direct result of a failure to plan. The seed of truth the cliché contains is that if you have a firm goal but have never considered the steps required to achieve it, you’ll likely not get there. 

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