Recently I overheard a friend listening to some sort of motivational speaker on Zoom. It gave me the creeps. The man actually said that Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” was his personal hero. Ugh.
This speaker was a living, breathing business pep talk. Hearing his over-the-top enthusiasm and encouragement and his assurance that if you think positively, you’ll definitely get what you’re after, made me think, “This dude is about 45 seconds away from forming a cult.”
Don’t get me wrong. I think Covey’s 7 habits have their place, but he is no hero. I think enthusiasm and motivation are wonderful, as long as they don’t turn into a form of criticism or a way to not listen to what others have to say. I’ve even been known to say “An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along” on this blog, and my first book is about gratitude. But these things should be part of the overall balance.
If you’re an unrelenting Pollyanna who sees sunshine and lollipops wherever you go, then you are, frankly, delusional. There are negative aspects of life. These negative things have a need to be acknowledged, too. They, too, shouldn’t be the only things you focus on, but there’s nothing wrong with having mixed emotions, or feeling sad or angry sometimes. It’s perfectly natural.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. I was really happy to see this article in Bloomberg entitled, “Trying to Stay Optimistic Is Doing More Harm Than Good.” It makes several interesting points.
If you know someone who is living on the financial razor’s edge due to this pandemic and is telling you his or her story, for example, then perhaps you shouldn’t respond with a sentence that starts with, “Well, at least…” That sentence shows you are not hearing that person, and you’re not willing to hear them. You’re not letting them vent their anxiety. You’re not acknowledging something that is hugely impacting their lives. (And frankly, you’re being rude.)
If you are a toxically optimistic boss, you pretty much make it impossible for your team to speak up and point out issues that need fixing. If you insist that all your zoom meetings start off with some positive bit of news in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping side order of political and financial unrest, you are not acknowledging entirely legitimate sides of your staff. You’re making them cut themselves in half to feel like they’re team players.
Sometimes things suck. Sometimes people are discouraged and depressed. That’s okay as long as it isn’t the only thing they ever are. Well rounded, mature individuals know that the emotional pendulum tends to swing back and forth. Personally, I take comfort in that. If I don’t like how I’m feeling at the moment, I know from repeated experience that it will eventually change. This, too, shall pass.
Further, if you make people feel as though there’s something wrong with them if they’re not positive 100 percent of the time, then they will seek relief in all the wrong places. They may fall into depression or abuse substances. They may become victims of Ponzi schemes in an effort to gain instant success. They may fall victim to Prosperity Theology, thinking that if their attempts to think positively won’t help, then maybe if they just donate more to religion, the money will come back to them tenfold. That’s magical thinking at its worst. At a minimum, they’ll think they’re not good enough.
People who insist you always have to have a gung-ho, can-do spirit are setting you up for failure. You really are allowed to have a whole host of emotions. Most of those emotions will be relatively fleeting. If not, it’s time to seek help.
According to the article mentioned above, people feel more sad, not less, when they’re expected to hide those emotions. Yes, do your best to look at things in a positive light. Be grateful for the good in your life. Count those blessings as often as you like. But know that it’s okay to get frustrated or annoyed or stressed out or upset sometimes. It wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t have those feelings every once in a while.
Give your cloudy side a great big hug, knowing it has a place within you, too. The full spectrum of your emotions should be allowed to come out and play as needed. If not, they’ll manifest themselves one way or another. They don’t go away. They insist on being heard.
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