By Matthew Arnold Stern
The following was my test speech at the Area G-3 evaluation contest on October 1, 2004. To read some of the feedback I got on this speech, see my blog. More info
There are some emotions we don’t want to admit to having. How many times have you heard this: “Angry! I’m not angry! What the hell makes you think that I’m angry!”
No one likes to admit they’re angry. No one takes pride by saying they’re bitter. When we’re happy, and we know it, we clap our hands. But when it comes to those dark, uncontrollable, Shakespearean emotions, hey, we’re too good for them!
We don’t like to admit our negative emotions because they scare us. And they scare us for a good reason. When those emotions get out of control, they can be destructive.
Take a man in the grasp of jealousy. He is afraid his girlfriend is going to leave him. So, he keeps tabs of her comings and goings. He asks pointed questions about her day at work. He monitors her e-mails and phone calls. (I can see that some of you have been through this.) Meanwhile, the poor girl is feeling suffocated by her boyfriend, so…she leaves him. Out of fear of losing his girlfriend – and fear is the root of most of our negative emotions – the fellow does the things that cause him to lose her. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But the most common and most pernicious negative emotion is insecurity. It has caused many people to short-circuit their lives or deny themselves the things that would make them happy and successful. I’ve frequently fallen victim to insecurity, especially last year.
I used to work in a wonderful technical writing department for a manager who recruited me from another employer. Then, our company had a merger of engineering groups. I found myself reporting to a manager who was, well, different. This manager has had seven people leave her department in the last four years. This is someone who could benefit from the leadership training we offer here at Toastmasters.
Although I knew there would be problems with this boss, I was still determined to be successful in this person’s group. I did everything I could to fit in and be a part of my new team. But it just didn’t work out. I still don’t fully understand what happened. Perhaps I just couldn’t live up to that manager’s expectations. Perhaps that manager’s philosophies and mine were just too incompatible. Or perhaps, as some of my coworkers have observed, this person had it in for me and had set me up to fail – perhaps to show how superior her department was to my old group. I’ll probably never know. Perhaps, one day, Dan Rather can show me a forged memo that explains it to me.
But there was no question about how I felt after the situation. I blamed myself. I lost my confidence. I wondered if I’d ever be as good of a technical writer as I used to be. Up to that point, I had been a technical writer for 19 years. After what happened, all the glowing performance reviews, all the accolades, and all the writing awards were just washed away.
Fortunately, that manager left me with another negative emotion – revenge! I was going to show that lousy, rotten, good-for-nothing jerk that I wasn’t an incompetent loser. I was determined to prove that I am a capable and accomplished technical writer.
I got a chance at my new job. One day, my manager took me aside and said, “Matt, our vice president took a look at your new help system, and he was really impressed. He thought you did a great job.”
Revenge is mine! And if revenge is a dish best served cold, mine was Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chunk!
You can see from that experience how powerful negative emotions can be. They can overwhelm and drown us. Or we can channel that passion, obsession, and power to bring us back to our feet and propel us forward towards greater success. In fact, a bloodlust for vengeance can be a more powerful motivator than a cheery “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
We have a choice when it comes to negative emotions, even though we don’t feel we do. Don’t be afraid of them or ashamed of them. Embrace them use them. When you can channel your negativity towards positive results, you’ll see that it can be good to feel bad.