I do a few things that are outside the norm. Maybe you do as well. I don’t care how many inspirational memes you’ve seen on Pinterest. When you try to live life on your own terms, people are critical. The second you step outside the box, there’s somebody in an orange vest with a whistle and a citation booklet trying to herd you back in.
I don’t know about you, but unsolicited advice is probably my number one pet peeve. When people come up out of the blue saying, “You shouldn’t do that,” “You’re doing that wrong,” or “I would never do that,” it takes all my self-control not to point out that I don’t recall asking them for advice. At first I thought dealing with negativity meant devising polite ways of telling people to buzz off. Managing negative people turns out to be more about managing myself.
Here are my tips on dealing with negativity.
First, how well do you know the person who is raining on your parade? Is this someone with whom you have a deep, time-tested relationship in which that person has solidly had your back in tough times? Someone like that has earned the right to an opinion, and you should at least pause to listen out of respect. You may not end up following their advice, but they have earned the right to give it. On the other hand, is the person just some Facebook acquaintance that tends to have opinions about everyone else’s life but never does much with their own? I try to ignore that type of person. Here’s an example… I would like to do a solo camping trip with just me and my mule in the backcountry. My mom wonders aloud why I insist on doing dangerous things alone, but she doesn’t tell me not to do it. If she did, I would at least hear her out, not because she’s my mom, but because I value what she has to say. That brings me to my next point.
Is the negative person someone you want to emulate? Let’s take the solo camping trip example again. Plenty of people will say, “What a stupid idea! You could get hurt or killed. Your mule could get hurt or killed. You’ll be out there alone with no help if something goes wrong. There is no end to the horrible ways you could die, from bears to serial killers!” All of those are actually valid points, but I’m more interested in who is saying it than what is being said. There are people who do solo packing and camping trips all the time. They have encountered bears, freezing temperatures, injured horses, their own injuries, and myriad other accidents and mishaps that can happen in the wilderness. If someone like that tells me not to go, I need to listen. If they say I shouldn’t go until I can do such and such thing, I should learn how to do that thing. On the other hand, if it’s someone who only rides and shows within the safety and perfect footing of an arena, that’s not someone who understands the challenge.
Here’s another example: Let’s say you want to start a business. You start telling people your idea and some people are negative. Someone says it’s really risky and you’re likely to lose all your start-up money. Most start-ups do fail in the first year, after all. Even though that person is telling the truth, it doesn’t mean it’s good advice! Look at who is giving it! Is that person an entrepreneur or do they work in corporate hell and collect a check from The Man every week? If they’re not living a life you want to live, don’t give them a second thought. Life is too short to get bogged down by other people’s lack of imagination.
You don’t have to convince anyone but yourself. Facebook is probably the space where we are all given the most unsolicited advice. People can comment on whatever we post, and behind their keyboards they are brave enough to say things they would never say in person. I used to engage with people on social media because I wanted to be right. I wanted the negative person to see things from my perspective. It was very important to me to be heard, or to avenge myself if I felt someone was being condescending. I quickly realized that was totally ego driven and a complete waste of time. If I get negative comments, I try to ignore them. I may clap back a little, but it doesn’t bother me the way it used to. Not everyone is going to agree with me; not everyone is going to like me. And that’s okay! Negativity is just noise. Learn to tune it out.
Many negative people are speaking from their own insecurities. When someone says to you, “I would never do that,” what they’re really saying is, “I’m too afraid/insecure/firmly inside the proverbial box to do that, so you shouldn’t either.” It’s almost as if they feel personally insulted because you chose a different path than they did. Homeschooling is a great example. When I started homeschooling my daughter in 2nd grade, I got plenty of negative feedback. Homeschooling is definitely outside the box and you have to be an independent thinker and have a good deal of self-confidence to assert that you can do a better job educating your child than the state and their army of education degrees. Every now and then I meet a public school teacher who is really down on homeschooling. It seems that they find it threatening in some way, like, “I went to school to learn how to teach. Why do you think you can do my job with no training? Who do you think you are?” It seems ego driven to me. The best public school teachers I know are supportive of anything that helps a kid learn, because it’s about the kid, not the teacher’s ego. When someone is being negative, it’s often because they feel threatened in some way, as if your success diminishes their own. Let’s all try not to be that person. Let’s all celebrate each other’s successes, whether in or out of the box.
You can’t be afraid to fail. Failure happens to everyone, and it’s going to happen to you if you’re putting yourself out there and trying new things. If you’ve made room for negative people in your life, they’re going to love it when you fail. They’ll start in with “I told you so” and “You should have listened to me” and “I knew that was never going to work.” Fear of failure, especially public failure, can keep you from trying new things. Don’t let it. Accept from the outset that some things are not going to work out and then keep on trucking. You have to become confident enough in yourself that even when you fail, you’re still proud of yourself for trying.
You have to become comfortable enough with your own choices that you don’t care what other people think of them. Self-confidence comes with experience. The more things you go out and do, or even attempt and fail, the more you know your own limits as well as your strengths. The more things you try, the more you learn about how you want to spend your time- what inspires you, what you love, what you were born to do. You will find people to mentor you, people you trust, people whom you want to emulate. Everybody else will become background noise.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is, “The same people who attended your coronation will attend your beheading. People like a show.” In other words, the masses don’t really care about you, whether you fail or succeed. Why do you care about them?
Finally, be a sunflower of positivity. Who doesn’t love sunflowers? They’re so bright and cheerful. It’s easy to be a critic, especially hidden behind your keyboard. Choose instead to be uplifiting of other people, and if you can’t be uplifting, then keep your mouth shut. Stop offering unsolicited advice. If someone respects you and wants your opinion, they will ask for it. If you’re a big talker, that’s a quick way to find out how many people are actually listening. Let them come to you.
For me, dealing with negativity has very little to do with the other person and everything to do with my own maturity. Being on the receiving end of a lot of unsolicited advice has convinced me never to offer it. I’m naturally very opinionated and outspoken, but I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut unless I have something encouraging to say. Everybody is on their own journey. I’m only responsible for mine.