The One With Positive Energy

I got some feedback yesterday, on my positive energy that apparently a lot of people around me like. And while this is not the first time someone has told me in the past year, it still made me think a bit. For a long time, I was told I should not be so negative, that I shouldn’t always only point out the problems. Which annoyed me because I thought I provided a lot of constructive criticism. I had ideas, why was that not seen, why was I only “too negative”?

Looking back at this now, I realise that I was indeed quite negative, making it hard for people who didn’t interact with me regularly to see my positive ideas. My team did, but people outside of my inner circle didn’t. And I guess everyone noticed that I was not the most positive person. Because let’s face it, I wasn’t.

And I think there are two reasons for this, and I want to talk about both of them now.

Feeling stuck in a negative situation

The first and most obvious reason is that I was stuck in a very negative situation. I had been in my previous job for a very long time and I had seen a lot of shit, both at work and at home during that time. If you’ve been in a small(ish) company for a few years there will inevitably be decisions that you don’t agree with, be it business-related or organisational. You’ve seen it all before, things keep going in circles and you feel like people should just listen to you when you tell them this has been tried before and it doesn’t work. That was me. And it burned me out a bit.

Add to that the fact that my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumour two months after I started at this company, went into hospice care shortly after I got my full-time contract, and died when we were setting up a new team and a new product. I just had the worst time, everyone knew, and everyone had seen me break down a few times, it was all kind of tied together. I couldn’t leave though because I didn’t have anything outside of work and I couldn’t imagine not seeing my favourite coworkers anymore.

But then in 2022, there was a particularly stupid organisational change (sorry, not sorry, it was hilariously crazy in lots of ways) and I decided that should be my sign to just get off my butt and find something new. A new job, without any personal or organisational history attached to it. And a really positive start. So many nice people who seemed to think I was doing a good job and kept telling me (what!?). That’s an environment where I can actually be positive.

Trying to fit in and be super professional

The second reason goes a bit deeper. I think I tried to be someone else for way too long. I am generally an enthusiastic person, I can be a bit silly sometimes and in some ways I am a girly girl. But I repressed that side of me for a very long time. I was a mom at 17. I had to be an adult, show that I’m responsible and not one of these “stupid teen moms” you see on reality TV. I was often the youngest person in the room, and the only woman in a big, big group of men. And while I think I was never really going for being “one of the boys”, I also didn’t want to stick out too much.

And while I’ve never had to deal with any overt misogyny, I have so often witnessed how women’s suggestions are turned down so much quicker then men’s, I’ve heard how people talk about women who show emotions, I’ve seen how the world makes fun of things that typically girls like. So I didn’t do any girly things. I tried to subdue myself. Which in turn made me angry and fly off the handle quite a lot.

And then at the end of 2022, when some of the stress from my previous job fell away, I started to allow myself to enjoy some objectively silly things like becoming a super One Direction fan at the ripe old age of 34, seven years after they had stopped making music together. I found people online and offline with whom I could share this and other obsessions. That felt so cool!

And then I made the crazy decision to not try to hide myself anymore. I was at a new company, nobody knew me, I couldn’t lose anyone’s respect, I hadn’t made any friends yet. If they didn’t like this version of me, I could just leave and find a new job, and see if there was some middle ground. I talked about being a One Direction fan. I shared my excitement for Harry being on tour down under and singing about fruity costumes in the audience with my project team. I talked about my crazy England trip to see Louis in Birmingham and all the band members’ hometowns. I wore tour merch and friendship bracelets to the office. When I got a new project, I told them about being a One Direction fan and seeing all the boys solo as my fun fact in the first retrospective that I organised.

And nobody seems to think I’m stupid or not good at my job as a result of this. I’ve even made some Swiftie friends at the office and I can’t wait for Perrie Edwards to announce a tour because I have someone in my project who would come to the concert with me. And the people who don’t care about things like that or think it’s a bit silly to watch an Eras tour livestream are still as nice to me as I am to them although they talk about boring things like cars all the time.

I think I’m also a better Product Person because of this. I am myself, I don’t have to make an effort to be someone else, so I can concentrate on the stuff that matters. Does that make sense? And I’m coming across as way more authentic and therefore more trustworthy and secure in who I am and what I’m good at. And that’s a cool side effect.

Live your life without regret

“Live your life without regret, don’t be someone who they forget” – I listened to Melanie C.’s debut album Northern Star and especially its titular track over and over again on the train ride back to Manchester from Liverpool where her Number 1 Singles are shown on the Wall of Fame in Mathew Street. To me, Northern Star is an anthem for being one’s true self, regardless of what pressures are put on you by your surroundings. And about getting help and getting out. But mostly about being yourself, no matter what any man around you might think. Which is actually what the Spice Girls have been teaching us Millennial Girls years ago already. I think we forgot about this for a while, but it’s coming back. I for one am going to stick with it.

P.S. You should read this NYT article on the Spice Girls and Girl Power. And Lauren Bravo’s book What Would the Spice Girls Do about growing up as a girl with the Spice Girls. And if you’re feeling brave, Everything I Need I Get From You explains how Fan Girl Culture influenced the whole internet. If conspiracy theories give you the ick, skip the Larry chapters, though. ;)

P.P.S. To set the record straight once and for all, I’m first and foremost a Directioner. It then goes Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, and Taylor Swift. The rest is not strictly sorted anymore. There is an order to the rest of the 1D boys though, but I’ll keep this to myself for now.