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Toxic positivity: The Harmful ‘Motivator’

Last week, I talked about how dangerous toxic positivity can be when used as an attempt to comfort others. These days, it seems like ‘thinking positively’ is the seen as a cure-all. Whether intentional or not, in a way, a lot of people are made to feel like if they’re having any kind of trouble at all, it’s their own fault for simply not changing the way that they’re thinking. This has been applied both in ‘comforting’ others who are dealing with trauma, grief, etc, as well as in ‘motivating’ people to do their best, push forward and improve their life.

I’m here to tell you it’s bullshit.

Yes, positivity is important and can be beneficial in our daily lives. It’s why I preach things like affirmations and gratitudes as tools on any healing journey. However, it is not a cure or solution to everything. And things that seem positive on the surface aren’t always positive in actuality. As I mentioned last week, negative thoughts and emotions have their place too.

Sometimes, in our careers or relationships, we’re often told to push through. That anything worth it in the end has a hard journey. We’re told that nothing good comes easy, beauty takes pain and that there’s never going to be a right time so just do it now. We need to enjoy every moment because it all goes by so fast.

This leads to an insane amount of pressure and can sometimes lead to us disregarding our actual needs.

There are points in everyone’s life where warning signs go off in our mind or gut. Where something just feels off or like a bad idea. But because of toxic positivity, whether from the people we know, social media, etc, we think that maybe it’s just because we’re not trying hard enough. So we stay in that relationship that wears us out. We take on more tasks at work instead of setting boundaries. And we dive into starting that business without doing all of the proper research and prep work because we’re afraid of waiting too long.

Sometimes, it’s okay to say no or even not right now.

Earlier this month, I was involved in two separate conversations with different female entrepreneurs about this toxic positivity phenomenon. Both of these women are powerhouse ladies who are charting their own courses and always seem like they’re really on top of things, so I was super intrigued when they both agreed with me that sometimes it’s just too much. And yet we, particularly as women, are expected to be able to just power through and do it all with a smile on our faces. Throughout these discussions, we focused a lot on how toxic positivity is used as an attempt to motivate us. But here’s the thing:

It can actually be really deceiving or even devalue our time and worth.

One example is how when we’re young, we’re told how impressive it looks to our bosses when we’re the first one in and the last one out. Always be busy, don’t ask for help and make yourself invaluable. And of course, do it all with a smile. We’re told that this is a great way to get ahead because everyone likes a go-getter. Often, what actually happens here is that your boss realizes that no matter how much work they keep piling on you, you’ll get it done without complaining. Why hire someone else when they can just give you double the work without doubling your pay?

You may be indispensable, but you time and worth aren’t actually being valued or compensated properly. Rather than leading towards feeling successful, it will eventually lead to exhaustion and contempt. Your trying to be positive and push through can actually keep you stranded at the starting line. Instead, you need to be able to set boundaries for yourself.

Ask for help when you need it, speak up when you can’t take on any more, and make sure you’re charging your worth.

Another example of toxic positivity that I found myself discussing was the pressure to do it all right now as an entrepreneur. Our inboxes and social media feeds are constantly full of messages telling us not to wait and to start now. Promises of instant success if you follow their courses, bragging about how they’re making 6+ figures and telling you that you should be too… Telling you that a year from now, you’ll wish you had started today and you’ll be filled with regret if you don’t start the thing right now. Again, so much pressure!

Sometimes, it does pay to just start, but sometimes, you have to ease into it.

For example, you can’t just decide that you’re going to be a runner and then run a marathon the next day. You need to warm up, train, and get yourself ready. The same concept can be applied to other things as well. Maybe you need to have some savings to take care of your family expenses while you make the leap into entrepreneurship. Perhaps you need to secure a proper place to work out of so that you can actually concentrate. Maybe it’s taking the time to research what accreditations and courses you’ll need to move forward and maybe it’s figuring out what compromises you’re going to have to make in other areas.

I have been thinking and talking a lot over the last year about how I really want to become an official life coach so that I can use my knowledge and experience to help more people. I would see these posts and emails and start getting in my own head about how if I didn’t do it now, I probably never would. The pressure to sign up for the courses and get accredited and dive in was high, but then between talking with my husband and my own life coach, I realized just how wrong that decision would be for me.

Right now, I am a full time at home mom to an energetic two year old, running two businesses, renovating a home, and going to have my second child any day now. As much as I want to do this coaching thing, taking that on right now would be crazy!

I would for sure burn out.

Not only would I not be able to be fully invested and get the most out of it, but it would probably take longer to do because of my lack of focus. My other responsibilities would suffer, I’d have less time for my children, and I can guarantee that self-care would go right out the window. I would be exhausted and would end up resenting the work I was doing rather than feeling like I was answering my calling, and I’d probably give up before ever making a real difference.

These posts and emails that are telling me that if I don’t start now, I’ll never do it, are forgetting to mention how many people give up because they weren’t actually ready to do the thing in the first place. For some projects, you can just dive right in, but for others, you need to be in the right place financially, mentally and emotionally. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to take the leap into coaching. I believe it’s my calling and that I can really make a difference. But I am learning not to listen to toxic positivity disguised as motivation that seems to be coming at me from all sides. Because I know myself. I know what I can handle right now and I know that pushing it off until a later time when I’m better equipped is not the same thing as giving up.

Sometimes, we need someone to tell us it’s okay to say no or not yet.

And so that’s why I’m here today. To give you permission to wait until you’re ready or to admit that you’ll never be ready. (Not that you need it, but sometimes you just have to hear it) You’re allowed to say I can’t take that on or that’s not part of my job description. Asking for help, taking a break… it’s all part of being human and does not make you weak or lazy. Yes, it can be great to be positive and to take risks. But being realistic and reasonable is also important.

Just because someone else is able to take something on (or pretend to) doesn’t mean that what you’re doing isn’t enough. And so if you’ve felt pressure to do and be more, but know that you just don’t have it in you right now, that’s totally fine. Give yourself credit for everything you are doing.

I see you, and even if you don’t feel like it right now, you’re killing it.

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