As a first-year high-school history teacher in Chicago, I soon learned not to go into the teachers’ lounge, which I dubbed the “Ain’t It Awful” club. Worse than the haze of cigarette smoke that hung over the room was the cloud of emotional negativity: “Can you believe what they want us to do now?” “I got that Simmons kid again this year in math. He’s a holy terror.” “There is no way you can teach these kids. They’re totally out of control!”
It was a constant stream of negative judgments, criticisms, blaming and complaining. I didn’t want to be around that kind of negativity. I knew it would make it so much harder for me to be the positive, life-changing teacher I wanted to be.
Fortunately, I soon discovered a group of dedicated teachers who hung out in the library and ate together in the teachers’ lunchroom. They were passionate about their jobs and believed they could overcome and handle anything that was thrown at them.
I started hanging out with these teachers and implemented every new idea they shared with me — as well as a few more I picked up from weekend classes at the University of Chicago. As a result, the students voted me Teacher of the Year in only my first year of teaching. That never would have happened if I hadn’t avoided all that negativity.
All of us have to deal with at least a few toxic people in our lifetimes. They’re the ones who are always complaining and blaming others for their circumstances. They judge others, spread negative gossip and always talk about how bad everything is.
They tell you your dreams are impossible and try to dissuade you from believing in and pursuing your goals. They’re constantly trying to bring you back down to their level. A simple phone conversation or email exchange with them can bring tension, stress and disorder to the rest of your day.
Here are my three most valuable tips for liberating yourself from toxic people:
Get clear on who the toxic people are and how they’re holding you back
Make a list of everyone you spend time with: your family members, coworkers, neighbors, friends, people from your civic organization, members of your religious group and so on. When you’ve completed your list, go back and put a minus sign next to those people who are always negative, critical and complaining and a plus sign next to those who are positive and nurturing.
As you make your decision about each person, you might find that a pattern begins to form. Maybe your entire workplace is filled with toxic personalities. Perhaps it’s your friends who nay-say everything you do. Or maybe it’s your family members who constantly put you down and undermine your self-confidence. Once you identify them, you’ll begin to see how they’ve influenced your outlook on your life and career and held you back from creating the life of your dreams.
Stop spending time with them
You’re better off spending time alone than spending time with people who hold you back with their victim mentalities and mediocre standards. I know, it might be easier said than done — especially if those toxic people are your co-workers or family members. Maybe you don’t feel you can remove these people from your life right now. At the very least, I encourage you to severely decrease the amount of time you spend with them. And remember, nothing is impossible; everything’s a choice.