Yes, I am a strengths ambassador. Yes, I believe like attracts like. Yes, I am on-my-knees, crazy in love with positive psychology. (And, yes, I still hate The Secret.)More from RKA
Remember when Rhonda Byrne “discovered” The Secret and everyone and their mom started parroting the insane notion that, with just a few affirmations a day, one would eventually wake up to a Maserati in their driveway*? Yeah, it’s no secret that I called bullshit on Byrne’s dirty lil’ bestseller from Day One.
*And/or any other practically unattainable status symbol/fantasy including but not limited to bathtubs full of $100 dollar bills, the fictional blue diamond from “Titanic”, a Cubs World Series win, etc.
For me, as an activist and well-informed world citizen, the clear (and rather offensive) fallacy of Byrne’s claims lies in the patent fact that, were positive thinking the real equivalent of a genie in a bottle, the human race wouldn’t continue to wrestle with massive problems like, um, I don’t know–war, poverty, cancer, AIDS, environmental degradation, slavery, violent crime, etc. etc. ETC.!!! And if it were, how dare Byrne make the reckless, hedonistic suggestion that we use our magical minds to do anything other than fix the above list? (Re: her “case study” of a gay stand-up comedian who used the Law of Attraction to overcome homophobia and achieve career success. Wouldn’t his desire to live freely and equally necessarily include the entire gay population of, at least, the United States? Guess he was either a greedy sadist or a really slow thinker.)
Okay, LOA lovers, I know what you’re thinking. I’m over-simplifying the theory behind Oprah’s foulest flavor of the month. The Law of Attraction, as Wikipedia will tell you, says that “like attracts like” and that positive thought has a placebo effect–if you intentionally believe that something good will happen, it will. Cite whatever statistics you want, I didn’t and don’t buy it. Not fully. (And I didn’t buy The Secret. A well-intentioned family member bought it for me and I read it one desperate day when I would have eaten my own eyeballs if it meant ending the despair and desperation I have come to associate with my early 20s.)
But here’s my secret. (And it’s not little or dirty–it’s big and beautiful!) I have come around to positive psychology. Now, I would still rather give my children a copy of the kama sutra before introducing them to Byrne’s misguided hit, but I finally understand why the LOA has so many followers. And, well, the secret is: I guess I’m kind of one of them (with a few very prominent asterisks attached to the label).
Allow me to explain. After exchanging my copy of The Secret for a few quarters (way more than it was worth), I willed myself to forget about it, and went on my not-so-merry way. But the LOA wouldn’t leave me alone. The damn thing was basically stalking me–peering into my windows, listening to my phone conversations, cozying up with my friends to get a little closer. I almost hit my breaking point when it found out where I worked. One of my first RKA ink clients–and, not coincidentally, the longest–was a life coach who specialized in the LOA and solicited my help in polishing her LOA-based materials. Inexperienced and nearly bankrupt, I took the job to avoid selling my soul to big business and did my best to hide my contempt for her woo-woo 1-2-3. And, that’s how the LOA finally pinned me down. Helpless and flailing, I became a reluctant expert on all things Secretive. I just couldn’t freaking escape.
That’s when the magic started to happen.
Want to know what sealed the deal? Yup. You guessed it. More positive psychology. I started working for another life coach, Brent O’Bannon, who specializes in the StrengthsFinder 2.0–The Secret‘s estranged cousin–which, not shockingly, I wasn’t too fond of, either. Strengths ambassadors believe that we all have a unique set of talents–our signature strengths–that we can harness to achieve personal and professional success. “Blah, blah, blah,” I thought. Cue the droning voice of Charlie Brown’s unintelligible teacher. But I was a bit more upfront with this particular client. I didn’t believe it but, heck, I could still write about it. Beats flipping burgers.
A true strengths ambassador, Brent didn’t give up on me. And, in November of last year, he sent me a copy of the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment and asked me to temporarily suspend disbelief and take the test. I did. And, truth be told, after reporting back to him, I promptly discarded the results. (Activator, Strategic, Connectedness, Individualization, and Communication, in case you’re curious.)
But just like the pesky lil’ LOA, the StrengthsFinder hunted me down and sucked my blood.
Brent began referencing my strengths in all our communication–dropping them into emails, meetings, Skype chats. Then, at a particularly rough point in my life, he offered to mentor me with the caveat that I wouldn’t be able to wriggle my way out of strengthspeak. Nearly at the point of eating my own eyeballs once again, I surrendered and strengths took their permanent place in my daily life. “Good morning, Activator!” Brent greeted me at our Monday meetings. “Yeah, yeah,” I thought. “Ready to rock and roll?” (Pause/sigh/eye roll) “Uh huh.”
Then, one not-Monday morning, I woke up and said reflexively, “Good morning, Activator!” and seriously almost slapped myself in the face. “It’s finally happened! I’ve been infiltrated by the enemy!” I took a deep breath. Tried to walk it out. But my #1 strength was burned into my brain. “Activate!” I told myself, simultaneously looking to the skies with shock and dismay.
I had the most productive day ever.
Little by little, Brent began introducing me to strategies that I could use to maximize, monetize, and mobilize my strengths–his three catchy keywords for living one’s purpose with the help of his or her unique combination of talents. He even snuck in a little LOA, helping me to align my actions with my “big, hairy, audacious goals”–an idea that felt less patronizing and offensive to me than Byrne’s “happy thoughts = Maserati” Secret.
Guess what? IT WORKED.
Within months of aligning my intentions with my actions, I started dating the love of my life, landed my biggest client ever, and began laying the groundwork for my much-coveted international art and social justice organization.
The good things keep coming. Yes, I am a strengths ambassador. Yes, I believe like attracts like. Yes, I am on-my-knees, crazy in love with positive psychology. (And, yes, I still hate The Secret.)
The power of positive thinking is not like a genie in the bottle. If it were, you can bet your britches I’d be ending world hunger long before growing my business and flying to Germany to be with the man of my dreams. (Looks like we’ll all have to chop down that cherry tree one whack at a time.) But I have learned that, while not wish-granting, positive psychology is a lot more than woo-woo 1-2-3.
Here’s the big secret about The Secret–positive thinking doesn’t make miracles, it fuels miracles. As my human rights hero Paolo Freire wrote in a true must read, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, it’s all about praxis: reflection –> action –> reflection –> action. The circle has no end. Yes, where there is a will there is a way. But “will” is a combination of mind AND might. My long-sought happiness and success is not a product of affirmation alone but intentional action, as well. The two are necessarily joined at the hip. Dream it. Then, do it. Period. Anything else and you’re BREAKING the Law of Attraction. That, my friends, is the secret.
(By the way, you can find Brent O’Bannon, an executive strengths coach who has conducted more than 27,000 coaching sessions and spoken to 55+ organizations across the world, at www.BrentOBannon.com. I cannot speak highly enough about his strengths Mastermind coaching program, which deserves a lot of the credit for my success. But don’t believe me. I certainly wouldn’t have. Suspend disbelief, give him a call, discover your strengths. It won’t take long for them to discover you.)