“You’re so negative”
The words cut into me. I was 22, and days away from graduating and leaving all my friends, AND the person I was in love with, and here he was telling me that I was “so negative.”
I later learned two things: the difference between lust and love. And, that he was right.
The anxiety of graduating college with no job, no plan, and no one else to commiserate with had created an anxiety inside me that manifested in the form of defensiveness, pessimism, and apparently, a general sense of “negativity”. I was one of those oddball December graduates, which meant that dozens of people who helped define me were staying back for another 6 months of partying, of getting to postpone responsibility, and of course classes and learning and what not...
I’ve never forgotten how it felt to have someone classify me as a negative person, and the older I get, the more I try to identify as anything but that.
Turning 30, and getting the chance to reflect with close friends about who I’ve become, and how I show up in their lives, I’m insanely grateful to share that “negative” is no longer a badge a wear. I left that ugly thing in my early 20s and never looked back.
Age has gifted me a self awareness that I wouldn’t trade for anything, and getting to celebrate my 30th with close friends, I was able to learn even more about myself AND about the needs of others.
I’m lucky enough to have a group of friends in Austin who gather monthly for a “family dinner.” This usually entails some food theme of sorts, an opportunity for everyone at the table to share a few central things about themselves (for ex: the best part of their day) and usually a lot of wine.
On Birthday’s though, we mix it up. Everyone goes around the table and shares their favorite memory, or what they most appreciate about the birthday boy or girl, and he or she gets to squirm in their seat, and receive the attention and love like a champ.
So last week, 15 people, some close friends, some new friends, went around the table and shared how I’ve impacted their life. It was beyond humbling, and naturally I cried like the emotional being that I am. But it was also educational!
I learned so much about about how people perceive me, and what makes them happy.
Here are three of the lessons I learned from the experience:
1. People crave community. If you can facilitate that for them, they will love you for it.
Two of the guests on that night were friends who had recently moved to Austin. I invited them because I thought it would be fun, and thought it would be great way for them to connect with other entrepreneurs and other people I’m close to.
They explained that by welcoming them with open arms to one event after the next, including this intimate dinner, they immediately felt loved and at home in Austin. While this would be a positive experience for anyone new in town, it was especially meaningful given that they had just left a very close knit group in St. Thomas and they were nervous that sort of community would be impossible to recreate.
I’ll be honest. I had no idea my efforts were that impactful! I genuinely wanted them around.
Hearing this feedback though, reinforced how important it is to create this sense of belonging for people whenever possible. With this knowledge, I can do so more consciously, and hopefully by reading this post, you can too.
Everyone wants to feel loved, to feel accepted, and to feel like they matter. If you can go out of your way to satisfy these needs for people, and to give them a sense of belonging, they will love you for it. And then maybe they will tell you at your birthday.
2. It can be important and powerful to hear how you show up in the world.
This is not to say “you should care what other people think” or “Only do things for the reward of feedback and praise” but instead, it’s to highlight the productive effects feedback can have.
If I know that by doing X, I make the people around me feel good, I’m damn well going to do more of X.
Think of it as market research for your social life. I’m confident that my presence in the world errs much more on the positive side, than the negative these days, because I recognize the work I’ve done on the inside. But hearing my friends echo that back to me reinforces the behavior. There’s nothing wrong with gauging from loved ones how you show up in the world and in their life.
As with anything, use discretion when deciding who to solicit feedback from, but see if you can create opportunities in your life to do so. Family Dinners, special date nights, etc. If you can preface the request with an offer to do the same for the other person (AKA share with them what you most appreciate about them) chances are they’ll say yes. Unless they’re still working on their ability to receive words of affirmation, in which case you have my permission to sneak it in ; )
3. Know that your affect on people extends beyond what you can see.
Keep creating. Keep putting content out there, or contributing in whatever way you are meant to. You affect people even when you may be completely unaware of it.
One of the most surprising pieces of feedback that I received was praise and support for my brand, The Bold Life Movement, and the impact it’s having.
This was SUCH a good reminder, that even if people aren’t “liking” something on Facebook, even if they’re not a paying client, even if you don’t talk to them every day, they see you.
This notion that people are being impacted without my knowledge is a fantastic reminder to KEEP WRITING. KEEP PRODUCING.
This can apply to both business, and social dynamics though. For example, you may be having a conversation with someone and unbeknownst to you, someone else nearby is affected. Be it positively or negatively, your energy and your words penetrated their peripherals and they are now changed because of you.
Your effect on people is far beyond what you can even begin to imagine.
So always be aware that people are listening, and people are watching (in a non-creepy way of course, but sometimes in a creepy way too) and try to show up in a positive way as much as possible.
If you’re someone who creates content to share with the world, keep doing that. Don’t let the ebbs and flows of likes, caused by the Facebook algorithm keep you from creating. You never know who needed to read that post, or hear that message.