THE BLOG
01/29/2016 10:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Mistakes Optimists Repeat (Over and Over)

2016-01-28-1454012763-8847537-Vampire.jpg

A leading financial magazine recently published a list of the 10 mistakes smart people never make twice.

Here's a list of five mistakes that cockeyed optimists often make more than twice.

1. Believing people can change. (Better known as "The belief you can change a person.")

You can change a diaper, or retool your face, but in terms of getting someone to alter their basic being through sheer force of will and desire, nuh uh. Never going to happen. Of course people can change, but they will never change the way you wish they would, or in all likelihood, at any time during your lifespan. Yet I have clung to that tiny ort of hope like hair on a biscuit.

I like to think of myself as a potentialist, or in other words, an idiot. I can spot an infinitesimal molecule of possibility in an otherwise soulless human who possesses no apparent redeeming value, and inflate that itty bitty subatomic particle of virtue into a full blown mushroom cloud of Nobel-worthy promise. Over and over, too. I have done this with employees, people whom I would call friends, loony neighbors, unbalanced coworkers, and mostly menfolk.

I'd think to myself, "He would be perfect if he were just different." And then I would wait eight or nine years before determining the times were not a'changin'.

2. Persevering (or as Einstein might call it, the definition of cray cray).

Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result is not the same as thinking you will chip away obstacles until everything breaks free and victory is yours. The thing is, while you're toiling and chipping like a demented woodchuck, someone else has gone 'round the back of your obstacle house, let themselves in, and snatched victory off the kitchen table of life.

My people are Eastern European peasant stock -- the sort who believed you just never ever gave up. I was taught to stick with it, keep your nose to the grindstone, move that salt, push the big rock up the hill!

I was taught these lessons by a people who left behind brutal, harsh, unforgiving winters of unimaginable suffering, and moved to Wisconsin when Florida and all the southern states were an option. The Ferderbars; three-peating mistakes since the 19th century.

3. Trying to make other people happy.

Don't wait for an unhappy person to bludgeon you with a ball pean hammer, while shouting, "You can keep trying all you like with the compliments and love and positive reinforcement and groceries that you pay for, but you will never ever in a million gazillion years make me happy," because no self-respecting happiness vampire will ever say those words aloud. What he or she will do is encourage you to keep trying, and suck every drop of joy out of your life in the process.

Ever notice how happy folks seem to attract good luck, while bitter, angry unhappy humans are like flypaper for misfortunes, calamities, and cockeyed optimists? After years of making the same mistake over and over, I've developed a little tool for myself when I suspect I'm being courted by a happiness leech. I find a lovely flower or majestic red sunset to point out, and I say breathlessly, "Look at that! Just look." The instant they turn, I run away. It's a simple, yet effective way of keeping your sanity and soul intact.

4. Finding the good in others, also known as "bad boy disorder" and "she's got a screw loose syndrome."

I didn't realize until recently that men had their own version of bad boy disorder: a man is attracted to a woman who seems to have it all together, only to discover, shortly after the relationship commences, that said female is batshit crazy, at which point the man keeps thinking about the beginning, when the woman seemed normal, and he erroneously figures the bats-in-the-belfry are merely a blip, perhaps hormonal. By then it is too late to escape unscathed.

We women know crazy doesn't ever improve with age. If anything it is shockingly perfected as time marches on. And men know that bad boys will only break our hearts.

Upon meeting the man who would shortly thereafter become my second husband, my dear friend Mary Knox-Sitley said, "He is the most inappropriate man in Los Angeles."

"Where do I sign up?!" I asked excitedly. I made the exact same mistake many years earlier, electing to marry the most inappropriate man in Milwaukee, certainly a lesser distinction, but at the time every bit as alluring.

So what? you might think. You divorced. No harm no foul, and all you were doing was trying to find the good in someone. But this is a cautionary tale. Because I elected to "find the good" in someone who hadn't taken any interest in developing the good within himself, I missed what might have been my one opportunity for real happiness.

5. Thinking you'll always have a second chance.

You won't.

Read more of Pam Ferderbar at pamferderbar.com.