Parables of Positive Thinking and Passion

This TED Talk by a fast speaking, nervously pacing economics professor named Larry Smith came up in my Facebook feed today. (That is how far and wide I’m willing to go to do research for this blog at the moment.)

Smith’s talk is popular with more than 3 million views on the TED site. And why not? People always like to hear others express something they already believe. The idea behind his talk is that you will fail to have a great career because you will not try to have a great career. That is to say, the only thing preventing you from having your dream career is that you are not thinking positively enough and acting boldly enough in line with your passion.

People love this message. All I have to do is believe. Click my heels like Dorothy. Be willing to trust and, of course, to do the work. If I just do that, everything will come to me.

As with any type of faith, it has some built-in features that make it hard to dispute. Each person, even the most positive and ambitious, sometimes hits a wall. We all have limits to our physical and emotional energy. So each of us, to some extent, will sometimes back down from a risk or take a break from work. So everyone can say, “yes, I just didn’t believe hard enough” or “take a big enough risk” or what have you. In fact, the most ambitious and risk-taking among us probably even have more of these self-crticisms. So no matter how passionate, focused, driven and positive you are– you can always blame it on your own lack of courage if you fail to live your dream.

Something similar to this happens in the Christian religion:  “Prayer works it’s just that God has different plans for you right now.”

This is Larry Smith’s advice: “Here’s a little secret. You want to work? You want to work really, really, really hard? You know what? You’ll succeed.”

Will you? Will you succeed without fail? How hard is “really, really, really hard?”

(I feel compelled to point out that this is a largely middle class ideology. The working class are too busy working really, really, really, really, really hard to chide themselves for not ruling the world.)

What about the people who work, really, really, really hard and fail anyway? Was it because they should have worked really, really, really, really hard?

Or is the underlying theory wrong. Perhaps there are obstacles in the real world that you can’t imagine, believe, or work away regardless of how competent and dedicated you are.

We’re trained to think this point of view is defeatist or negative. I feel it is uplifting, because it means that people matter, that they have value and are not losers whether their best laid plans go right or wrong.


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