Must Stay Optimistic

Why We Must Stay Optimistic During Setbacks

  • United States

Author:  Sean Swarner

Some people see the glass as half full, others see it as half empty, but I just gulp it down and ask for more. Life is a smorgasbord, and even though some servings are tough to swallow, you need to power through it in order to enjoy dessert.

Enough with the food metaphors; I’m starting to get hungry. Perhaps the reason why I’m distracting myself with culinary wordplay is that I don’t want to start this blog entry by being too blunt. I was recently diagnosed with skin cancer, but instead of dwelling on pessimism, I want to pivot towards inspiration.

It may sound odd to find the silver lining in cancer, but really – what other option do I have? I survived cancer twice when I was thirteen and sixteen years old. The big, bad C didn’t take me down then and it sure as hell won’t bring me down now.

My tone may sound bold, but I’m speaking directly to others who have survived cancer. Every single one of you is a warrior and you deserve the utmost respect and acknowledgment from your peers. If my situation can serve as any sort of inspiration for you, then I’ll write until my fingers bleed. This one’s for you…


Expectations are most likely unrealistic. Life is unpredictable – that’s really the only prediction any of us can possibly make in this crazy world. Rather than focusing on how things have not gone according to an arbitrary plan, try throwing out those so-called plans and embracing the chaos that surrounds you.

Like most people, I never expected to get cancer, but here we are at diagnosis #3 – the hat trick. With each ongoing setback, I refused to worry about the little details I might be sweating at the time. Instead, I latched onto the major challenge at hand: to trounce the disease head-on. My regularly scheduled events would have to be postponed because cancer had other plans for me.

Humans can only be in one place at one time. I am here, now, in my body, and my body demands attention. To honor my physical needs, I need to be present. I can’t fixate on regrets from my past or worries that will surely arise in the days to come. The present tense is what matters most.  Live in the now.

Living with cancer forces you to appreciate what you have in the current moment. I may be gone tomorrow, but I’m here today. Celebrate the wonder of every sunset and the amazement of every sunrise. Time marches on and you must be right there alongside it to embrace what lies ahead.


Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advising you to repress your anger or ignore your sadness. Let it out! Grieving is a natural and healthy expression to deal with our feelings. We have all experienced loss and each one of us has a different way of processing our emotions. Allow yourself the time to sort through the various complexities of a given setback, but try not to let negativity overwhelm your emotions and weigh you down.

When I received my latest cancer diagnosis, I felt the worst case of déjà vu ever. Part of me reverted to my teenage self as my mind flooded back to the memories of the agony I endured as a kid. But in this out-of-body experience, I was able to really see that younger version of myself for who I really was. I had not traveled the world yet, I had not scaled the highest peaks on the planet, and I had not developed the ability to process true pain.

Now I am an adult (contrary to what my friends might say). I can examine my past through the proper corrective lens and be thankful for the perspectives I have gained since those days. It took my teenage self quite a bit of effort to process the realities of cancer survival, but my grown-up self transformed that process into progress.

I used my doubts and fears as rocket fuel. Instead of wallowing in the possibility that cancer would beat me, I vowed to explore as much of the world as I could before it was too late. If I could teach my younger self one lesson, it would be that there are endless possibilities around every corner. Even though the mountain pass looks bleak, you can hold on and emerge to a whole new vista tomorrow.

Why We Must Stay Optimistic During Setbacks


Power is a fuzzy concept. At work, you may strive to get promoted so that you can have more of a say in how your company operates and performs. You organize your personal space to reflect a sense of calm and control. When you experience bad customer service, you may ask to speak to the manager in order to retain some sense of authority.

In life, there is no manager. You dictate your own destiny – sorry to break it to you! Rather than becoming overwhelmed with the responsibilities involved in controlling your own fate, you can embrace the opportunity that is involved.

It is important to delineate what you can control vs. what is beyond your grip. For instance, you can not change other people; you can only affect how they interact with you. Even as a motivational speaker, I can not expect to transform someone’s entire life with my words. I can, however, make them consider what I said and reflect on how my inspiration may apply to their own experiences.

Another interesting component of control is the passage of time. You can prepare for the future, but you can’t live there. Similarly, you can’t go back in time. Focus on the present and do everything you can to make the most of the moment. When you acknowledge the limits of your control, you can truly harness the possibilities of what you can and can not impact in the world today.

Taking control has a way of minimizing fear. It is instinctive to be afraid when you get bad news, such as a cancer diagnosis, but by concentrating on the elements of the situation that are within your control, you can whittle away at the uncertainties surrounding you.

Take a breath. Hold it in. Now slowly exhale. You are stronger than your setbacks and you are in charge of your optimism. Even when things seem in their darkest situation, the bright side is just over the horizon.

If you have goals you want to achieve to become the person you deserve to be, join me and others in The Summit Challenge today.

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