Optimism defined: hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.

In a recent study, it was determined that the younger working class (millennials) is less optimistic than previous generations. In our current technology focused world, we are hyper aware of any local, national or global activity. This hyper awareness shows the granular existence of both good and bad. Less is open for interpretation. Reality can be less filtered through our own comfortable biases and can make one feel less optimistic than the less connected previous generation.

However, optimism isn’t a static existence or experience; it is a dynamic belief of the individual at the time of the questioning. There are moments in all our lives where we are truly optimistic and others where we have a deep pessimism about the future. Much is determined by our ability to understand and have control of the decisions that lead us forward in aligning our future with the perceived success that we desire.

Finding optimism in our personal and professional lives evolves from a clear understanding of our goals. These goals, defined by our desire and bound by our capabilities (both current and future), are at the end of a pathway – a pathway that is varied in both direction and length. There is no straight line between where you are today and where you plan to be. The path changes as a result of obstacles, conflicting choices and the unknown unknowns.

The key to achievement is to develop a plan that takes you to the vision of success.

The first step is to have a clear and honest understanding of where you are today. By assessing your business across multiple factors – financial, cultural, personnel and market position – you have a baseline starting point. Without clarity of this starting point, the following steps (and the decisions that must be made) are built on a faulty foundation and will be unsustainable as you move forward.

The second step is to have a clear vision of what success means for you and your company. Define the goals across the factors – this may be a financial number ($20M), it may be the creation of a sustainable, growing company to pass down through generations, or it may be to become the leading regional LTL provider in the upper Midwest. Once you establish the goal(s), a system is created between your current state (the baseline starting point) and your desired state (the goals and vision of success).

The third step is to take ownership of the plan and its corresponding goals. You and your organization must become committed to both. Each and every decision related to the business from that point needs to be made through the context of the plan and the goals. There is comfort in the status quo and often decisions are made that keep us within this comfort zone, but the goals exist in competition with the status quo and will cause discomfort. Belief and commitment, along with communication and reinforcement of the goals, will keep you focused in making decisions aligned to your success.

The last steps of the process are the actions necessary for achievement. The creation of useful metrics and measurements to assess the movement keeps you, and each person, progressing towards the goal. Regular review of the action steps – where you are accelerating and where you are lagging behind – will help you understand where to deploy resources to stay on track. Support your team through recognition and reward. Hold them accountable to the expectations and behaviors necessary to reach your goals. In short, lead them across the finish line.

Having a clear plan and the tools to work it creates an energy that drives success. This energy is contagious and feeds others within your organization to continue to grow and move forward. This collaborative and motivating energy is powerful. It fosters innovation and facilitates the necessary changes to bring greater value to your company. This energy has a name and that name is optimism.