A couple of weeks ago I was enjoying my morning cup of coffee and watching Good Morning America as I usually do after the kids get off to school. This particular day they had a segment on whether or not having a happy disposition is genetic. You mean whether or not I am negative or positive might not be my own choice? Intriguing. I had never thought of this. I had been looking for someone to blame for my attitude and this might just give me what I needed! Turns out, it didn't give me an excuse, but it did get me to thinking about this whole idea of whether or not I am a glass half full or glass half empty kind of girl.
My life has been pretty good. Bumps in the road, well sometimes mountains, but overall life is wonderful. At least this is how I viewed it. Sure I complain, can be difficult to tolerate, often think about all the things that could go wrong with a situation, been called Negative Nellie more than once, but I have never considered myself an overly negative or pessimistic person.
I didn't always think the way I do now though. I can remember being a happy go lucky kind of kid. I made mud pies, played with Barbie Dolls, and rode my bike all day long. Life was simple and carefree. Around the age of 9 events happened that changed the way I looked at things. I wasn't consciously aware of those changes or hadn't connected them to particular events, but things were different. My world had changed and I didn't really understand it. I can remember when we would return home from a trip and turn onto the road to the house that the anxious feelings would start. By the time we topped the hill where you could see our house my mind would be racing. I would be thinking "Please don't let the house have burned down". As soon as I would see that the house was still standing, the feelings would go away. I think it was then that I began to think of the worst things that could possibly happen then feel a huge sense of relief and excitement when they didn't! That's where disaster preparedness came to life. It was my protection.
My life continued on this way through many life changing events and even the small events of life. I didn't want to believe that something would be great and wonderful just to have it shattered so instead I would think of the worst things that could happen and then devise plans to either avoid the worst or ways to fix the worst. A lot of things happened that might have taken most people out. Not me. I felt strong because I was always prepared. Not very spontaneous, but ready! Those that know me well, know that I am a take the bull by the horns, fiercely independent kind of girl. I see something that needs to be done and I do it. I may not be pleasant about it, but it gets done. I am nothing if not consistently prepared and reliable.
The truth of the matter though is that in all of these years of being prepared for impending doom I had really created a life in a bubble. I didn't take risks or get involved in things I couldn't control. Sort of thinking like if I don't get on the roller coaster then I don't have to worry about the seat breaking and plunging to my death. I protected life inside the bubble and as my family grew I protected them in the same way. Don't get me wrong, we had a lot of fun in our bubble. Life went along relatively smoothly. Then I got a "real" job as some would call it. Let me tell you, I learned quickly that bubbles are really fragile.
I had always dreamed of being a teacher. It seemed that teaching would be right up my alley. Working with children meant you always have to be prepared for potential disasters and I was definitely aces at that. That was not my problem. Being in the classroom was a joy to me. I loved the kids, the planning, pouring over data, seeing them learn. Outside the classroom was a different story. I suddenly found myself swimming in a sea of strangeness. Strangeness that I couldn't control. What is with all of this positivity? Coming up with problems and solutions together. Teamwork. They didn't really talk about what could go wrong. Uh-oh. They didn't teach this in college. What the hell was this? I felt awkward right from the start. Of course, as with most jobs, there was plenty of negativity to go around, it just wasn't in your face. I was utterly miserable and perfectly happy all at the same time. I didn't understand what was going on with me.
I was 39 years old and had worked a lot of jobs in my life. I had been a waitress, a factory worker, a secretary, a pharmacy tech, a grocery store clerk. I had even cleaned houses for several years. I had never in my life had trouble working with people, or problems feeling awkward. Problem was none of those jobs had required me to work WITH people, only around people. I had never had to think about being positive. These were people skills I didn't have. How do you act positive when you feel negative? How do you take what you want to say and make sure there is a positive spin on it? It didn't take long for a teacher who worked diligently with me my first year, and for whom I have the utmost respect, to label me "Negative Nellie". This became our joke, even though in reality it really wasn't funny. It hurt because I didn't see myself that way. I also really admired my partner teacher because she had the skills I needed. She had the ability to put a positive spin on things when needed and tell it like it was when needed without being seen as negative. More than once, I wished I was her. I not only felt down most of the time, but like I brought everything down around me. This was a DISASTER....a real disaster.
Where am I going with this? Right back to the Good Morning America segment I mentioned earlier. You see what I have learned is that no matter what kind of research you find on genetic connections or the power of positive thinking, life isn't an either or situation. Sometimes the glass IS half full and sometimes it IS half empty. Yes, part of me does believe I was born this way so there is a genetic connection, but most of it comes from life experiences that have shaped me, good and bad, into who I am. Not that I haven't changed from 39 to 42 because I have. I don't live in that bubble anymore. I live in a house with a door partially open...I am still prepared for disaster but I smile more, laugh more, and think more before I speak. I often choose positive expressions intentionally over negative and have learned that it can feel pretty good. I don't have to broadcast all of my negative thoughts anymore. I can't plan for everything because I am not in control of everything and I finally figured out that for me the bigger disaster is focusing too much on stopping it in the first place.
Life is good. In fact I would say my glass is half full.