“Think Positive” is Not Good Advice

“We can as easily become a prisoner of so-called positive thinking as of negative thinking. It too can be confining, fragmented, inaccurate, illusory, self-serving, and wrong. Another element altogether is required to induce transformation in our lives and take us beyond the limits of thought.”

Whereever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Flickr Credit to: hellojenuine

I have a love/get the hell away from me relationship with advice. On any given day, I’ll call up my phone tree, asking various friends for their specific insight. Sometimes the advice is helpful, other times… not so much. Poor advice is normally dished out because:

  • The person has no experience with what you’re going through but feels compelled to say something
  • Someone thinks they understand what you’re going through and tries to relate
  • People tell you what they’d want to hear if they were in your situation

Honestly, I very rarely receive good advice. This is because good advice is partly about tactical information (what practical steps can you take to fix your situation), and partly about giving advice that broadens recipient’s perspective and understanding of what’s going on. Advice is another type of insight, but not everyone’s “insight” is particularly helpful or enlightening. This is basically why I hate “positive thinking” advice.

“Positive thinking” advice is fluffy and doesn’t provide the recipient with any methods on how to make their situation better. Additionally, many people who dish out this type of advice come off as being poor listeners and unsympathetic to what their friend is going through:

  • “To never focus on what’s bothering you, look forward to the outcome.”
  • “It could be worse, just stay positive.”
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  • “Life is what you make it.”

I understand the rationale behind “positive thinking” advice. The person thinks they’re behaving in an open-minded, compassionate and sensitive manner. More often than not, this isn’t the case. The problem is that it falls into all three categories of bad advice giving:

  • The advice given is very general with assumption that it can be applied to all situations for all persons.
  • People rarely know what to say sometimes, so “positive thinking” advice fills that void. It’s self-serving, because the advice giver can feel a bit better about themselves having offered their “support”.
  • Despite what the recipient is going through, the advice giver feels that their advice is something that all people need to hear because THEY tell it to themselves frequently.

Giving bad advice, particularly in the vein of constant “positive thinking” advice, can definitely leave a sour taste in one’s mouth. It can make someone reluctant to speak with you, or ask for your opinion, because it constantly comes across as you never listening. It’s also impressively disempowering when you’re pouring your problems out to a friend, and they dish you a piece of advice that makes it seem like you’re irrational for being upset or your frustrations are unfounded or unwarranted.

If you can’t give good advice, don’t give any advice at all. Trust me, the world won’t end if you admit to not knowing what to say.



2011: Half and Half – Why It Sucked and Didn’t Simutaneously

Thank the Goddess that 2011 is coming to swift – and much needed – end. In about two days, we’ll be entering 2012 and I couldn’t be happier. You’ve probably seen quite a few posts about blogging this year, ways to make blogging more awesome, goals accomplished and lessons learned.

I’m going to talk about why 2011 sucked.

Backstory: At the brink of the New Year I was living in Seattle with someone I didn’t particularly like. I needed to leave my living situation but wasn’t making enough money to have my own place. At least, a super awesome place with nice amenities. So I sought out a room mate, but then discovered Penelope Trunk’s blog about taking over your career, and decided I needed to move. To Florida. In a brief, gruesome detail free nutshell. 

Hands down, the second worst decision of my life.

Moving two days before my birthday, I found myself in humid Florida, staying with relatives, two puppies and one mean old lady who I grew to despise. After seven months, the highlight had been my overwhelming feeling of joblessness – mining the internet daily for job leads, scrapping by on what little savings I had left, and being told on several occasions that retail positions don’t like college degrees. Meanwhile, I found myself flailing as I tried to make important “life decisions”:

  • Contemplate going to the local community college and majoring in Graphic/Web Design
  • Applied to over 20 positions with Americorps
  • Thought about getting into PR/Advertising but couldn’t even qualify for free internships because of my BA in French
  • Attempted to learn HTML solo (among other programming code) in order to have employable skills
  • Looking into freelance writing gigs, but found myself mostly at content mills

Ultimately, I decided on blogging, which turned out to be really fun, and allowed me to meet some really awesome people in the process. Yet, the joys from blogging seemed to pale in comparison to my day-to-day frustrations of not being able to take care of myself. I slept in most ways, well past noon, as I half-assed my job hunt, hoping that each application sent would be my golden ticket to employment.

Like most people, I wish I had the power to go back and alter time. Where would I be now if I had stayed in Seattle and moved in with that girl? Would I be blogging? Would I had found another job? What if I had moved to NY first instead of going down South?

Thinking back on my 2011, it’s easy to understand why people believe that things happen for a reason. Everything I went through brought me to this point:

  • I’ve had more interviews since leaving FL than ever in my life
  • Met really awesome bloggers, learned how to use Twitter (kinda)
  • Expanding my writing repertoire to include comics and exploring freelancing
  • Learned A LOT (particularly about social justice)
  • Building my network and connecting with like-minded people

Despite my general tone of powerlessness, 2011 gifted me with a better sense of Self. And when I actually stop to think about it – I know ten times more about what I want out of life than when I was in college, living in Seattle, or even the time I spent in Florida.Which definitely makes the transition into 2012 much anticipated; I’m looking forward to the new year despite everything!

What About You? How was your 2011?

Vulnerability and Social Media

How do you define “friend”?

I think about this a lot, especially as a person who easily (and quickly) becomes attached to people I like. It can be heart-breaking to think of someone as a friend, and, later, for them to completely disregard your relationship. As if it never mattered in the first place. This situation seems to happen rather frequently in “real life”, but what in the online world – where the boundary between friend, stranger and acquaintance never seems to be clear, or it’s constantly being re-draw, recreated and redefined.

I’ve been faced with rejection in both my real and online life. It can be disheartening for a minor misunderstanding, or a difference in opinion to make a relationship explode. But I suppose that brings to mind: what is a friend and how do you know when you have one? This is almost exclusively related to social media. In our waking life, it’s easier to see who our friends are; the people who call us or write us. The people who we feel we can talk to about anything. The people who we resonate with the most. But online? Does spending months chatting constitute friendship? Does taking the time to e-mail each other mean you’re BFFs? Do private DMs mean anything at all, or is it just meaningless chatter? At what point do we know when we’ve reached a solid friendship? But also, when have we realized that our friendship is worth fighting for?

You never really know what a friendship can or is able to tolerate until there’s a tremor. Casual relationships, understandably, tend to explode the quickest since there’s no foundation or support to keep the friendship alive. There’s a strong undercurrent of; “I don’t know you, therefore I’m not morally obligated to you or our relationship.” People are more inclined to walk away from something they haven’t invested themselves in, including other people. But the concept of rejection is also very much about power.

It’s similar to the idea presented in “Two Can Play That Game” where Vivica A. Fox says that whomever breaks up with the other person first, wins. I do believe that there’s a strong sense of satisfaction and self-importance at having ended a friendship – regardless of its quality – versus being the person dealing with the rejection. A lot of the time, I think, the people who were rejected long for a sense of closure because everything happened so abruptly. The quickness of it is jarring because a person is cutting you off for no other reason than because they just don’t know you. 

For instance, a girl I knew in college unfriended me on Facebook. It drove me nuts; it still bothers me because she’s friends with people I know. But underneath all my insanity, I get it. I can’t compete with girls she saw every day in her dorms, the fact that I never called her or spoke with her, or the close relationship she had with a girl who become the Godmother to her kids. (Yeah, can’t compete with THAT) So technically, we were never friends, and it made sense for her to unfriend me. Yet at the same time…

This isn’t to suggest that every online relationship is destined to fail – I’ve made some amazing friends online who I hope to meet up with in real life very soon! But an online relationship can, and does, have the same emotional responses as one that’s initiated in real life.

What about you? What are some relationship explosions or mishaps you’ve had since being online?

I’m a Doormat.

When I was a freshmen in high school, the girls had to run the mile first. So all the boys had gathered on both sides of the track while we ran. Alternatively, they booed or cheered each girl as they ran past. I remember fear bubbling up inside me; I didn’t want to be booed. I vaguely remember the girl in front of me getting booed. Or cheered. I don’t remember. It was my turn – I got booed. The girl behind me got cheered. Part of me wondered if it was because I hadn’t run straight through and instead walked some parts. Or if it was because they didn’t think I was cute.

Maybe it was a combination of both.

Honestly – I have no idea.

Around this same time I remember playing basketball with this other black boy my brother was friends with. I told him that I don’t believe in God. And ever the proper Christian, told me I was going to hell. I thought I was going to cry. Good thing I hated him already.

During my first year at my new high school, I didn’t have very many friends. So I ended up sitting with the same few people regularly.  Two of the boys took my seat when I went to get something to eat. I saw them laughing about it. I don’t even remember what I did in response.

When I was 16, my mother didn’t defend me when my adult cousin called me names, insulting me. I cried right there while everyone watched. Only his wife marginally stuck up for me – and we’re not related.

My mother forced me to go to a state school because she couldn’t afford to send me anywhere else. I remember crying every night; I was having a hard time fitting in. Oh, and my grades sucked. I’m pretty sure I would’ve flunked out had I not transferred.

During my first semester at the new college I transferred to – I wasn’t fitting in. I ended up befriending a bunch of freshmen. I didn’t belong. They regularly said things that hurt my feelings and yet I persisted. One evening at the birthday party of a mutual friend, I made a comment I thought was hilarious. They didn’t seem to think so; and shot me down. I left crying. I spent the rest of my college career pretty much friendless.

My mother, when we moved to NY, didn’t want to enroll me in a school in the city, because she was afraid I wouldn’t be able to defend myself. That something bad would happen to me. Even my own mother didn’t believe in me.

I guess that makes me a doormat .

What about you?


Sense of Life

Earlier today, Rebecca Thorman asked me what my highest value is, and how a blog can help fulfill that. After a conversation with my friend earlier this evening, my mind drifts over to “careers” and how they’re so integral to our identities (or maybe it’s just an American thing).

To me, my career would be the extension of how I see myself. My values, my belief system. It would represent how I wish to be seen by the world.  This is why blogging for your career is so important because you can control how and what people see about you. You shape your own image.

A friend of mine wants to work with a very well-known company. Apparently it’s very well to-do. I am not impressed but my friend’s values don’t reflect my own. From our conversation and from knowing him, I’ve gathered that he wants to live “the high life”. Traveling internationally, staying in nice hotels, working for a company that everyone knows (although I had never heard about them before he told me about it). When I asked him why he wanted to work for them, he didn’t mention the company’s ethics, their statement of purpose; he just talked about all the perks of living in exotic places. Although he didn’t say out right, I got this impression that his underlying purpose was to be envied by others.  

And it makes me think of my own sense of life. Ayn Rand describes it as “The integrated sum of a man’s basic values is his sense of life.” This isn’t to say that wanting to work a glamorous job, or live a glamorous life is inherently vapid, or immoral. It’s an issue of priorities, of what appeals to us and what resonates with how we see ourselves. This is probably why people used to have a mid-life crisis, or why the quarter life crisis exists now – not knowing who you are can really dampen one’s spirits.

I’m writing this post because while I don’t necessarily agree with my friend’s motives for wanting to work with this particular company – because they don’t align with my own sense of life – I need to realize that’s how he sees his life RIGHT NOW. It might change down the line, or it might not. But what it DOES help me do is figure out where I stand, what my own values are because my work will reflect what I believe. And while I don’t know exactly what kind of work will reflect my values (or entirely what my values are), I can learn by looking at the choices my friends make, and looking at the advice (or criticism) I give them in return.

And that’s where this blog comes in.