Friday, 14 October 2011

The Pessimistic Optimist Erupts

This little image appeared (originally from someone called Stevie Kidd) in my facebook feed today...

The accompanying text indicated that we need to take this step out of our comfort zones TODAY!

Well I looked at the diagram and considered my personal steps out of my comfort zone (that were MANY and varied) and how many of them actually landed in that enormous circle "where the magic happens" and I figured the diagram should look a little more like this...

I just listened to an interview on the radio with a woman called Barbara Ehrenreich who has written a book called Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.  You can listen to the interesting interview here-

We have been completely swamped in the last few years by movements like "The Secret" and "Think and Grow Rich" and it makes me wonder if it has created a culture of ostrich-ism (no not ostracism though that is evident too).  It seems everyone was doing the ostrich thing while the mortgage industry collapsed into chaos.  Ms Ehrenreich suggests that it may have been viewed as negative if someone had said to their bank something like, "I'm concerned about our exposure to subprime mortages".

Could it be that this relentless dedication to positive thinking is really a way to tell people who have a problem to "Just shut up!"?  Is it the great ameliorate of all ills that it is purported to be or is it simply an unrealistic superficial way of chucking a Scarlet O'Hara and deciding to "think about that tomorrow"?

I have always deeply resented the "heartwarming" stories I see on TV of people who through positivity, grit and determination overcome a disease or a disability.  The partial paraplegic who is lauded for learning to walk again, to me, is a not so subtle put down of the person whose physical condition is unable to be overcome.  Positivity and determination WILL NOT allow someone with a severed spinal cord to walk, it doesn't allow someone with MS to halt the degeneration of their body, and it doesn't make my aches, pains and fatigue disappear.  I resent this slight against the people, of whom I am one, who have real constant issues that won't go away.

Getting fired or laid off is a REAL problem and is not as easily surmounted as those who have job security might think.  Studies about stress and satisfaction have indicated that seeing the final outcome of your labours is intrinsic to having less stress, a better self image, and a sense of accomplishment.  Is there anything more dissatisfying than sending resume after resume into the ether and receiving NO response?  Having a positive attitude becomes like a drug that requires a regular "fix".  You write a cover letter and send it off with high hopes and visions of success... you never hear back... you write another and hope again... etc etc....  There is a point at which pasting on the smile and imagining yourself in the position becomes kind of sad and desperate, and where you could easily fit into that classic definition of insanity - doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Sure if you get an interview and have a chance to actually meet someone THAT is the time for pumping yourself up like an East German female weight lifter and being UBER POSTIVE TO THE POWER OF 10!

I have stepped out of my comfort zone in this life more than almost anyone I know - almost every time I have seen an opportunity I have reached for it - and quite a few of those chances have failed and damaged me financially, physically and emotionally.  The simple act of leaping into the unknown wrapped in your positive attitude is DANGEROUS!  I took what at the time I described as "calculated risks" - I should have realized that I wasn't good at maths and that my calculations might be flawed!  Don't get me wrong, I have no regrets and I wouldn't give back the depth of experience I have gained through taking chances.  I have busted my comfort zone over and over and I will bust out of it again very soon I am sure - just as soon as I lick my wounds and try to heal a little from the damage caused last time.

My mother used to say "Hope for the best and prepare for the worst."  Mum was a child during The Great Depression and was one of the most positive and genuinely upbeat people I have ever known.  Her zest for life and rollicking enthusiasm were evident to anyone who had the privilege to meet her and I hope that I have inherited some of that spark.  She was right in her pessimistic optimism and I really believe the world would be a better place if BIG business and BIG government took a leaf from her book.


  1. My father likes to say that hope is not a method, and I think that has a lot to do with what you're talking about. For many people with disabilities, finding a cure for what ails you (whether it be an actual cure, a medication or therapy that helps with the symptoms, or even just a new doctor, a new set of labs, or a new hobby) is of the utmost importance. We must look ahead, weigh all the options, present and future, and act carefully and with purpose in order to achieve these things. What will absolutely not work for this is to assume that everything will eventually work out, and that everything happens for the best. Often your doctors are not as careful or caring as they should be, and if anything it works better to have a cynical or at least brutally realistic attitude about your medical care. While I do think that finding ways to be happy and fulfilled are essential for any life, I often wish that society at large would stop saying "people with disabilities just need to have a positive attitude" when what is really needed is an attitude shift and major reeducation regarding disability. It's a lot easier to feel hopeful and positive when there is actually positive change in our medical and popular culture.

  2. Just so nice to hang here with a like-minded person. MY mom was always a "I have no idea what will happen next and whatever will be will be." I am more proactive, but all the "Secret" BS is just that BS. Life is hard and ugly and then you die. I make the best of my life and help others do the same. I'm a happy person. End of story.

  3. - thanks for your comment and I think you make really valid points. Your dad's saying - Hope is not a method - is awesome! I really believe that realism is the answer. For a moment I thought your last sentence was going to read "it's a lot easier to feel hopeful and positive when YOU'RE NOT THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM. LOL

    Diane - I really found your blog stimulating and I think we are like minded. I'm delighted to find you have elected to subscribe! I'm a happy person too despite having to deal with some issues I would rather never have met. Great to meet you and I will read your blog with eager anticipation of your insights. Thanks!