For decades, Americans have been attracted to the “power of positive thinking.” In fact, it’s become one of the hallmarks of what it means to be an American. We’re so optimistic! It’s part of our cultural DNA going back all the way to the pioneers who headed west with nothing but a plow and a dream.
Now, in these rough times, comes the backlash. Last year, noted journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich published Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, a screed against the kind of philosophy that tells us, among other things, that cancer actually a gift that helps us understand our lives better and if we just visualize success and wear a ribbon on our lapel, we can beat it every time. Why, she asks, is it frowned about to think negatively when you find out you have cancer?
In the job-hunting world, Meridith Levinsion follows this logic as well. Writing at CIO.com, she says that a positive attitude can actually hinder your career. Really?
I wonder… if positive thinking ever limits our careers. For example, if you’re in a dead-end job, will a positive attitude toward it help you find something new, or will it kill your ambition and lead you to become complacent? Put another way, if you begin looking on the bright side about an unsatisfying job (e.g., “a bad job is better than no job,” or “at least I have health insurance,” or “a pay cut is better than no paycheck”), do you risk resigning yourself to a bad position and losing your motivation to make a career change that may ultimately be better for you emotionally and financially?
It’s a thought-provoking position and one that’s hard to defend at a time when millions of us are definitely thinking “a bad job is better than no job.” Can you make the mental leap Levinson suggests? As she puts it, “Negative emotions can be equally powerful drivers of career change as positive emotions. We just need to know how these emotions can help us and when to put them to use.”