I was on a flight recently, where the voices seated in front of me became loud enough to hear. Person One was telling Person Two all about his workplace, and it was grim (hence the loud voice). There seemed to be nothing of redeeming value at his place of work, and when Person Two helpfully offered an alternative way to approach the concern, Person One launched into all the reasons why that couldn’t possibly benefit him either. Then a heavy silence followed (and I put my headphones on to escape the awkwardness).
I contrast this to a different flight where a similar event took place, this conversation also began with negativity about work, but when the second person helpfully offered an option, the first person pursued it with curiosity. Even though the turn of conversation began with a healthy amount of skepticism from Person One, she stayed open enough to the option offered to ask questions, allowing Person Two to share his own experience with making his job better and how it had benefited him. This led to a constructive exchange where their voices became softer and those seated around them were no longer privy to their conversation. At the conclusion of the flight, as we were all standing up to de-plane, they were shaking hands and exchanging business cards and commitments to keep in touch.
It’s a good reminder that opportunity doesn’t exactly knock, or announce itself. If we are not paying attention, negativity can kill opportunity. I’m not advocating perpetual positivity; there is enough misguided advice floating around to make positivity feel toxic (I’m talking to you “Hustle like you can’t lose” social media posts). Healthy skepticism isn’t a bad thing. However, only seeing the world through “wet-blanket” negativity ensures you remain stuck in whatever is creating negativity for you – it’s a paradox.
When you feel really negative about something at work, see if you can get curious enough to prevent building a story that reinforces your untested view (or try to build more than one story). Talk to someone you trust who will explore alternatives to your perspective. It could be you are right; good companies make bad decisions sometimes. It could also be the beginning of a new opportunity (like my example of the women on the plane), or it may build resilience in the face of an unfortunate circumstance. Life will never only be sunshine and roses, we know this. Thankfully, it also isn’t always doom and gloom.
If you are stuck in a negative place (it happens to all of us, part of being beautiful human beings), give yourself compassion. Take a break, disrupt your routine (go for a walk, etc.) and have faith that this too shall pass. Opportunity will be there when you need it, if you remember it comes softly (and without announcement).