Positive Attitude: What In The World Does That Mean?

Posted on June 22nd, 2019 by

I woke up yesterday with deep anxiety.  It is not an unusual occurrence.  Some days it happens and some days it does not.  It may have a trigger that trips it, or an upcoming event.  Or it may be completely random.  As in, “Where in the world did that come from?”

I now know where it comes from.  My brain.  I didn’t used to know that.  I thought everyone experienced it and suffered with it.  Then I found out they didn’t.  And, ten years ago at age 50, I sought medical help and found out how “other people” experience life more freely.  It was a revelation.  Getting help doesn’t cure the suffering, but it alleviates it.  Until it doesn’t and I wake up and say, “Well, hello my friend, Anxiety.  How may I help you?”

This will not be a blog about how I have overcome it with the TLC Three Crowns • Positive Attitude • Full Effort • Good Sportsmanship℠.

I will probably never completely overcome it.  Sometimes things are not “overcome”.  They just are.

But that does not mean life is unlivable.  Nor does it mean that I cannot have a positive attitude, as long as I know what a positive attitude is.  And what a positive attitude is not.

Last night, I witnessed a tremendous act of courage.

Neal watching the Variety Show in his perch.

Sitting in my little perch where I watch each variety show, where I can overlook the performance pit from the side where the show takes place, a camper appeared beside me.  He said, “May I stand for the Variety Show?”

I said of course, but if he wanted a better view, he could go sit in front.  He said, no, he wanted to stand.  Curious, I asked why.  I discovered he has debilitating social anxiety which most people would not guess.  It started a few years ago, he has sought and gotten help, but it is still present and paralyzes him at times in groups, sitting in crowds, presenting in school, or watching others perform.  He knew, from my sharing with the camp about my own coping with anxiety, that I struggle differently, but with the same challenge.

Last year, unbeknownst to me, he had stayed in his room for the Variety Show because he could not bring himself to be downstairs in that situation.

We talked about how crippling it can be when it takes over without warning.

I asked if he wanted to get to a better view.  He shook his head no vigorously, he was fine where he was, being able to see about half the stage.

There he stood, watching, for the whole show.  Except one act.  When another boy got up to sing a serious song, he removed himself from the room.  I wondered if he would come back.  After the song, he did.

Instructors Ally Baker and Michael Mauthe sharing a story in the skit “Columns”.

I asked him if watching that kind of performance was difficult.  He said it was, because he imagines himself in their shoes.  There are so many things I could say, others could say, therapists could say.  All I could think to say was, “I’m glad you came back.”

And he stayed there the rest of the show.

Positive Attitude is the trickiest of the Three Crowns.

Because it is all tied up in people’s minds with the power of positive thinking, fake it til you make it, pop psychology that is about “choosing to be happy” or whatever other advice out there that is generally unhelpful to the vast majority of people.

But if positive attitude depends on the emotion of being happy or content or peaceful inside, most of us will never succeed.  Because life is difficult.

Positive attitude at TLC is not an emotion, it is always an action.

When adversity hits, positive attitude is asking the question “What is the next thing I can do to head in a positive direction?”  Some days it is as simple as saying, “I’ll move through the next volley.”  Some days it is as difficult as saying, “Can I stay in the room for one more act?”

It is, in my life, sometimes just putting one foot down in front of the other.  And that can be the most courageous, positive act any of us ever do.  We all struggle with something.  That is the human condition.  It is nothing to be ashamed of.  Perhaps, today, you need to put one foot in front of the other.

Instructors Katie Aney, Ian Pallin and Kevin Shan performing in the “Dinner Party” skit.

Or your loved one does.  How amazing – and positive – is that?  We get to take those steps beside each other.

Last night, I witnessed a tremendous act of courage.

One camper making a small – huge – step out of the darkness of his room to, a year later, the fringe of the show.  Maybe the next step is into the audience and then, who knows, onto the stage.

Until then, when we falter, maybe when we pick ourselves up to do the next thing, we can simply hear from each other, “I’m glad you came back.”

How Can I Contribute?



  1. Jennifer Kirby says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I too, have been trying to greet my Anxiety as a friend or as I would a little girl. You’re right. It helps. It’s not a cure, but better is good.

    Thanks for your wonderful posts! I hope to get back to TLC when the time is right.

    • Neal says:

      Thank you, Jennifer, for your openness. And, hmmmm, we have a few family camp openings if you want to be a TLC “family member”. Otherwise, next year!

  2. John Scherf says:

    Me too, Neal ! Sometimes a real struggle. But now I can remember your smile and goofy, quiet humour (s) and knowing you are struggling sometimes too will help. Miss you !!

  3. Lisa Franke says:

    Thank you so much for sharing that. I wouldn’t have imagined we share that kind of struggle because you are always a burst positive energy. What a wonderful moment that was with that student. We all look back on moments that change our lives for the better. What might seem as an insignificant moment to many, might be a mountain moving moment inside a person. I have a feeling that was a mountain moving moment for him because of your courage to share your story. ❤️

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Lisa. Same back to you. I have decided to tell my story for that exact reason, not to move mountains, but so that people don’t feel alone and isolated. Life is hard enough together, let alone isolated, lol. Keep up the beautiful art of your work and your life. You inspire me.

  4. Joyce Hagberg says:

    I didn’t know. And it makes me sad I never saw it. Last thing I thought about before going to sleep last night was ‘tomorrow is your big birthday’ and first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning was ‘ Happy Birthday Neal!’ But thought you’d be out for your morning bike ride so didn’t call.
    Strange what we don’t know about each other.

    I always thought that tho I gave you life, you were never ‘mine’ but to be used by God for purposes beyond my understanding. That was my first year at TLC after your morning reflections over 35 years ago. You ARE being used in an amazing way. You were there at the right time for your camper … and in his way, he was there for you … bless you both.

    Now on to many more years of unexpected revelations and finally anxiety free days.

    I’m proud of you! Hugs and love … Mom

  5. K. Christian Johnson says:

    “Maybe the next step is into the audience and then, who knows, onto the stage.”

    And maybe not. But this is enough. And beautiful. And perfect.

  6. Mark Hagberg says:

    Thanks for sharing both your and the camper’s struggles and triumphs. You’re helping others along . We all have them to one degree or another.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY brother!!

  7. Bev Lesiuk says:

    I love these stories! Keep ‘em coming! Missing all of you at TLC this year. First time in 13 years that we’ not going and I’m regretting that decision!! Hope the weather cooperates and you have a wonderful, although I’m sure, tiring season.
    Hope the Peggers behave. Not counting on it, though.

  8. Penny Greer (Helen L = legal name) says:

    I miss you all so much, Neal!! It’s great to receive your thoughts and reflections!

    Would you believe this is the third year in a row I have had to miss?
    My left knee was replaced one year ago (yesterday) and sadly, it has
    not completely healed. I can walk briskly up to 1/2 mile, climb stairs, do the bike at the gymn
    ferociously – but it acts like a painful arthritic knee (which it can’t be) CRUMB !!

    SO NO TENNIS YET!!!! ARGH – I miss it so!!

    Have a fantastic summer with all the camps and campers, whose names I know you will
    completely LEARN in the first hour of camp!!! (Amazing)


    Rev. Penny Greer
    Lincoln NE

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Penny, we miss you, too! Get healed and get back here! Take care 🙂

  9. neal says:

    Thanks Amy, I get that mantra :).

  10. Amy Braun Steinhauser says:

    Boy does this resonate! As usual, you nailed it, bringing a dark topic into the light. My favorite, from Sleepless in Seattle, is “Well, I’m going to get up out of bed every morning, breathe in and out all day long.” I chant it often.