The O Words

by Anne Lucas

Lately, whether greeting a student for an appointment in Career Services or watching the news, I’m reminded of the same “O” word–Overwhelmed.  Seniors especially are overwhelmed by classes, assignments, leadership roles on campus and now—oh no!—a job search too.  It’s understandable.

Our economy is overwhelmed by unemployment, a housing crisis, a frenetic and frightening stock market—and oh so much more.  Truly, it can feel overwhelming to confront these challenges and to develop and execute a winning strategy to become employed or remain employed.

So what’s a person to do in these overwhelming, uncertain times?  Okay, I can’t help myself.  I feel my Pollyanna Anne surfacing as I choose a different “O” word for our times—Optimism!  It seems to me that the time has come for us to remember and practice the old adage of looking on the bright side.  If you can just ignore recent political debates, I promise you that there is a bright side to 2011!

First, you are a student, perhaps an alumnus/a, of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the best schools in the country and in the world.  Your Penn education can open doors for you.  Because you are affiliated with Penn, you must be smart and capable, with a pretty good work ethic too.  Throughout the decades I have been affiliated with Penn as a career counselor, I have witnessed so many students and alumni accomplishing amazing things—on campus and beyond.  You are next.

Every once in a while, the media even brings us a happy, positive story.  On September 23 Morning Joe interviewed Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, the entrepreneurial founders of Method.  They started Method in 2001, in the midst of a recession and, despite entering the extremely competitive field of laundry detergent and cleaning products, they have achieved wonderful success.  These two young, upbeat young men actually explained that they took “advantage of the recession to do things differently…focus and innovate.”  Clearly there still are plenty of success stories, even in difficult economic times, and you can be one of them.

So how do you begin to change “overwhelmed” to “optimistic?”  Rather than getting bogged down by—and perhaps even feeding—those nasty negatives, it’s important to seek and proclaim the positives in every day.  In fact, I currently have a contract with someone who has promised to text me every day citing two positive aspects of his day—one work-related and the other personal.  Sometimes he has to dig deep to find something.  It might be a compliment from a customer when he’s worked hard to solve a problem.  On a personal level it could be an exhilarating run in the park. It’s all about attitude, and I vote for Optimistic over Overwhelmed every time!

Once we get into the habit of deliberately identifying the positive situations in our lives, we’ll increase our levels of optimism.  As you probably know, Penn is home to a very famous professor associated with optimism—Dr. Martin Seligman.  Check out his homepage, “Authentic Happiness” at:

Let’s unite to make Optimism the Penn way.  Finally,  in case you need further inspiration, enjoy Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Accentuate the Positive:”

Author: Anne Lucas

Anne Lucas is a career counselor at Penn Career Services. Currently, she works with students in the College of Arts & Sciences.