The Perils of Positive Thinking

The Perils of Positive Thinking

My past week of job stalking has been a series of highs and lows. Highs include a very successful pitch with a potential freelance gig, but with the concurrent wait. Several employers e-mailed me for interview days and times....and never called back after my response. I was able to send a plethora of applications out into the great black hole, and now comes the waiting.

Many articles and job search experts discuss the role that attitude plays in finding and keeping a job. (In fact, I've even written about that subject in this very blog.). However, sometimes having a positive attitude can be a little detrimental, not just in job seeking but in our society...and this week, I'll be reviewing Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.

Now, you may be thinking that I'm going a little too far, but Ehrenreich has written a book that I think has much more of an impact on the current economic/job search climate than her earlier work Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America. While that work focused on the travails of those who are underemployed, Bright-Sided takes a much harsher view of the prevailing climate of "positive thinking." It's the kind of thinking encountered at many networking groups - people who speak about the benefits of "starting your own business" while gleefully omitting the effort and sacrifice needed; those who are willing to talk about how others do wonderful things, yet somehow manage to defer responsibility for their own tasks; and encouraging job seekers to strive towards that "dream job", as if to suggest that the grass is always greener on the other side rather than train someone to take care of their own lawn.

However, if you are thinking that Ehrenreich is taking a purely pessimistic view of matters, you would be mistaken. She is realistic, taking a harsh, skeptical view of the belief that focusing on the positive is always the best mode of operations. In fact, towards the end of the book she discusses a concept called defensive pessimism - a psychological concept around conceiving of the worst possible outcomes, and planning strategies to compensate/handle those outcomes. Defensive pessimism is not only receiving strong scholarship in the field of psychology, but some business authors like Jim Collins (in Great By Choice) also advocate that mode of thinking as an example of giving businesses an edge...

...and in many ways, perhaps that's why I have such an edge - and have seen relative successes - in my job seeking. It isn't that I hope for the best; my thinking tends to focus on the smaller things that can go wrong. By planning around them, I have a much broader range of options presented as a result.

Ehrenreich's book is a pretty easy, well thought-out read, and is worth checking out. At the very least, when you encounter one of the eternally sunny positive-thinking people, you now have justification for your well as some pretty good counter-arguments.

Any thoughts about today's post, or Ehrenreich's work in general? Please feel free to leave a comment below. In addition, I'm more than willing to connect with you via Linked In (just send me a note saying you're reaching me through Job Stalker), and you can check out my various online activities via

As always, thanks for reading!




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    I think this is THE most important thing to do if you truly want to change your attitude and your life. Be grateful for every single thing you have. If you aren’t getting along with someone, remember all the wonderful things about that person. Look around you and be grateful for your eyesight. Be grateful for your legs that help you get around. If a messy house drives you nuts, be grateful you have a roof over your head. Be truly grateful and you’ll make room to receive more wonderful things into your life. . Jeff Mauck

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