Ricardo Lopes

Being Uplifting

When someone chooses a career, they go for the work they like the most, within their abilities. I know I did when I followed software development. And yet, you don't see many people celebrating Mondays and lamenting the end of the week. Not even close.

Somewhere along the way we all experience the office politics, the bad management, the boring tasks, the lack of agency, and so on.

We love the craft, but not necessarily the job.

In all the teams I've worked with, I've never seen an ideal scenario where nothing is wrong. And I don't think I will, ever. And neither will you. The real world is always messy.

It's up to us to decide how we want to react to everything that is wrong around us.

"We have absolutely no control over what happens to us in life but what we have paramount control over is how we respond to those events."

Viktor Frankl

Being a complainer

Early in my career, I wouldn't shy away from the opportunity to complain about everything that was wrong with the codebase and with the company. Something was wrong, so someone had to complain about it!

Asked to waste time fixing data inconsistencies rather than addressing their root cause? What a prioritisation failure from leadership! Long build times slowing down development? What a terrible mess we've inherited from those who coded that in the first place!

It truly felt like an important service to raise awareness of issues that were holding the company's mission back.

Over time, I got more experience and respect from peers. I was still an individual contributor, but was naturally doing more and more mentoring work.

One day, I was mentoring two recently-joined junior developers who were still learning how things worked. I was trying to be helpful and authentic, so I made sure to highlight plenty of issues with the codebase and with the organisation. It's useful to know the pitfalls to look out for, after all. All in good spirits.

Later, I had a conversation with my team lead, who learned about that session. That's where I had one of the biggest realisations of my career.

Being intentional

See, my intentions surely were pure, but I wasn't being the helpful mentor I thought I was: I was just being a complainer. I was just ranting about all the things I disliked.

As newly joined junior developers, they looked up to more established senior developers to form their opinion about what they've just signed up for. And if established senior developers paint such a gloomy picture, that's what they assume as true.

This sounds obvious in hindsight, but sometimes we need the timely reminder: if you've got a balanced view about something, but you overly focus on the bad parts, then you're not sharing an accurate representation of your views. Others can't read your mind, only interpret your actions, so they'll believe your views are the non-representative picture you've shared.

I realised that we shouldn't be complainers: instead, we should be intentional, fair reporters of our full range of opinions. This is especially important if there are people looking up to us and valuing and trusting what we're saying!

This realisation was critical to set the stage for the next one.

Being uplifting

Not long after that episode, something else clicked for me. My mood can easily be influenced by the environment around me. If it's full of complainers, I'll be one, too. If morale is low, mine will be as well.

After having contributed for so long to an environment of complaining, I realised that actually, culture isn't set in stone. It's malleable. The culture is set every day by the people who show up. And you're one of them.

No matter how you rank within your company, you are an influencer of its environment. We all are, whether we realise it or not. You can choose to blend in with how others set it, or you can opt to plant a different seed.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Apparently miquoted to Gandhi

Influence the environment you want to be a part of. If you're a complainer, you're enabling an environment of complainers. If you want to be a part of an uplifting environment, it starts with you.

Be an uplifter.

When others complain, you can publicly celebrate your teammates’ successes. When others plot against each other, you can ignore the noise and focus on beating the only one who matters: your past self.

If the tasks are dull, use your spare time to explore and learn new things, rather than using it to rant about how boring things are. If your company offers a learning budget, make good use of it!

Be intentional with the way you interact with others. Make them feel valued and filled with energy, even on days when you don't feel that energetic yourself. People remember how you made them feel. And they act accordingly.

This isn't about dropping your authenticity and pretending to be someone you're not, or sharing opinions that aren't what you truly think. It's about realising that your actions have consequences, and you can be intentional in surfacing your best self.

This is also not about toxic positivity. It's still important to flag issues and to try to fix them. We shouldn't self-censor any criticism, we should just be more strategical about when it's actually useful to share it, and being constructive about it.

This is about lifting others up: showing excitement about things, not ranting all the time for the sake of it, openly celebrating success, being kind to team members, and so on.

And, when in doubt, you can slightly exaggerate these positive behaviours. Communication is hard, especially if you're remote, for instance, or when writing. So, slight exaggerations go a long way in removing ambiguity or misunderstandings.

Is this mindset change a silver bullet against everything that is wrong with a job? Of course not! And if you're in an awful environment, your best option may be to look for something better.

But for your everyday job, I've seen this mindset shift improve not just my day to day, but also the morale of the rest of the team. And I'm just a recovering complainer, still with much to improve here myself.

Start contributing to the culture you want to be a part of. Be intentionally uplifting: share your full range of opinions, but focus on abundant positivity towards your teammates and saving rants for when they're actually useful.

It starts with you.

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