Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Positive Thinking

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Total Black: $524.93
Total Red: $228,517.33

I spoke with my mother tonight.  She wanted to know whether I’ve decided anything yet regarding the rapidly-approaching October deadline when my lease ends.  I hinted in a prior post, Mothers, that I might have to return home and move back in with my mother if something doesn’t come through soon here in Manhattan.  It would be ruinous to renew my lease at $2,000 / month and invite potential liability particularly without a secured source of income.  But it also seems potentially disastrous to return home to Scranton where there’d clearly be fewer job opportunities.  My mother’s advice was to pray.  As I listened, I started wondering whether prayer and positive thinking were similar.  I mean, isn’t prayer, that surgery goes well, for example, or that a job comes though—isn’t that sort of a way of thinking positively about the situation?  Clearly positive thinking puts you in the driver’s seat while prayer does not, but fundamentally they seem more alike than different.  My mother assured me that plenty of people were praying for me that things would work out soon.  I joked of the old adage that when God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.  “Well,” I said, “if so, He needs to spray some windex on that window because I can’t see out.”  She didn’t laugh.

My mom and I talked while I walked back to my apartment from a market research group meeting I participated in where we were asked all sorts of questions about a planned Wall Street Journal product while people behind a one-way mirror observed and took notes.  Cool experience.  We got paid for it too.  (Even better!)  It was the only free moment I had of late to call.  Of course, my mother didn’t pass up the opportunity to remind me that more than a week had elapsed since we last spoke.  The truth is that I’ve just been really busy with this side consulting work and a few other matters that people requested my help on.  In fact, a friend quipped earlier today that I’m the busiest unemployed person he knows.  Personally, I prefer laid-off.  “Unemployed” does not imply prior employment like “laid-off” does.  “Laid-off” carries with it the knowledge that you worked previously and are “employable.”  “Unemployed” doesn’t imply that you were ever employed before now.  But I digress.  It’s funny but he’s right.  This afternoon I met a shareholder of the company my colleague is selling to execute some forms.  Then I ran uptown to a hotel near Central Park to pick up another set of forms from a second shareholder, got everything photocopied and prepped for overnight mailing, and then walked back to the hotel to leave the papers to get notarized.  Then I returned home for a quick nap before meeting my friend for dinner in Koreatown.  And then off to the marketing group discussion.

Prior blog entries definitely show that I’m a busy guy.  And I noted in an earlier blog, Cashing in My Karma, how much of my day is working for free.  Today’s entry is late because of all the work I had.  I think it’s important to keep busy and stay involved (or get involved if not yet) in any number of activities or organizations.  It helps keep your mind off worries, for the most part, and makes the day go by faster.  But every so often that merry-go-round stops, leaving you dizzy and disoriented.  Speaking with my mother tonight did that, and left me upset.  It wasn’t anything she said.  Instead it was that I took the occasion to vomit up my worries and concerns.  Not surprising that I didn’t like the taste it left behind.  I tried to wrap the call up, just like I did a few days ago in 危 機 ≠ Opportunity, by ending things on a light note about how I just need to not worry and instead think positively.

That much seems true.  Worrying, at least to me, is a complete waste of energy.  It doesn’t accomplish anything.  You’re no better off after an hour of worrying.  In fact, you’re oftentimes worse.  But worrying is a lot easier than thinking positively.  A positive outlook takes work.  It does have benefits though.  That’s increasingly clear.  For example, in a September 2003 New York Times article titled Power of Positive Thinking May Have a Health Benefit, Study Says, Erica Goode reported on the biological effects of positive thinking.  As I observed in a previous blog entry, Just Another Day, thinking positively seems to be more a shift in mental framework instead of just merely switching thoughts.  An apt analogy might be improving the body’s physique rather than just dressing it in nice clothes.  If the the body isn’t well, won’t matter much if nice clothes improve its appearance.

One difficulty with thinking positively, however, is that there aren’t enough reliable sources explaining how to do it.  Copious materials discuss it in quasi-metaphysical depth, but there aren’t many “how to” texts out there.  Positive thinking is not just thinking happy thoughts.  It’s not enough though to just replace worries.  Maintaining a positive mind-set takes effort and discipline.  For example, despite the urge to succumb to their hypnotic pull, as soon as sad or depressing songs come on I skip past them.  (There aren’t a lot of upbeat songs though, have you noticed?)  Another example: I picked up Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki again, this time to finish it.  In the first chapter he describes the different approaches his two dads took when confronted with something they couldn’t afford.  Kiyosaki’s poor dad would tell himself he couldn’t afford it.  And there it ended.  That was a statement.  A limitation.  A prohibition.  His rich dad, however, would ask how he could afford it.  That’s a question.  It got him thinking.  This, I feel, is another example of how thinking positively works.  It’s not limit-focused but limitless.

But guarding against negative thinking influences isn’t enough.  You’ve got to watch out for all the pessimists just waiting to bring you back down.  Take Barbara Ehrenreich for example, of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch fame.  In a September 2008 New York Times article, she concluded what Americans needed was a healthy does of realism to counter “the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking.”  Of all things, she titled her op-ed piece, “The Power of Negative Thinking.”  I definitely don’t subscribe to  blind kool-aid drinking here.  And, as I noted in 危 機 ≠ Opportunity, it certainly isn’t wise to delude yourself into thinking that a crisis isn’t really a crisis.  But what’s wrong with keeping a positive outlook?  If positive thinking is related to prayer, then no one would advise you to pray for bad things instead of good.  Why not keep a positive, upbeat outlook about your situation.  Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.  And all along ask yourself how you can get out of it instead of telling yourself that you can’t.

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