I had a breakfast meeting and greeted my companion with, “Happy Pi Day.” A little corny, I know; but, it was March 14th. #maythemathnerdsunite 🙂 

Pi Day isn’t only recognized by math enthusiasts, though. 

And if you spent any time on social media on Thursday, you saw proof of this. Because quite a number of people were commemorating the day and sharing the kind of “pi” they planned on enjoying: pizza or pie. Confirming that Pi Day is, indeed, a full-on cultural phenomena. 

On the off-chance you need a refresher, Pi is a mathematical constant that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. π is an irrational number, meaning its decimal representation goes on infinitely without repeating or terminating and begins with 3.14.

I am pretty certain I’m not the only person who finds aspects of π intriguing beyond the realm of STEM. 

Like, what a potent symbol for embracing imperfection, uncertainty, and the inherent limitations of human knowledge. 

What a great reminder of the beauty that can be found in the randomness and complexities of life. 

Clues From Nature

As I was walking home from breakfast and reflecting on our conversation, I couldn’t help but think how Pi can also remind us of the inherent imperfection and unpredictability found in the natural world. 

And yet, isn’t it interesting that you and I can often get tripped up by the goal of pursuing perfection (rather than excellence)? Or, wanting to be perfect (rather than being enough)? 

Perhaps it is unfair to pose these questions to you. 

I raise them, though, while being fully aware of my own tendency to, sometimes, fall into a rigid perfectionist trap. Particularly when it comes to my standards, self-criticism, and need for control in my life and business and with my money. 

Even though I know full well that there really isn’t such a thing as a “perfect” anything – a perfect life, business, body, relationship, etc. When I forget this “truth,” all I have to do is look at how nature behaves, because its beauty is in its uniqueness and adaptability.

Exploring a Connection   

I also started wondering about the connection between perfectionism and toxic positivity

Yes, these are distinct concepts. But they can intersect and reinforce each other because they both tend to: 

  • involve unrealistic expectations;
  • involve negative self-talk; and 
  • invite you to suppress your emotions. 

From my perspective, this interplay can contribute to your stress and anxiety – especially with regard to your financial goals, journey, and your financial well-being.

But before I delve further into this idea I’m exploring, let’s first get on the same page regarding the definition of toxic positivity, courtesy of Psychology Today:

“Toxic positivity is the act of avoiding, suppressing, or rejecting negative emotions or experiences.” 

In the context of personal (and business) finances, toxic positivity can manifest in various ways, ultimately hindering your ability to address financial setbacks and losses, and the emotions that come with (e.g., fear, anger, anxiety, shame, etc.). 

The Pressure to Be Positive

Have you ever shared a financial setback, loss, or frustration and were greeted with a sentiment along the lines of, 

  • “Just stay positive, everything will work out,” or 
  • “Look on the bright side and be grateful for what you have,” or
  • “Everything happens for a reason” (personally, I really, really dislike this one!!!), or
  • “Well, at least you have (fill in the blank),” or 
  • “Others have it worse, so you shouldn’t complain,” or
  • “You attract what you focus on,” or
  • “Don’t dwell on the negative.” 

Despite the good intentions of the person who made these statements, you likely didn’t feel all that great upon hearing any of them. 

You wanna know why? 

Because they shut down your natural human emotions. 

In varying ways, your very valid feelings were dismissed, ignored, or outright invalidated. Especially your feelings of fear and anger. And to top it off, you were guilt-shamed.

But maybe the “voices” expressing these sentiments didn’t actually come from others. They are what you said to yourself!

Either way, not allowing yourself to fully process your negative emotions is never useful

There’s no doubt that we have a cultural tendency to value maintaining a positive attitude, perhaps excessively. 

And where money is concerned, this can show up as denying or downplaying financial challenges and struggles or seeking help. 

If you’re running and growing a business, this can show up as not admitting that your business model isn’t working, or “forcing” yourself to sell to an audience you don’t really feel connected to. 

The pressure to maintain a positive attitude is real. In part, because optimism is so incredibly necessary when it comes to shifting from your current reality to the future vision you have. (Here we go, again, with nuance.)

So, it’s important to cultivate a positive mindset through practices such as gratitude, mindfulness, and self-reflection.

That said, you have to be on the lookout for when this morphs into toxic positivity. 

Some Examples…

Now that I have your attention regarding the presence and danger of toxic positivity, let’s take a look at some common examples: 

Ignoring Financial Problems: Is there a financial difficulty or hardship that you’re minimizing? Or, is there one on the horizon, but because you’re avoiding taking the time to look at your numbers you can’t see it now when you’re in a better position to get a head start on addressing the underlying issue? 

Oversimplifying Solutions: Let’s say you have overwhelming consumer related credit card debt or that you have an extremely dry pipeline for new business. Both situations require being deliberate with the choices you make, perhaps making trade-offs you’d rather not, and taking concrete actions to move beyond where you are currently. 

In other words, you can’t simply “think” your way through to the ultimate outcome you desire and need. 

Glossing Over Risks: Most people only focus on risk through the lens of what they could potentially lose. In this instance, you have to pay attention to when you are taking risks without considering the potential downsides or consequences, under the guise of “positive thinking” or “having faith in the future.” 

There’s another risk, though, that I don’t think people consider enough; they don’t think about “opportunity cost” as a risk. In this instance, you have to pay attention to what “growth” you might lose out on under the guise of “playing it safe.” 

Both scenarios can lead to financial harm.

Self-Blame (Or Allowing Others to Blame You): When you are going through a particularly challenging time, financially, you may criticize yourself. Others may do the same. And whether the criticism is valid or not, blame certainly isn’t!! 

The problem with victim-blaming is that it often fails to recognize the systemic barriers and external factors beyond your control that may have contributed to the financial struggles with which you are contending. 

Wisdom from Pi

Earlier, I mentioned how Pi can remind us of the inherent imperfection and unpredictability found in the natural world. 

I think it is such an appropriate analogy to hold onto when it comes to thinking about the intersection of money, business, and life. All of which comes with a string of unexpected moments and results. 

It reminds you and me to strive for excellence in all of our endeavors, yes. 

But not to pursue flawlessness, because not even nature is flawless – at least not in the traditional sense of the word. 

The challenge before you and me is to balance positivity and optimism with realism, and to feel (or help someone else) feel valued and supported.

P.S. It’s important to point out that toxic positivity is NOT the same as resilience.

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