The positive power of negativity

The positive power of negativity

People with an internal "locus of control"—who believe that they have control over their destinies and that their actions matter—are happier and healthier. But making changes in your life isn't as easy for everybody, and we need to acknowledge that more than we do.
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Jul 07, 2017

(Shutterstock.com)Are you a career-half-full or a career-half-empty kind of person? Full disclosure, I fall more into the career-on-fumes-oh-look-the-light-just-came-on-the-car-dashboard kind of person.

But I’ve been in conversation with the ultra-positive side of our profession recently. God bless 'em! They mean well, and I’m actually happy for them because they're so earnestly positive and thriving in their jobs in the veterinary profession. And a lot of their advice falls into the category of, "If something isn’t right, just change it." I agree with that, to some degree.

Change isn't easy for a lot of people, and positive go-getters don't seem to get that.

For instance, this is the way I approach worry: If I can change something, I don’t worry about it, because I’ll just change it. If I can’t change something, I don’t worry about it, because I can’t change it. That being said, I’m not 100 percent great at keeping to this script. The main fault I see in the everything-positive tact is that it lacks nuance and is rigidly absolute in its viewpoint that change is possible and doable and even easy! But change isn't easy for a lot of people, and positive go-getters don’t seem to get that. "Just change your perception," they say. "Just change your attitude. Just change your job."

It reminds me of my visits to Home Depot. I often don’t even know what it is I’m asking for when I'm forced to fix something around the house. But because I’m a guy, many Home Depot workers incorrectly assume I have some modicum of knowledge in the tool arts. I don’t.

When I talk with them, I feel like I'm Koko the gorilla trying to convey quantum physics through sign language. Yet, no matter what project, large or small, forces me into this humiliating display of ignorance, they always tell me, “It’s easy!”

It’s not.

It's going to take me three more trips to finish the project. I'll try to avoid the people I asked questions of earlier in the day, buy the wrong size thingy, re-read the poorly written instructions and be able to teach a course on creative cursing. And it will take me four times as long as someone who knows what they’re doing.

When you tell people that change is easy, you're really saying it's easy for you

Which is a long way around to saying, I appreciate positivity, but when you tell people that change is easy, you’re really saying it’s easy for you.

Don’t presume it’s that way for everyone. Doing so ignores the coping mechanisms that are just barely getting some people by every day. Presuming change is easy ignores the reality that our profession is plagued by mental and emotional health issues. Not everyone has the same intellectual and psychological tools—and sometimes it feels like some people have misplaced their toolbox altogether. Those people need understanding and support, not soundbite panaceas.

When our colleagues share their feelings of hopelessness and their stories of abusive clients, unreasonable bosses and negative internet reviews, we need to recognize that if we tell them that they just need to look at those situations differently, we're not being helpful. In fact, we may be causing harm. Those pat answers can make people feel the problem is their fault, and if they’d just fix themselves, well, everything would be fine. That can add to the weight of what they’re already enduring.

We need to acknowledge that not everything is fixable

Positivity can be a bit blind to the negative. The thinking goes, if you plow through life positively, good things happen. Yet often extremely positive people are just blessed—or cursed—with the ability to ignore the negative. But I think we need to acknowledge and address the negative things to fix them, if possible. And we need to also acknowledge that not everything is fixable.

We're told to manage the expectations of our clients, yet we often don’t manage our own expectations. I was recently told that all suffering comes from expectations, so to not have problems, one shouldn’t have expectations. A bit too absolute for me. Good for you if you can achieve this. Personally, I think you need expectations if you want to change things. I think this profession can be better for us. I have an expectation that can happen. This takes more effort than just throwing positive thoughts out into the world.

I’m not advocating wallowing in the negative. That opposite end of the spectrum can be just as unhelpful. Rather, it takes a combination of approaches and finding the tools that work for you. You can borrow tools from your neighbor. You can create approaches to problems that work for you. You may be envious of those who make it look easy, but even though it may take you more effort ... or time ... or more trips to the store, I think you have the ability to work it out, even if it’s not exactly the way you expected it would. That's one thing I am positive about.

A graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Dean Scott has enjoyed 35 years in the veterinary profession, including five years with the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. He now practices small animal medicine at Animal Clinic of Brandon in Brandon, Florida.