If there’s one thing people, especially people in my line of work (career services), love to talk about it is “attitude.”
Usually right on the heels of use of the word “attitude” comes the term “positive thinking.”
Positive thinking is touted as the best way to get through life. It makes you, at least on the surface, seem happier. It might even add years of good health to your life. It makes you more pleasant to be around. And, well, it’s just so much more positive!
I mean, isn’t it better to think positively than negatively?
Now, if you’re like me, all of this discussion makes you cringe a little.
That’s OK. It should.
Yes, it should. And here’s why:
“Positive thinking” is not mind-numbing optimism. Nor is it mind control or “mind over matter” even. But yet that is often how it is presented.
In fact, thinking like that can bring a lot of negativity into your life. (I mean, what happens when it doesn’t work?)
But let’s face it: We all do it anyway…even the pessimists among us. We have been socially engineered to think that if we just “hope for the best” or “only see the bright side” that these good thoughts we’ve put out there will reward us for our good attitude.
I actually thought I was immune to it until I found myself telling my daughter the other day to “think positively” and to change her “attitude.” What parent hasn’t said that a time or two? (Of course, it didn’t work any better with her than it would with me.)
All of my life people have said I was “easy-going” and generally a “happy” guy. But what they really didn’t know was that I was more like an ostrich with my head in the sand. True, I wasn’t stressed out and tense, and I was always smiling and optimistic.
But that’s easy to do when you just refuse to face the facts about anything!
I went through life “avoiding negativity” until one day I realized that I was incapable of dealing with certain situations and with really connecting with people. In other words, my positivity was actually causing me a lot of negativity!
So what is positive thinking then if not perpetual optimism or wishful thinking (or in my case, pretending not to see what you really see)?
A positive attitude or outlook is really only achieved, at least in any meaningful way, by preparation.
Yes, preparation. We can’t go through life (or our careers) denying that bad things happen or acting as though life should really be only how we want it to be. Doing so assumes a level of control that we simply don’t have.
In my mind, preparation means facing life as it is, not as it ought to be, recognizing that throughout your career in particular, you are going to face obstacles, especially if you plan to take any risks (and I hope you do! God bless you if you don’t in today’s market). Whether it has been my corporate career, and especially in my entrepreneurial one, a lot of people and things generally seem to try to thwart my plans and goals. All the optimism in the world doesn’t get rid of them or work around them. Instead I must prepare to face them because as soon as I work around one, another always seems to pop up. (I am positive about that!)
Now, it is impossible to “prepare” for everything. There is a reason people turn to faith, after all.
Yet what I’ve discovered is that by preparing to face objections and other obstacles along the way, especially in my career, I’ve grown more confident and more, well, positive. I can discern between what is and is not a real impediment. I’m not just hoping something comes along and rescues me. I do my best to create pipelines of opportunity, understanding that some will work out and some probably won’t.
Either way, though, this approach attracts many more well-matched, positive opportunities than just believing they will come because I want them to and, hey, I’m a good guy and work hard so I deserve it.
So while it is true everyone prefers to be around someone more positive than negative, that’s only surface-level living. We can all “fake” the right attitude for a while to get by. But a real “positive thinker” has a foundation behind it.
The next time you’re wondering either how it is you change your attitude about your career or why you’re optimism isn’t panning out the way you’d hoped, stop and think about the preparations you’ve made. Are you really ready to face certain obstacles that come up? Have you thought about the different objections that will stand in your way?
Maybe the biggest issue is that you haven’t given yourself an actual “reason” to be positive. Or, perhaps worse, you’re being positive for no “reason.”