Kindness is human nature. We hear and read a lot of horrible things every day from our news sources. But on the flip side, I am exposed to the best of humanity when I hear of people saving lives through registered and living organ donation. People helping people is a powerful force for good. I believe a collective goodness to help others resides in most of us.
Reading the news can be so demoralizing: climate change, war, fires, epidemics, rogue AI, mental health challenges, authoritarianism, extreme partisanship. But humans need hope. In order for us to create a positive future, we need to be able to have hope that there can be a positive future. What is the “Case for Optimism” over the next decades? What can we look forward to and hope for to help us strive for a more positive future?
In this series, we aim to explore and highlight the positive aspects, potential breakthroughs, and reasons for optimism that lie ahead in the coming decade and beyond. We are talking to authors, researchers, entrepreneurs, scientists, futurists, and other experts who can shed light on the exciting advancements, innovations, and opportunities that await us. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Cramer-Miller.
Jennifer Cramer-Miller is the author of Incurable Optimist: Living with Illness and Chronic Hope (She Writes Press). Her published pieces are found in Zibby Mag, Brevity Blog, The Sunlight Press, Grown & Flown, Minnesota Physician, The Star Tribune, The Mighty, The Kindness Blog, NKF Kidney Stories MN, The Erma Bombeck Blog, and Mamalode. She serves as the board chair for the Minnesota National Kidney Foundation, a Donate Life ambassador, and as a self-proclaimed advocate for joy.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Sure! From a young age, I have loved to write. An old classmate reminded of this recently when I attended a high school reunion. She brought some stories that I’d written in second grade, proclaiming that she recognized my talent way back when. I couldn’t believe she had saved them! We laughed about my “early work”. But it was lovely to recognize that creating pieces with words still delights me as much as it did in elementary school.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My affinity for writing merged with some unforeseen and challenging setbacks. One day I was a 22-year-old college graduate, happy, healthy, and ready to launch. The next, my eyes looked puffy and my energy plummeted. A doctor’s visit led to a diagnosis, and I grappled with two unexpected words — progressive and incurable. Three decades and four kidney transplants later, I’ve learned to manage uncertainty, move forward with hope, and find joy. Reframing that “incurable” label inspires my work to help others. It has also fueled my new book, Incurable Optimist: Living with Illness and Chronic Hope.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
So many people helped me along the way. But one person rises to the top of the list — my loving mom. After my autoimmune kidney diagnosis, my mom stood by my side every step of the way. She seamlessly infuses laughter into the most unfunny of situations. Together, we never lost sight of humor as we navigated heartbreak and medical mayhem.
On top of her mountain of support, she donated her kidney to me (for my third transplant) without hesitation. It was difficult for me to accept her gift, feeling like she’d done so much already. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Inspired by her remarkable kindness and unconditional love, I strive to emulate her goodness and give back. What a wonderful place this world would be if we all shared just an ounce of her benevolent nature.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My book, Incurable Optimist: Living with Illness and Chronic Hope recently launched into the world. What a thrill. My soul is bound into the pages, and I’m delighted to spread this message of hope, from my heart to readers’ hands. I wish I could have read my book when I was a terrified 22-year-old, wondering if I’d be able to achieve a meaningful life. But I’ve learned we all have challenges and wrestle with uncertainty. They might all look a little different, but life doesn’t go according to plan for most of us. We share this universal challenge of being human — how do we deal with the hand we are dealt? I hope this book inspires anyone who faces hard things and helps readers realize the lesson I’ve learned: where there are helpers with outstretched hands, there is hope.
As I am touring and making media appearances for Incurable Optimist, I’m also spreading awareness about the domino effect of kindness. My work as both the board chair of the Minnesota National Kidney Foundation and a Donate Life ambassador offers me a front row seat to the best of humanity. I’m touched by uplifting stories of altruism on a regular basis — selfless people who donate a kidney to a stranger can kick off a chain of life-saving kidney transplants. It’s so powerful. Living donors volunteer to give the gift of life, allowing others more time to laugh with and hug their loved ones, make memories, and be here with good health. Now, I’m working on my next book, which revolves around a domino moment that cascades into a chain of goodness. I think stories of hope inspire us to savor life and hug the humans we love.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- A Positive Intention: Life is a mix of beauty and bummers, and sometimes, there’s beauty within the bummers. I set my intention to foster joy, creativity, productivity, and gratitude. I’m a student of Martin Seligman, the “father” of positive psychology, and he compares our intentions to a garden. It is not enough to pluck weeds; you must attempt to plant the things that you want to grow.
- Resilience: Resilience is a tool that helps us adapt to adversity in our lives. It is like a muscle. We can exercise it to provide strength to accept and move through life’s challenges. I recommend this helpful writing exercise to help foster resilience — examine the narrative you tell yourself and rewrite the story. Sometimes people get stuck and label themselves as unlucky, unsuccessful, or unhappy. If they ruminate on those thoughts, it creates dissatisfaction. When they rewrite their story to focus on their good fortune and successes, it can release the negative narrative and shift them forward in a new direction.
- Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Successful people hold tight to an idea, start running, and complete the race. Don’t let up, keep going. Visualize hitting the milestones that allow you to complete the marathon. Focus on what it would feel like to achieve your goal and make an incremental plan. It’s so exciting to put in the hard work to achieve your dreams. If you see it in your mind’s eye, you’re much more likely to make it happen.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about the case for optimism. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. When we refer to being optimistic about the future, what exactly do we mean?
Optimists hold tight to the hope and belief that good things will happen.
Why is it important to have an optimistic outlook about the future?
It is so important to be optimistic because what you see is what you get! I wrote about this in Incurable Optimist. We all have a director in our head who sets the tone for the movie we make. What kind of show do you choose? None of us can predict the future, so I object to pessimists who call themselves “realists”. Nobody knows the future because the future is unknowable. Your thoughts are the show that you binge watch in your mind’s eye. Isn’t it best to watch one that is uplifting?
What are some reasons people might feel pessimistic about the future, and how do you suggest we address these concerns?
Many challenges swirl around us. I don’t need to list them; we’re all bombarded with crisis after crisis on our daily newscasts. I don’t bury my head in the sand and ignore the difficulties in our world. That’s not optimism, that’s denial. But smart, dedicated, motivated, concerned, ambitious, brilliant individuals and organizations work tirelessly to solve problems and improve the world. When we apply our energy toward a better world, we see the world change.
The legendary Mr. Rogers said that when he heard scary news his mother eased his mind by saying, “look for the helpers.” Her belief in people still soothes like a calming balm as we face the challenges in our world.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About The Next Ten and Twenty Years?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)
Here is a link to my 5 Reasons To Be Optimistic Bbout the Next Ten and Twenty Years: Video Link
1 . Kindness is human nature. We hear and read a lot of horrible things every day from our news sources. But on the flip side, I am exposed to the best of humanity when I hear of people saving lives through registered and living organ donation. People helping people is a powerful force for good. I believe a collective goodness to help others resides in most of us.
2 . We don’t stand still; people are fueled by innovations. I know this firsthand from my work in the kidney community. Numerous advancements are in the works to change the lives of dialysis and kidney transplant patients. Portable dialysis machines, improvements in medications to preserve kidney health, bio-engineered kidneys to eliminate the waiting list. There are a lot of individuals, companies, and organizations in the hope business. It is encouraging to know that hope is on the horizon.
3. Our young generation is full of thoughtful, determined humanitarians, ready to use their voices, and change the world. I’m continuously impressed by the conversational depth of young, ambitious people. Their action-oriented perspective gives me hope for the future.
4 . Improvements in communication technology and social media has blurred geographic and cultural separations. Our big world is becoming smaller and more united. This connectedness expands our compassion, understanding, and sense of global stewardship. People have an astounding capacity for creativity. Just think about all the new songs, films, books, TED Talks, poems, articles, artwork, and points of view that we’ll discover in the next decade. The well of creativity never runs dry, and I look forward to fresh inspiration.
5. People have an astounding capacity for creativity. Just think about all the new songs, films, books, TED Talks, poems, articles, artwork, and points of view that we’ll discover in the next decade. The well of creativity never runs dry, and I look forward to fresh inspiration.
In what specific areas do you see technology having the most positive impact over the next 10 to 20 years?
I realize it might be a double-edged sword, but the rapid changes ushered in by AI and virtual reality could introduce positive change over the next few decades.
While technology holds immense potential, it can also present challenges. How can we ensure that the progress we make in technology contributes to a more optimistic future and doesn’t exacerbate societal problems?
This is an important and timely question and relates to the double-edged sword I just mentioned. Positive things can be used in perilous ways. So as these new technologies change our lives, oversight is critical. On one the hand, virtual reality may be used to train surgeons to operate with no risks to patients. That could be helpful. On the other, the metaverse could pose risks to children or individuals who want to escape their lives and isolate. That could be harmful. Smart people must carefully manage the pros and cons as this technology develops.
How do you maintain your optimism during challenging times?
A positive focus is a key. Have you ever played the yellow car game on a road trip? If not, it’s a car game to help pass the time. Whoever spots a yellow car first, calls it out, “Yellow car!” It’s very simple, but here’s the point. You see a LOT more yellow cars that you usually would because yellow cars become your focus. Positive psychology research shows us that what we seek is what we see. So just like the yellow car game, I look for beauty in the world. And when I seek beauty, I find it.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
This is a fun question to ponder! I’d like to harness everyone’s inherent kindness and put it into action. For example, statistics from organdonor.gov tell us that 90% of American adults support organ donation, but only 60% are registered donors. This gap illustrates the difference between good intentions and action. Action is the final step that transforms a solid intention into saving a life. If I could wave a magic wand, I’ve love to inspire people to energize their kindness for all things (big and small) to propel that kindness forward into action.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 😊
Another fun question to ponder! I’d choose Katie Couric. I admire her on many levels. As a journalist, as an intelligent and inspirational woman, as an advocate for health issues and awareness, and as a lively personality and conversationalist. I’d love to talk to her about how she’s managed loss and uncertainty and moved forward with inspiration, hope, and joy.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best place to visit me is at my website, JenniferCramerMiller.com. If you’re interested in my newly published book, Incurable Optimist: Living with Illness and Chronic Hope, you’ll also find a link there. I really enjoyed this interview — thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on optimism!
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Author Jennifer Cramer-Miller On The Case For Optimism About The Next Ten & Twenty Years was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.