Positivity for Pessimists: How I Climbed Out of An Unhappy Hole and Found My Dark Humor Happy Place

November 6, 2019

It all started out of boredom. I’ve worked in the same building for 18 years. I work in the same building where I student taught. I teach the same grade levels. For a few years, I was able to entertain myself by designing new lessons and projects, but even that grew stale quickly. So when a new position opened up within the district, I knew that it was meant for me! I applied, interviewed, and eagerly awaited the phone call letting me know that I’d gotten the job.

But that’s not what happened.

Although I was absolutely crushed, I used this experience as a motivator. I went back to school, determined to avoid rejection again. The following year, 12 new positions opened up in the district. The odds were in my favor! How could I miss? Again, I waited for the call… Nope. Rejected.

Desperate at this point to change anything about my current job, I took an offer to make a lateral move. Same job, same building, different subject. I became bogged down in negative teacher culture and was critical of everything. I had a huge chip on my shoulder. I was arrogant. I felt like I was owed this job after all of my hard work and time. I felt like I was too good for other tasks, that they were beneath me. I never would have owned up to these feelings at the time, but now, with some deep honest reflection looking back, it was true.

Yet again, the job I wanted so badly became available. This time, my principal informed me that she wasn’t even going to interview me for the position. I stayed home the next day. Well, maybe two. I started to Google phrases like “unhappy at work but can’t leave.” I felt helpless, hopeless, sick, and stuck. I fantasized about rage-quitting and torpedo-ing my entire career. But responsibility and reality held me back.

In searching, I actually found an article that I credit for really helping to change my perspective. The title is How to Change Your Attitude When You Cannot Change Your Situation from the self-help website Mind Body Green. The article listed five steps that you can take to help change your attitude.

The first step is acceptance.

Acknowledge that you’re unhappy.

The second step was realizing that I was choosing to be pessimistic.

Growing up, my mom nicknamed me “Eeyore.” I chalked my pessimism up to being “so goth” and accepting the label that had been placed on me so many years ago in adolescence.

Step three is to use positive words.

Having a negative attitude and using negative words and criticisms had become so much of a habit for me that it was second nature. Even today, I will catch myself, remind myself, and consciously consider my words in an effort to avoid falling into old habits.

Step four is to surround yourself with positive people.

I didn’t even realize that I would go to lunch and complain about all of the bad things that happened that day. I was contagious, and infecting others with my negative attitude.

Step five is to have daily affirmation.

I took into consideration all of the things that I previously mentioned, and I came up with a mantra that I put on the home screen of my phone. It said: This is not an ideal situation, but I am not above this, and I am going to rock it.

What this looks like in real-life at work is that I’ve stopped fighting and complaining so much. Sure, we still get tasked with ridiculous time-wasting initiatives. But I take the energy that I used to use to fight it and instead just do whatever silly thing is being asked of us so that I can move on to spend time and effort on the things that I feel are really worthwhile.

It’s very important to note that at the time that I was doing this work, I also sought help from a licensed counselor. My doctor put me on medicine for anxiety and depression. I cannot overstate the importance of seeking outside help. I need to share this part of my story in order to diminish the stigma of mental health issues and reaching out for help.

Changing people’s long-standing beliefs and perceptions about you is a slow process. You’ll slip and fall into old habits, but being self-aware and willing to take meaningful effort will result in a shift in mindset for yourself – and likely those around you.

In 2018, I was selected as a Google Certified Innovator. In September, I was recognized as a finalist for the 2020 IL State Teacher of the year. In October, I successfully renewed my National Board Certification. In November, I am presenting for the first time as a featured speaker at a professional conference.

Funny thing though, I’m still at the same job.

It’s not my ideal situation, but I am not above it. And I am going to rock it.

Jennifer Leban, NBCT

Jennifer Leban is a 2020 IL State Teacher of the Year Finalist and 2019-20 Teach Plus Illinois Teaching Policy Fellow. A National Board Certified Teacher, Jennifer teaches creative technology and visual arts classes at Sandburg Middle School in Elmhurst, IL. In 2018, Jennifer was accepted into the LAX18 Google Certified Innovator cohort. Her Innovator project, called Reset EDU, is a YouTube channel that strives to motivate, empower, and inspire teachers to embrace new ideas for learning and teaching. Jennifer presents at education conferences throughout the United States, such as ISTE, AMLE, and CPS Googlepalooza. Jen also works with friEdTechnology as a Learning Guide for professional development services, and is an education ambassador for WeVideo, Flipgrid, and Wakelet. Jennifer earned her BA in Arts Education with honors from Elmhurst College and completed her MA in Educational Leadership through St. Xavier University.