Guilty As Charged
Updated: Mar 2
Long before I ever thought about being a coach, I considered myself to be a relatively positive person. I felt reasonably good about myself and my skills. I was pretty happy with my experiences and the world around me. I don't remember ever being the type of person to dwell on anything negative, or mope, or give up. I just didn't think that way. I wasn't engineered that way. I smiled and laughed and went about my life when things went wrong and just decided that it was going to be alright. Eventually it would all work out. And I never gave being unhappy for long periods of time a second thought. Everybody recovers. Everybody smiles again. Everybody knows the sun is waiting for us behind the clouds.
And then I grew up. And I encountered those people who just - aren't - happy. Who just can't seem to find a way to smile. Who believe that the world is against them and they are the victim of a vast conspiracy to keep them down and out. Any happiness comes along sporadically, and dissipates quickly to make room for the gloom that is sure to follow. I actually started to believe that I was just engineered differently. My body and my mind were built for happiness and positive thoughts. And those other Negative Nellies out there were just - not. I was so lucky to be a positive person. I was so lucky to have the built-in resilience to overcome sadness more often than not and just stay on track. What a relief!
Coaching taught me to fully understand the power of our own thinking, the power of our own minds, and the power to change how we feel. I had to look more carefully at what I was doing to keep positive and how that contrasted so greatly with people who don't. Coaching was a revelation. I wasn't positive and upbeat because I was just lucky. I was positive and upbeat because I learned to create positive and upbeat thoughts, that led to actions that furthered my ability to see the world in a positive light. I wasn't lucky at all. I was just really darn good at being positive. Who knew?!
So now I was ready to coach the hell out of the world and make everyone who I encountered happy. I could teach them how to do it. I could inspire them to just look at things in a different light. And all was going well. But then it finally happened. I was accused of a terrible crime and called a terrible name. One of my clients called me the Positivity Police. (cue dramatic music here...) Yikes! She was sort of joking, but - not really. She said she just wasn't in the mood to be told to rethink or question or examine her thinking about the situation. The situation sucked - plain and simple - and there was no amount of cheerleading, smiling, self-talk, encouragement or happy thoughts that was going to change it. She basically told me to take my positive talk and shove it. And being the positive person that I am, I basically refused.
I would never, ever assume that pervasive feelings of unhappiness or sadness are always cured with a smile or a positive thought. There are legitimate reasons to be unhappy. And there are undeniably larger issues at play that explain why some people are pervasively unhappy and unable to see their way to feeling better in that moment. I would never ignore that or discredit these feelings. And I never tell my clients that they should stop being unhappy. Being negative or unhappy is still a part of our experience as humans. If we never experience sadness than we would never know the feelings of gladness. We are allowed to be sad. We are allowed to be hurt. We are allowed to believe that life sucks. But being positive is our insistence to see the terrible things outside of our control and create a narrative that allows us to view them in a less terrible way. We must never forget that how we respond to the negative things we perceive is actually a choice. For the vast majority of us, we can choose to be positive....or not. We can choose to see the positive....or not. We can choose to be happy....or not. Period.
My car broke down and now I must walk 1 mile back to the nearest gas station. I guess my Fitbit step count is going to rock today. 10,000 steps here I come.
My candidate lost the election. Now is the time to raise my voice and get involved - I bet I'll find like-minded people when I volunteer next week.
My doctor said I need surgery. I am so lucky to be among the privileged in this world with access to great medical care and a way to heal. Surgery gives me a chance to live an even fuller life.
My grandmother died unexpectedly. I am sad but I am blessed to have known her and as her legacy, and I can decide how to honor her memory so that I never forget her impact on my life.
Bad things. Sad things. Frustrating things. They happen. But we make choices about how to view them. And those choices will dictate the way our life proceeds for the next minute and far into the coming days. Being positive doesn't cost anything. It doesn't take much effort. It doesn't ignore the reality. It doesn't pretend to fix everything. It just allows us to see a different way forward. As the Positivity Police I am constantly on patrol, searching for the best way to take what negative things are passed my way to change the narrative, change my thoughts, and change my attitude. It doesn't always work. But it doesn't have a chance of working if I don't try at all.
I will never be offended when I'm accused of being positive, or cheerful, or upbeat or otherwise happy. I can help it. It is my fault. Guilty as charged. Go ahead and arrest me. I'll find something to smile about when you do.