Are you positive?

I’ve just watched a beautiful, uplifting video about success. It was aimed at women – all the images and speakers were famous women – but could equally apply to men in its message: work hard; focus on what matters; know that failure is part of the journey – use it to learn. If you do these things, you will be on your way.

For a moment it won: it made me feel hurrah! for those wonderful women and slightly unsettled that here I am, messing about writing poems, managing a charity shop, an impossible jungle garden and a family. Really, shouldn’t I be successful by now? Hell, I should be rich, famous and botoxed. I’d better concentrate, get on my way.

But on my way where, exactly? All the images were famous women – writers, sportswomen, politicians. But, at any one time, only one person can be ranked first for a sport; only one person can be leader of a political group; only one person can top the bestseller chart, or the most watched TV show stats. So how many of us does that make failures? The entire rest of humanity?

One of those captioned photos on social media listed ways to success including:
– think positive
– don’t listen to people who talk negatively
– keep your focus no matter what
– put yourself first
– because you’re worth it

‘Scuse me, but aren’t those traits of all those overbearing politicians and CEOs who know they know best and don’t give a shit for the rest of us? The Boss-suited tycoons who sign away rainforests, enslave poor communities and don’t pay taxes on their offshore profits? The lobby lick-arses who get off on undermining accountability?

Positive thinking does have a role in life – many of us will have benefited from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, sports psychology, mindfulness or life coaching – but it’s not the answer to everything. Nor is it an excuse.

Negative thoughts – providing they don’t wake you in a 3 am panic attack night after night – are our checks and balances. They stop us doing utterly stupid things. They make us discuss ideas with friends we trust or at least our bank. What if …? When negative thought is banned silly projects go ahead: remember Thatcher’s Poll Tax? Anyone with half a brain could see it would not work because it would be far too costly to keep track of everyone and – back then – the technology was not up to it. So many schemes of all sizes flounder because of yes men, yes thoughts, where negativity is banished.

‘Hey, Mr Fabulously-rich-CEO, what led to your success?’
‘Positive thinking and hard work.’
Bollocks. Sure those two factors played a part but they are not the full story. I’d bet family money, a good education (meeting the right people), networking (meeting the right people), charm (meeting the right people is the key to success) and perhaps even psychopathy all have more effect. As another captioned photo of barefoot women carrying vast piles of firewood on their heads says, ‘If wealth were based on hard work, these women would all be millionaires’. The myths of positive thinking and hard work are cognitive dissonance for those of us with money to feel we deserve it.

At the nadir of positive thinking we come to victim blaming: you are poor because you didn’t try (if you are poor it is because you deserve to be poor; if rich people earn their wealth then the converse applies); you didn’t think yourself better which is why your cancer is spreading; it’s your fault you are so depressed; you could cure your arthritis if you put your mind to it. Robin Williams being selfish in his despair because what right did he have to be depressed with his success?

I’m not “successful” in terms of fame or fortune but I was born into a first world country and have reasonably healthy, happy life. I try to be positive, think carefully, make good choices in all the little details of daily life. I think pros and cons. I think gratitude, joy and also things that should be challenged.

I think myself lucky.


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18 Responses to Are you positive?

  1. Douglas says:

    Positivity is a state of mind, a state of receptivity, so you are ready when the opportunity comes along as opportunities surely will. And success is not to be measured by who is first in a field. You have to have a goal and measure your success by where you are in relation to that goal and how much you are advancing towards it. Also, you should look at where you are now (which I think you are sort of doing towards the end of your article). If you are doing what you love and you are able to do it, then the rest is window-dressing. I write and I love the thrill that comes from creating. I love it when someone reads my work and they tell me they have enjoyed what I have written. I’d carry on writing even if it was just so I was read by that one person… anything more than that is a bonus. As for thinking I should make a living out of this thing I love, well, why should I be so lucky? I have a job and it pays the bills and it allows me the time (the luxury) to write and create – isn’t that enough and anything more just appetite or greed?

    • Myfanwy Fox says:

      Hi Douglas, thanks for commenting. I quite agree. We need to be able to evaluate opportunities and make the most of them. Sounds like you have a good balance in your life – and I do, too. I’m just fed up with social media trite “you CAN succeed” things when “success” should be measured in some many ways other than just wealth, fame, winning etc. And if everyone began to see that then even the media would have to give over on celeb claptrap all the time.

      • Douglas says:

        But you CAN succeed – the thing is to know what that means. No, we can’t all be Mo Farrah if we take up long distance running, but then to set that as the goal would be foolish and unrealistic. But to be good at running and to be better and better at it, that’s a goal and we can all succeed at that. The key is to set real goals and to be fair to yourself in assessing your achievements. As for the social media white noise… tune in to another station or switch off so you don’t have to listen. Just keep doing what you do and enjoying it – even when it is hard stuff. Best of luck – and remember a lot of it is luck so you don’t ever have to beat yourself up about it.

  2. Polly says:

    Well said, Myfanwy. Interesting post.

  3. harryowen says:

    What an excellent blog post this is. Perhaps our main problem is that we have so narrow and restricted a notion of what ‘success’ actually is. Instead of each of us defining success for ourselves we allow the world and the society in which we live to tell us what it is, and therefore how we must think and what we must do to be ‘successful’.

    As you so cogently say above: “Bollocks!”

    Anyone who can write such a considered, balanced and eminently sane article as this is certainly a success in my eyes. Thank you!

  4. Ron Runeborg says:

    I’m going to call “success” the ability to eat a peanut butter sandwich because really,as has been made clear so many times by so many people, your success depends on what you define as success, and I define it as a peanut butter sandwich in my tummy. In fact, I’m feelin quite successful right at this very moment. Positivity is like that. Whatever the world is at the moment, just pretend that’s your happy place and everything is wonderful! Life is simple if you know how to play! Or you know psychobabble, one or the other :)

  5. Ron Runeborg says:

    PS: Great post love…

  6. Perrorist says:

    It’s difficult to be positive when you’ve nothing to look forward to but further hardship and pain. It’s easy to say ‘be positive’ when you’re getting a fair go.

    Excellent post, Fran.

  7. Interesting and stimulating blog post. Personally, I think success doesn’t necessary mean being at the top of your profession, sport, etc but on a much smaller scale and relative to each individual. It could be passing that exam you need, getting a job when you are up against x number of candidates, giving birth when you’ve always wanted to be a mother. Positive thinking boosts self confidence and self esteem.

    The sort of self assurance to be at the top of your business or sport, profession often means being self-centred, ruthlessly determined, single-minded, ego-centric. It doesn’t always mean a good education – look at Alan Sugar, for example.

    I see my success whenever I look at my beautiful, clever and considerate, sensitive daughters.

  8. martindriscoll13 says:

    Wonderfully and sensitively written Fran, – altho less effing and blinding next time please :-)) – you are a success in my book but by who’s yardstick do you gauge said success by anyway, I come across a LOT of ‘lifestyle coaches’ [as many as buses it seems!] and they’ll ‘teach’ you how to emulate them and their road to accumulating wealth and success but it costs a small fortune to start with – and, bottom line, who’d WANT to be like Lord Sugar or Karen Brady anyway?
    Stay as sweet as you are and be with us in the shallow end of the pond, generally less sharks there! M x

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