Positive Thinking

Want to Be Successful? Quit Being So Positive.

Want to Be Successful? Quit Being So Positive.
Image credit: Brian | Flickr

“You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.” 

- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Medical School, from the best-seller Wherever You Go, There You Are

What do you get when you combine positive psychology and strengths-based leadership? Deluded people who will never realize a fraction of their full potential. And if they happen to be entrepreneurs, there’s a very good chance they’ll fall flat on their faces and take their businesses down with them.

Truth is, any fad that teaches you to focus on one aspect of reality and ignore its opposite is likely to be destructive.

There is a natural balance to all things: life and death, good and bad, happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain. The very idea that you should focus on positives and ignore negatives, likewise with strengths versus weaknesses, is not only delusional; it’s a recipe for disaster.

Let me tell you a couple of stories to show how dealing with reality as openly and genuinely as possible is the path to success and happiness, while focusing only on the positives and strengths can destroy your career and your company.  

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It’s no secret that Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1984 because his management style had become toxic to the company. Much later, Jobs would come to realize that getting fired from the company he cofounded “was the best thing that could have ever happened” to him. He called it “awful-tasting medicine” that “the patient needed.”

He also likened it to life hitting him in the head with a brick.

That forced Jobs to look in the mirror and see the truth – that he wasn’t as capable or as strong a leader as he could be. And as he addressed the issues that stood in his way, the result was the founding of NeXT and Pixar, his eventual return to Apple, and the greatest turnaround in corporate history that built the most valuable company on Earth.

He also met the love of his life.

It’s sort of easy to miss the obvious connection staring us right in the face, that it wasn’t just Apple that had hit a wall, fallen on hard times, and found itself in need of a turnaround. The same was true of Jobs. And there was an undeniable connection between the two.

It’s also easy to miss the insightfulness of Jobs’ realization that none of his later achievements would have occurred if he hadn’t faced reality. That sort of introspection only comes from someone who’s had some sort of intervention and gone through gut-wrenching change as a result.

Not to compare myself with Jobs, but the truth is I’ve gotten a couple of those bricks to the head myself. I’ve been fired more than once and lost my wife early in our marriage. But in every case I looked in the mirror, faced what I saw, made some changes, and bounced back stronger than ever.

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If I’d just tried to stay positive, focused on my strengths, and searched for the silver lining in the clouds, I never would have figured out what was wrong and become a better person, a better husband, and a better leader. I never would have achieved so much in my career or won my wife back. (We recently celebrated our 25th anniversary.)

If only those two success stories were the norm. I’ve known dozens of CEOs, founders, and business owners who were never willing to upset the apple-cart of their fragile egos. They instead chose to focus on the positives and lived in denial. As a result, they never achieved self-awareness and self-destructed along with their companies. 

Not only are none of us perfect, we all have significant issues that stand in the way of achieving our full potential. Besides, life is full of challenges and pitfalls. That goes for your personal life and your business life. And if you’re an entrepreneur, the life of your company will tend to mirror your own.

While life is full of ups and downs, one thing is certain: If you attempt to filter your consciousness and disallow negative thoughts or make believe the weaknesses holding you back don’t exist, you’ll never get past those hurdles and get to the next stage in your personal and professional development. And neither will your business.

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