How to Stay Positive in a Negative World, Part 7

June 3, 2009
This is the seventh in a series of articles by Matt Michel about how to stay positive when we’re surrounded by bad news and negativity. If you missed the previous article, click here to read it.

This is the seventh in a series of articles by Matt Michel about how to stay positive when we’re surrounded by bad news and negativity. If you missed the previous article, click here to read it.

21. Seek Mentors. As a grunt engineer, I was often lost. Mike Mosher, one of the senior engineers, took pity on me. He casually mentored me by sharing simple advice and counsel. He showed me how to use a piece of silver solder to test the logic in a CNC tube bending program. He nudged me to run my designs by the guys on the shop floor (who actually had to build the stuff I designed). With Mosher’s help, I went from horrible to adequate.

Years later, Garry Upton guided me in the art of public speaking. He would make me practice presentations over and over while he counted the number of times I said “uh” and “um.” He loaned me his videotape equipment so I could video one of my longer presentations and watch what I did (I fell asleep watching it – yes, I put myself to sleep).

Jay Clifton gave me career advice about advancing in a Fortune 500 company. He also helped me to understand the impact of work and career on family and how to ease their burden.

When I found my job at risk over politics, not performance, Jerry Thomas guided me through the crisis. He listened patiently, asked the right questions, and offered calm, detached advice that proved sage.

Mike, Garry, Jay, and Jerry were serving as mentors. They were helping me without any motive for personal gain. Mentors give back.

Mentors typically have a lot more experience than we do. They’ve been there, done it, and have a closet full of t-shirts.

All of us have mentors at different points in our lives. A mentor gives us the confidence that comes from their knowledge and experience. Mentors also give us objective feedback. They let us know when we can do better and give us positive feedback when we’ve done well. Mentors let us know we can accomplish our goals and may even encourage us to aim higher because they can see we’re capable of more.

Mentors come and go throughout your life. How do you find one? They can come from anywhere. Mike Mosher was a colleague. Garry Upton was my boss. Jay Clifton was in my Sunday School class. Jerry Thomas was a vendor at the time.

An old proverb states that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. To me, this implies that mentors and teachers are all around us, though we are not always ready to follow their coaching. I know that’s been the case in my life.

Mentors do not always recruit you. Sometimes you must recruit them. Ask for input from someone whose opinion you value. Then, listen. If you want additional input, pay attention and act on what you’re told. Give feedback about the results. Let the mentor know how things turned out.

Remember, mentors are people like you and me who have experience and wisdom to share and at a point in their lives to share it. Because they are like you and me, they are not perfect. They have their foibles and failings. They have their egos.

If you want a mentor relationship, you must actively listen to the mentor. Act on the mentor’s advice. Let the mentor know how things turned out. Thank the mentor. Show genuine interest in the mentor’s life.

Mentors can do wonders for your attitude. When you’re ready, you will find there are more of them around than you might imagine.

22. Play. Ken Bowdon is one of the top geologists in the oil industry. He’s very smart. He works very hard. Yet, he also knows the value of play. When Ken launched Bowdon Energy, he routinely took employees to the movies during the middle of the week. The small investment in time had a big pay off in attitudes.

While Ken was using the movies as a way to boost morale, I think he was also at play for himself. He got to go to movies his wife and kids didn’t want to see. Movie day boosted Ken’s attitude as well as his employees.

According to Dr. Mary Sarafolean, writing in “A Pediatric Perspective,” 2% of pre-teens are clinically depressed. The number jumps to 3 to 5% of teens. The lifetime risk of depression is 10 to 25% in females and 5 to 12% in males.

Why does the risk of depression increase as it age? Is it because we take on more responsibilities? Or is it because we get recess when we’re young and play is frowned upon as we age? If adolescent play is important, it might explain why males are half as likely to be depressed as females. Men are probably twice as likely as women to behave like adolescents.

Play is important. It’s a release. It’s fun. And it’s impossible to have a bad attitude when you’re having fun.

23. Be Careful Around Dream Killers. Beware dream killers. Dream killers are people who tell you why your dreams are unrealistic. While you’re stretching, saying, “I can,” a dream killer grabs you around your ankles, saying, “You can’t.”

Dream killers try to limit your horizon. They try to keep you from seeing farther than they can see. They try to keep you from seeing more good than they can see.

They kill your attitude. They kill your dreams.

Dream killers wallow in the mediocrity of unfulfilled potential. Anyone who rises beyond their swamp of self-pity is a reminder of the dream killer’s self-imposed limitations. Your dreams are threats to the dream killer.

The dream killer fears facing what might have been. Thus, your success is a threat.

The dream killer fears his own inadequacy and lack of worth. Your success is a threat on two fronts. First, if you succeed you show the dream killer what might have been. Second, if you succeed the dream killer fears you might leave and forget about him.

We encounter dream killers throughout our day, but it’s those closest to us who pose the greatest threat. Because we love them, we value their support, their ratification, and their encouragement the most. We are more likely to trust them and take their counsel to heart, deep down in our innermost being if nowhere else.

Beware your dream killers. Beware the people in your life who want to push you down when you need a boost up. Love them. Just keep your dreams away from them.

When young, dreams are fragile. They need nourishment and support. Be careful who you share your dreams with.

24. Remember It’s Not That Bad. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was the first empty suit. According to myth, the guy looked good and knew it. Women, nymphs, and goddesses fell for Narcissus left and right, but he treated them like dirt. Some of them got together and asked a goddess to make Narcissus love someone the way they loved him. They also asked that he could never win over the creature he loved.

It wasn’t long after that when Narcissus saw his reflection in a pond and fell in love with himself. Unable to move, Narcissus died by the pond, gazing longingly at his own reflection.

Today, we describe someone as narcissistic when he is obsessed with himself. Think of your typical teenager.

Teens inhabit an overly dramatic world called “Days of Our High School Lives.” Everything that happens to a teen takes on much greater importance it merits, largely because teens lack the life experiences to keep things in perspective.

That’s a teen’s excuse. What’s yours?

I find that I get upset about really minor stuff all of the time. In my narcissistic little world, little things seem very important. They seem traumatic. Things that don’t go my way seem HUGELY significant. They aren’t.

When you step back and gain some perspective, things are probably not all that bad.

A good example is the reaction that many people had to the rise in gas prices. All of us get sticker shock when gas prices jump suddenly. Every 50 cent increase in the price of a gallon of gas seems horrific. Yet, if we drive a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon and drive it an average of 15,000 miles per year, the 50-cent increase works out to $7.21 per week.

An extra seven dollars per week of personal expense is nothing to sneeze it, but it’s also not the end of the world. My daughter can easily spend that much on a trip to Starbucks. Rent two movies or go to a movie and you’ll spend more.

Granted, for your company a bump in the price of gas is tough to swallow. Good thing it’s your customers who swallow it, not you. Of course, that’s assuming you’re smart enough to adjust your prices when your costs change.

When things seem bad, ask yourself if you aren’t being a little narcissistic, if you haven’t lost your perspective. Step back and take another look. It’s probably not that bad.

25. Find the Good in Bad News. After a storm, part of our fence blew down. I lost complete perspective about it. Because I was working on the fence, I couldn’t do something else I wanted to do. Bwaaaaah.

“You knew the fence needed to be replaced,” my wife reminded me.

“Why now? This isn’t a good time.”

“There’s never a good time.”

Great. Confuse me with the facts.

Yet, the more I thought about it the more I thought that this would be a great time to buy an air compressor and a nail gun. In fact, when I thought about the opportunity to buy some boy toys, the fence’s demise didn’t seem all that bad.

Unfortunately, the cost of the compressor, tank, and nail gun combined added up to more than I thought reasonable. As my father-in-law commented when he dropped by and saw me digging a post hole, “You can nail a lot of pickets for that.”

When I saw the cost of the nail gun I returned to my “woe is me” mentality. But then I remembered that I sorta like driving nails. It’s fun. It’s also exercise. Once the post holes are dug, putting up a fence isn’t that bad.

When you’re confronted with bad news, it’s easy to focus on it. After all, being “confronted” usually means the bad news is slapping you in the face. Yet, whenever there’s bad news, there’s probably some good news buried in its midst. You just have to find it.

It really comes down to a choice. You can focus on the bad or you can look for something good and focus on it. It’s your choice.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, an alliance of HVAC and plumbing contractors. For just $50, contractors receive access to millions of dollars of downloadable, customizable, sales, marketing, and business tools that are certain to grow your sales, build your bottom line, and give you more time for your family. Give it a try. Matt says he’s “positive” you’ll like it.

If you would like to contact Matt, you can reach him at [email protected], toll free at 877.262.3341, or on his mobile at 214.995.8889. You can subscribe to his Comanche Marketing newsletter at

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.