Positive people: For Fred Ngo, being positive is a no-brainer

This is a series profiling positive people and attempting to discover what exactly “positivity” is. If you know a positive person we should write about, email kiramnewman @ gmail.com. 

Disclosure: Fred is my fiancé, which also makes him an excellent test subject. 

Fred NgoIn 2003, Fred Ngo signed a five-year lease on a dance studio for Cat’s Corner, the swing dance school and venue that he had created five years earlier. At the time, Cat’s Corner was barely breaking even and Fred didn’t know if the school would still be in business in a few years, but he didn’t dwell on it.

“I can only do the best I can and let the chips fall where they may,” he says.

But Fred wasn’t relying on blind faith to get him through; his positivity came from the confidence that he would be able to figure it out. He had already paid most of his way through college, worked as an adjunct professor, and gotten a full-time job; he could make this work, too.

Fred’s experience suggests that positive people may spend less time planning and thinking about the future because they trust they’ll be able to adapt and prepare for it. In entrepreneur fashion, he actually says, “Planning is a fallacy.” But that doesn’t mean Fred or other positive people think they’re invincible; in fact, it’s essential to recognize that you have faults and will make mistakes so you don’t react negatively to them.

“You have to give things the fullness of time to work themselves out. You just prepare as best you can and you let it play out, see what happens,” Fred says.

The second pillar of Fred’s positivity seems to be the practical realization that negativity and worrying are useless. In the early 2000s, while he was working a full-time job and starting Cat’s Corner, Fred finally decided that if he didn’t stop stressing out, he was going to have a heart attack. That motivator – not having a heart attack – was an easy mental switch that has kept him more relaxed for the past ten years. Now, he says, the little things don’t matter.

Nor do the things that he can’t control. In Fred’s eyes, there’s something especially ridiculous about giving yourself a heart attack over things that are set in stone. So he always asks himself: can I change this now? If not, “that’s life.” That goes for things like not getting a particular job or losing a bunch of money.

“Recognizing reality is a very powerful thing.” he says. “You could argue your entire life is a process of learning reality and recognizing it.”

Fred relates this to the concept of a sunk cost in economics, a cost that can’t be recovered and should have no bearing on future decisions. Once you accept past costs, you can focus on doing the best you can now.

Fred’s story shows us three elements of positivity that we could all learn from: self-esteem, practicality, and acceptance. It reminds me a bit of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Except Fred’s version is a bit more secular; we might call it the Practicality Principle:

I have the practicality to accept the things I cannot change,
The ability to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

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