I once thought that positive was positive, plain and simple.
One was either a positive person or not.
I've come to see that positivity is rich and complex.
There are basically two kinds of positive. The first is what I call fake positive. Some people spout positivity day in and day out or seem to just exude it when you hang out with them for an hour or two. They just keep throwing up memes and phrases encouraging you to "be positive". How do these people do it? you might wonder. What is wrong with me or my broken life that I can't pull that off? Do they really not have issues or struggles?
Then, there is real positive. Other people who you KNOW have it hard, because they share it, but they still seem to find silver linings in life--sometimes in places where they are least likely to appear. The positive is real, hard-earned positive.
More people have commented or called me positive in the past year than I can count on my fingers and toes, and I started to think about why that was. My life, in many respects, was never MORE difficult than it was this past year, so why was I coming off more positive than when I had it "easier"?
Here's what I think: there are people who make it look like things are going well. It's often an unconscious act to fool people--namely themselves. Many people think if they are positive, they don't have to feel pain. If they act like nothing's wrong, nothing in fact IS. See what I'm saying?
Listen, I'm not judging. I'm speaking from personal experience here. I know and love people like this--a few people come to mind right away. The more you know people, the more you see how much work it takes to manage all that. And how all that work and energy to maintain often prevents them from actually overcoming it.
I've also been this person.
For many years I acted like the relationship I was in was working for me. I acted like things were fine and dandy when the whole time we were warring like enemies. I put up an image that I saw people believing, and it became more and more intolerable for me. Part of why I stayed in it for so long was because I had a lot invested in showing a positive experience to the world--but it was positivity of the wrong kind. It was fake positive. It was lying.
THEN, THERE IS ANOTHER KIND OF POSITIVE. IT COMES FROM LIVING THROUGH THE HARDEST THINGS AND SPEAKING ABOUT IT AND FINDING A WAY OUT THROUGH CONNECTIONS WITH OTHERS. AND SHARING THE GRATITUDE THAT COMES WHEN YOU SURFACE AND SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY AGAIN AND FEEL THE WARMTH OF IT IN YOUR BONES.
This past year, I didn't share every nitty, gritty detail of everything I experienced but I DID share. I was honest about leaving the relationship. I was honest about how it felt for me, including the victim part of me battling the part that needed to be responsible for not leaving sooner. I shared about the trials of rebuilding my business on the heels of a gender transition. I shared about making it through the gauntlet of grad school administration during a deep period of grief when all I wanted to do was quit. I shared about the absence of my family.
I shared all of this. Because this is my life. And in sharing, I searched for a way to frame it in ways that were positive and inspiring because it helped me wake up and put my feet on the floor another day. It helped me not lose sight of all the good when I felt overwhelmed with the "bad". It helped me to learn something from all the lessons that came my way. It helped me to nurture positivity not as a way to avoid the pain or challenging times but as a means to cope with them and work through them.
Because the world needs neither another fake positive person nor a complainer. You don't need someone sugar-coating the incredibly challenging human experience. You don't need someone dodging the bogeymen of self-doubt and criticism that finds you no matter where you move and hide.
You also don't need another negative, disempowered person citing thing after thing that is annoying, uncomfortable or difficult. We all get it. We all experience those things in different ways. You need the "so what" of how to get up and over that obstacle. I know you need this because I NEED IT! If I can find it, I want to pass it onto you.
During my retreat this past weekend, this really hit home for me. As someone who studies and practices Buddhism, I try to share the big picture of what that religion/spiritual path provides me: TOOLS. Tools to make sense of why I feel what I feel and WTF to do to feel differently. Tools to better understand why difficult things happen. Tools to make sense of what doesn't seem to add up. And one tool I was reminded of was the importance of being positive. Not fake positive, spouting platitudes and carefully filtering what I share and don't (in person and on social media) to avoid dealing with it but REAL positive. Like, "hey this was horrible and then I worked through it like this and here I am now and PHEW, that's better".
Because, life is a long time. And things will continue to be horrible (and also great). And if I keep wanting life to stop being horrible and only be great, I will keep finding reasons to suffer. If I can accept the horrible, find ways to work with it (not avoid it) and frame it positively (even through gritted teeth sometimes) then I set myself up for the long game I have ahead of me.
And maybe you can do that, too.