Microsoft founder Bill Gates has long been a symbol of success because the billionaire tech entrepreneur turned philanthropist got to where he is today based on his brilliant mind.
But, according to the well-known psychology expert, rational optimism also played a big role in the 68-year-old’s long-term success.
With the weight of the workforce, the bottom line, and the future of the company on their shoulders, leaders are generally told to err on the side of caution. As a result, optimism is often overlooked.
However, psychologist and author Morgan Housel believes that the ability to balance the two is an underrated ability that Gates has mastered, and so can you.
“Plan like a pessimist and dream like an optimist,” Housel recommended in an article he wrote for CNBC.
How to be a rational optimist like Gates
By Gates’ own admission, optimism is his “superpower.” But do not confuse this with blind optimism.
During Microsoft’s early days, Gates insisted on always having enough cash in the bank to keep the business alive for 12 months without any revenue.
When Charlie Rose asked him in 1995 why he kept so much money, he admitted that things were changing so quickly in technology that business could not be guaranteed next year.
“I was always worried because the people who worked for me were older than me and had children, and I was always thinking: ‘What if we don’t get paid? Will I be able to pay salaries?'” he later explained.
According to Housel, the Gates story shows that you can only be optimistic in the long term if you are pessimistic enough to survive the short term.
Housel highlights that “completely optimistic” leaders are “so sure of themselves that they can’t understand anything going wrong.” On the other hand, those who high on the pessimism scale have “so little confidence in themselves that they are unable to understand anything going right.”
Instead, Gates is a rational optimist according to Hussle — someone who acknowledges that “history is a continuous series of problems, disappointments, and setbacks,” but who remains “an optimist because they know that setbacks do not ultimately prevent progress.”
Housel adds that this is the place to be for long-term success, because it means you can see the forest through the trees.
“The trick in any field—from finance to careers to relationships—is the ability to overcome short-term problems so you can survive long enough to enjoy long-term growth,” he concludes.