Accept and Affirm When Things are Bad. Only Then Can You Truly Make Them Better

A former colleague talked about his experience applying for jobs:

I wrote a bit about this on Twitter, but thought it could be a useful post. You can see my original reply and the conversation on Twitter.

I think that this forced universal positivity will kill your ability to reflect and improve. Too many leaders (and I have been guilty of this in the past) believe that we can fix all problems with encouragement. I myself haven’t fully moved past this.

I think it relates to accepting things for what they are and to the Buddhist Noble Truths. It’s much easier to diagnose overly optimistic / forced positivity in others. Once in a while, when I’m doing it I catch myself. But most often it’s in retrospect or it’s when I see someone else do it. When I catch it in myself or in others I try to refocus the conversation. Step back and re-read our shared goals. What’s our vision and mission? If that’s the case, are we truly achieving it? Am I, or are we deluding ourselves with vanity or proxy metrics?

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their true names.”

Maybe Confucius or something

Lying to yourself and others that things are great seems like a good strategy. I mean, if we’re positive about it, it’ll be easier to climb over this actual obstacle. We won’t despair, we’ll keep marching on and eventually we’ll get there, right?

But if we don’t see things for what they are, if we don’t find the truth and tell the truth, we’re postponing the pain and suffering. And not just postponing but increasing it. When we’re finally forced to come to terms with the outcomes we’ve helped create, the pain of having wasted all this time and energy in the wrong path is crushing.

We can only build good relationships with neighbours by calling things by their name.

Paraphrased from Angela Merkel

That being said, that’s not a free pass to just shit on everything you see. Some use radical candour as radical honesty, but the key part is to care. Radical candour, the book, talks about caring personally and challenging directly. I think, in many cases, you can’t care personally. You can care about the mission of your organization, if you deeply care about a mission and challenge directly…. You can perhaps shorten the amount of time spent lost in the wilderness.

I say and write all these things like I know what I’m doing. that I’m able to at all times act in the way I wish I could, as some sort of Aristotle or Buddha, asking questions to people and helping them come to the realization of the truth themselves.

But as a human, I exist in the real world, I’m right at times, wrong at times. The real world is messy and unclear. We don’t have a scorecard at the end that tells us if we optimized for the outcomes we aimed to achieve.

“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”


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