How to get past negativity in your job | Ask Kelly

Black and white laptop in front of sign that says, "You got this."

Dear Kelly,

For years in my job, I have been told that I’m replaceable. Even now, although I am in college to earn my bachelor’s degree, I still feel that it’s not enough. Are there any words of encouragement that you would share for someone to get past the negativity and start believing in themselves?

This reader’s question hits awfully close to home. I, too, worked for an employer who often reminded us that we were replaceable. I don’t know if she used that as a tactic for us to work harder or whether she thought she needed to knock us down a bit, but it stung every time she said it.

The thing is, words matter. They stick, and unfortunately all too often, the words that stick the strongest are the ones that have been used to degrade and demoralize. A quick Google search on the power of criticism vs. praise yields thousands of results. I read through several studies when planning to answer this question, and the studies verified my initial thoughts — criticism affects us at a far more severe level than praise does. We tend to hold onto criticism and all too often, glance over praise.

I have been just like this reader, and there was a point that even though so many wonderful things were happening in my life, I would still think to myself, “If it wasn’t me, it would be someone else.” To be completely transparent, there are still times that I doubt my abilities and wonder if I just “happened” into my current situation.

To provide a little background, I worked for a particular employer for 12 years, and I tried so hard to do my best work and impress them. In fact, I did everything I could. I always volunteered for assignments outside of my normal job description. I often stayed hours late (without pay) to do extra work and jumped at every opportunity to take on more responsibility. Initially, I went back to school just to earn certifications that might increase my value to my employer. When I would share what I was learning, however, I was met with, “You’re just too educated. You’re trying too hard.”

But last year, what my employer didn’t know, was that for the first time, she had competition. I had taken a second job as a student ambassador here at Mercer. As a student ambassador, I poured my whole heart and soul into the job, but rather than being met with criticism, I was met with praise. A whole heap of it! My administrators, Col. Scott Mahone, Jamie Brown and Ernest Farmer immediately recognized my value and reminded me daily of my potential. They invested in me and chose to raise me up, rather than tear me down. Bit by bit, their encouragement and praise began to chip away at the wall of negativity I had allowed to build up around me.

I still remember one night, around my quitting time, Mr. Farmer looked me in the eye and told me how much he believed in me and my future and how inspirational I was in all that I was doing. He took the time to pour positivity in my soul. I just looked at him, said “Thank you,” and walked out the door. Then I began hysterically sobbing all the way to the car. It was so foreign to me for an employer — even one that I had only been working with a short time — to take the time to truly acknowledge my value and potential that I became completely overwhelmed. (He still has no idea that any of that happened. Well, until now, maybe). Coincidentally, less than a week later I had another negative experience with my longtime employer. This time rather than submitting to it, I resigned. I had learned the power of positivity and praise and that I didn’t have to continue enduring the criticism.

While I understand not everyone has the ability to resign, you do have the choice of whether to allow yourself to believe the negativity or to see yourself as the amazing person that you are, full of promise and potential. Specifically, to this reader, and to anyone else dealing with the same situation, you know what you are capable of. After all, you have earned admission into a top ranked university. You have taken on the challenge of working and going to school and are dedicated to being successful in both. You obviously pour your soul into your job, otherwise your employers’ comments would have no affect on you.

There is power in positivity. Since many of us are prewired to hear only the negative and admonish the positive, there has to be a conscious shift in thinking. Take the time to focus on your qualities and acknowledge the results of your hard work. You didn’t just luck your way into this university, you earned it. When your professor comments on your research paper, “Wow, what outstanding work! Great job,” you have to recognize that it was through YOUR efforts, ability, talents and labor that your paper earned such amazing remarks. When you victoriously earn high grades at the end of a semester, while also juggling work and family, you have to know that your commitment, and persistence earned you those grades.

Begin writing down who you are as a person and what you are accomplishing. Every single time you succeed at something, I want you to add it to the list. Got an A on an exam? Write it down. Made the Dean’s List? Write it down. Finished your research paper early and aced it? Write it down. Every time you hear any praise, WRITE IT DOWN. I want to encourage you to record every morsel of positivity, and then I want you to hang it in a prominent place in your home. Everyday, I want you to reflect on it, and remind yourself just how awesome you are. Place a permanent marker nearby, so you can add to the list often. Invite others to add to the list, as well. Give yourself the permission to believe the positive affirmations you have recorded, and let them envelop you with the power of who you are and what you are capable of.

Rather than allowing the negativity from your employer to handicap your potential, I want you to use the criticism as a platform for transformation. Transform your future into something that you know reflects the tenacity and diligence you have been exerting every time you sit down to study, research or write. If you do this, before long your employer’s negativity will have no substance because you will know who you truly are, and eventually, you will find yourself in a career where you are not just an employee but a powerful piece of what makes that business successful.

You will soon realize what is in you and what you can accomplish. Afterall, you are a MERCERIAN! As a BEAR, you have greatness inside of you — now, let it ROAR!

As always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey!

Do you have a question about distance learning or coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.


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