Why Positive Thinking can feel like bullshit and what I do instead

I am a queer, overweight, black woman over 40 trying to break into an industry that primarily values straight, thin, white men under 30. When someone tells me some version of “Don’t worry about it. Just think positive,” I feel angry, ashamed and invalidated. As I listen to the stories of other midlife women looking to transition or advance their careers, especially Black women, I know I’m not imagining any of my experiences and I also know how much emotional energy, courage and audacity it takes to have these experiences and keep on keepin’ on.

So when someone tells me that the answer to all my problems is positive thinking, I start to feel a throat punch coming on. But recently my therapist helped me see how I was stuck in negative self-talk. And that while positive thinking can act as a wonderful band-aid to negative self-talk; the antedote is actually self-care.

When our conversation turned to body image, I really got into my feelings. She asked me to imagine my five-year-old self saying aloud “I’m so fat. I hate my body. No one likes me”. Then she asked me what I would say to soothe my five-year-old self and I was stumped. In the back of my mind, I thought “well when you are five you don’t have to worry about it but if you are still chunky at 13, then we may have a problem.” It wasn’t that I didn’t have compassion for this little me, but that I couldn’t let go of the idea that my being overweight was wrong. Being overweight feels like something that is fundamentally wrong with me, something I should be putting tons of effort into changing as though solving this conundrum will suddenly solve a host of other problems in my life.

So what does body image have to do with career transitions? For me, this conversation made it very clear to me, that I had been practicing negative self-talk for years and not realizing it. And if I was doing it about my body, which seemed like a completely legitimate reason to criticize myself, then I was surely doing it in other areas of my life. But, somehow, try as I might, reciting affirmations or placing inspiring quotes on the wallpaper of every device I owned was not quite hitting the mark or making me feel better.

I realized that in addition to speaking more kindly to myself, it was equally, if not more important for me to act kindly towards myself as well. As disabled women, women of color, queer women, fat women, gender-fluid folks, it’s hard to remain hopeful about the future when you are regularly depleting your store of emotional strength, fighting against the messaging that tries to convince you that you are not enough. In addition, there are ways that we work to deplete our own stores. Here are some examples:

* Staying in a job that depletes our soul because we have bills to pay or a responsibility to remain employed. That’s an eight to ten-hour energy suck five days a week.

* Taking on most of the household chores because we feel it is our responsibility.

* Offering help to friends and family because we love them, but then realizing we do not get the same level of support in our relationships.

* Choosing to skip yoga, spin class, /insert physical activity here/, because we don’t see it as “me time” but instead view it as another chore.

* Being fearful of difficult conversations because we are afraid of revealing that everything is not okay and that we may need help or a change in the status quo.

As I work towards making self-care a daily priority in my life, I am making different choices. As hard as it may seem to get some exercise in, I focus on how good I will feel in my body and how proud I will be of myself for doing something kind for myself and then I make it happen.

Another way I take care of myself is by seeking out therapy. It’s the gift that keeps giving. There are sliding scale options available and you can also use insurance, or an FSA or HSA card. Ask your partner to pay for it in lieu of other gifts. If the idea makes you cringe a little, call it “Girlfriend Tuesday’s”. Therapy has been an incredible gift that I’ve given myself several times in my life when I feel like I need extra support or just to work out some issues that I don’t really want my friends weighing in on.

By taking exceptional care of myself, I am less likely to let this world tell me what I am worth or how productive I have to be in order to deserve a soulful, fulfilling life and plenty of money in the bank. I’m not saying to delete your affirmations folder, however, when it comes to loving myself, what has pushed me to the point of building a powerhouse of emotional fortitude has been pretty simple; Don’t Talk About It, Be About It!