Make Life

19 Aug

Gehry Building in the early morning – Photo by DMT

This past week my students informed me that I should write a book. When I asked what it should be about, they replied, “About you!” When pressed to narrow the topic (since “being me” is a pretty big one), they suggested that I should write about how I do what I do.

While that may seem confusing and ill-defined to most people, I knew exactly what they meant.

I’m an incredibly positive person (some might say I’m annoyingly positive). My outlook on life is optimistic because I tend to see the bright side of things, and as a result that’s what I most often see. This can be incredibly frustrating for folks who are cynical and/or defensive because it chips away at the protective fortresses they’ve built and challenges their beliefs about the world – and I understand why they tend to shake their heads and tell me I’m too nice to people.

They’re afraid.

They’re scared of what would happen if they allowed themselves to become as vulnerable as they think I’ve allowed myself to become. They’re scared of being taken advantage of and looking foolish as a result. But most of all, they’re afraid of being hurt.

I know because I used to be afraid, too.

What’s interesting is that as I’ve changed my way of thinking and become more optimistic, I’ve found that I actually get hurt less. I have lots of theories about why this is, but I think it comes down to basic laws of physics and physiology – you’re less likely to get hurt when you roll into a fall rather than resisting it.

I think the same is true of an approach to living, and when I open my arms (and heart) and embrace everything, I find that the bad stuff becomes a less troublesome because there’s so much more good stuff to embrace. And in the process, I find that I’m much better protected from the bad stuff because I’m attracting so much more good stuff!

You’re probably sitting there scratching your head and thinking, “Yes, but how do you do this?”

Mary’s Positivity Training List

1. Assume positive intent.

I learned this two years ago when I went to work for a major computer company, and it changed my entire perspective on people. Assume that other people are not out to get you. Assume that their issues have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Stop operating defensively and start trying to find solutions for the problem. Assume that you have the power to help someone else find a solution, and stay calm as you work toward it. It’s not about YOU!

2. Treat others better than you’d like to be treated.

Most of us have learned the Golden Rule (“Do unto others…”), this is the Platinum Rule. This means that you treat every person with courtesy, kindness and generosity – the way you would if you were hosting someone you admire and respect in your home (think the President or someone famous). This does not mean that you allow people to be rude or disrespectful to you, it simply means that you treat people the way they want to be treated (and this often means asking people how they would like to be treated).

3. Be the change you want to see in the world.

If you want people to be kinder and more courteous, then you need to be kinder and more courteous. If you want people to be more patient, then you need to be more patient. If you want a better world, then shape your actions to reflect the kind of world you want to live in – and understand that change takes time! If you are in a position of leadership, whether on the job or at home, understand that the people you are leading take their cues from you and their behavior reflects the example you set (and if you don’t believe me, take a look at the feedback for companies on Glassdoor or Linkedin, and then take a look at those who are CEOs of those companies).

4. Look for the good in every person and situation.

Focus on what’s right with the world and you’ll find the strength to fix what’s wrong. Every experience we have is an opportunity for learning and growth, and every person has a story. Ask questions and then pay attention to the answers. Offer constructive feedback in a way that tells the person what they’re doing right, what needs to be improved, and two possible ways to go about improving. Then listen. If you listen carefully, people will often tell you exactly what’s going on, even when they aren’t telling you directly. Sometimes what someone isn’t telling you is far more important than the words they are speaking.

5. Take responsibility for your actions.

Stop blaming other people for making you angry or frustrated. Understand that if you are angry and/or frustrated, you’ve made choices that have led you to this point, and you need to take responsibility for those choices. It doesn’t mean that other people haven’t made mistakes, it simply means you can’t control the actions of others, only your own, The most straightforward way to deal with a mistake is to acknowledge it, accept responsibility for it, apologize if necessary, and then move on. You will earn a lot more respect from people if they feel they can trust you to consistently take responsibility for your actions.

These are the basic principles I try and live by, and I try to feed my positive outlook with books, music, movies, and quotes from people who do things that inspire me. It doesn’t mean I ignore the ugly realities of life, it simply means I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the negative side of them. Instead, I ask why something bad has happened, and then I try and identify ways in which the situation could be changed in the future.

And I’ll warn you that this list is not a magic bullet. You will not suddenly wake up tomorrow morning feeling happier or more optimistic simply because you’ve read it. It’s taken me a very long time to develop the habit of optimism, and it’s still not perfect – nor will it ever be. I still get frustrated, make mistakes, and lose my cool on occasion, but I forgive myself because I’m human, and because I’ve learned to view my mistakes in a positive light.

Becoming a positive person takes dedication, commitment, hard work, and patience, but when you are able to sustain positivity, you’ll feel like anything is possible.

And it is.

I promise.


4 Responses to “Make Life”

  1. Viviana August 19, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    I agree with whoever it was that suggested you write a book. You shouldn’t just write A book. You should write like, AN ANTHOLOGY of Mary G.
    Also, I’m glad you wrote this post. It’s very insightful and inspiring.


    • Mary August 20, 2012 at 11:07 am #

      Thank you, Viviana! Alright, so I need to write an ANTHOLOGY of me. So…if I were to write this book the question is: What do you want to know? Maybe I should pose this in the discussion forum as well? What say you?


      • Viviana August 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

        Everything. Talk about it all. What’s your process? How did you get there? If it’s what you talked about in this post – positivity, then so be it. It’s a good thread to connect the fibers. I think people are interested in knowing how you do what you do because you’re an amazing teacher and an interesting person. I think you have a lot of experience to offer and a lot of stories to go along with that experience. At times you remind me of The Bloggess ( – you find hilarity or something good in everything and that’s what makes you unique and someone worth having as a friend, colleague, etc.


      • Mary August 21, 2012 at 8:50 am #

        Oh my gosh! The Bloggess is hilarious!! Thank you for comparing me to her!

        As far as what to write about, thank you for the suggestions, Viviana. I love to write about positivity because my goal is simply to get people to *think*! I firmly believe that if they did, then the world would be a much nicer place. Maybe I should write about the ways in which the past five and a half years of teaching at our school has changed me. There are a million stories to tell about how interactions in (and out of) the classroom have changed my way of thinking and that of students.

        I’ll work on this, and on the meantime I’ll post more tips on how to be more positive!! Thank you for all of the helpful feedback!!


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