Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Two years ago, hours shy of Election Day, Barack Obama was in New Hampshire. He was campaigning for Hillary Clinton and told the story of his famous “fired up, ready to go” chant. He tells the story himself more eloquently than I could, so I encourage you to take five minutes out of your day to listen. I’ll wait.
For those of you who do not have five minutes, the best summary is “one voice can change a room.”
This is an idea that transcends politics. We frequently underestimate the power of one voice, even if the only person we’re talking to is ourselves.
LMC CEO Kristen Carroll recently told me that one of her favorite “Katoisms” is “you can be bitter, or you can be better.” I can’t take credit for it, even if I sure would like to; I just have a habit of saying it a lot. I will also admit that it took me a long time to believe in that aphorism. My journey from my early 20s to late 20s has been a little bit like Tuesdays with Morrie—but in my case I’m both Mitch and Morrie, and it’s mostly me yelling at myself in the mirror.
In the earlier part of my career, I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset, and I agreed with it because I thought I should. To oversimplify the work of a woman with a PhD in Psychology, there are two categories that people can be grouped into: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.
While these are useful concepts, they don’t leave much space for other factors.
On the surface, in my early 20s I was definitely someone with a growth mindset, but my persistence in the face of setbacks often left me tired and frustrated, and that negativity started to creep into more than just my workday. I embraced challenges until everything I did felt like the Kobayashi Maru. My life went from being a montage of me excitedly waking up every morning to “Mr. Blue Sky” to me staring off blankly while Gary Jules’ “Mad World” followed me around like a rain cloud. I still had a growth mindset, but I had gotten bitter about it, and eventually that bitterness squelched whatever desire I had to continue on the path I was on.
I regret feeling like I was letting the bitterness win, because it seemed like I became the ultimate millennial stereotype of leaving a job. Other factors were at play, like a six-month long battle with my physical and mental health, but all I could focus on was the fact that I was leaving a job after only two years. I had originally planned to be in it for the long haul, whatever that means.
Only now, almost two years later, I recognize I had turned my bitterness into betterment. I was bitter about my job, so I found a job that fit better in my life. I was bitter about my daily commute into Boston, so I found a job with a 20-minute commute—and that is if I take the scenic route on foot. I was bitter about my health, so I started running (and then I stopped running, so I need to start running again, but that is a topic for the next Millennial Minute). The list goes on. I identified the things that made me bitter and started working on them until they were better. The new kind of growth mindset I’ve embraced is when I think I’m saddled with a bad hand of cards, it just means I need to change the game I’m playing. After all, what might be a terrible hand in poker could be a great hand in Go Fish. It also meant seeking help for the things I couldn’t make better on my own, whether it meant finding a stronger acid reflux medicine, seeing a therapist, or recognizing that sometimes you need a nap in a dinosaur onesie.
Nowadays, my focus of turning the bitter into better isn’t about things as dramatic as changing my career. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as making a mistake and allowing myself a moment to recognize that while to err is human, to forgive is also human. Really, the possibilities of human action are multitude—but it’s your choice whether you are bitter or better about it.
If you’d like to talk to me about Tuesdays with Morrie or the power of positive thinking, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org (in particular if you work for Frito-Lay, because I have a few questions regarding a contest circa 1999, and I am waiting).