OK, sorry, some of you may have heard this from me before. I wrote about it a couple of years ago when I was at You magazine. But I simply cannot risk leaving just one of you behind on this, the most life-changing sentence anyone ever uttered to me. I needed to hear it, and maybe you do too.
It was 25 years ago, when I was the newly-appointed, 28-year-old editor of a magazine called New Woman. My boss identified pretty quickly that while I might be showing promise as a creator of popular magazines, when it came to leadership, well: Barack Obama I was not.
That is to say, I was crap at managing staff. And myself, frankly. Prior to this New Woman job, I’d mostly worked in small organisations with tiny teams. One company I’d worked for tried to refuse to provide the staff with toilet paper, which tells you all you need to know about what value they placed on nurturing and developing people. I’d been muddling my way through, making it up as I go along and honestly? I was barely sentient when it came to the notion that perhaps I needed to put some effort into communicating with and getting the best out of a big team.
And so it came to pass, that I was given about two months’ of one-on-one sessions with a coach, a dynamic woman called Sandra. One day, while we were discussing how to handle things like confrontation and delivering unpopular news to teams, that sort of thing, Sandra said:
‘Jo, someone out there, right now, thinks you’re a shit. And there’s nothing you can do about it.’
I howled laughing. It was so blunt and such a handbrake turn in a business training session. And I have to tell you: It has helped me many, many times over the years to give myself a break.
I’m actually pretty sure that there are multiple ‘someone’s out there who think I’m a shit. You can’t be a boss for some 30-odd years - droning on about budget cuts, being the one in the room forced to choose who’s being made redundant, having to say no to someone’s big idea, telling someone they didn’t get the promotion - and have everyone thinking you’re 24/7 of sunshine and delight. Only this guy is that.
To some (many?) people, their lived experience probably is that I. Am. A. Shit.
And Sandra was right. There is nothing I can do about it. And that’s glorious. Because we need liberation from worrying about making everyone like us. In fact, as women, we need a complete rewiring job on the matter.
It was the comedian Katherine Ryan who helped me see that, when she delivered unto me an update of the mantra, so that it now took into account the rise of social media, and its hundreds of people who will never come anywhere close to actually meeting you, but who are nevertheless completely sure that you are - solid fact - a shit.
We’d recorded a podcast together and had been discussing the concept of patriotism. (That was deep of us, wasn’t it? No idea why now.)
Anyway, I’d said something along the lines of, it’s a fine line between patriotism being something positive and it sliding to an ugly place where people think the luck of their birthplace means they’re better than others.
When we’d done recording, I said to her, ‘Hmmm, I’m a bit worried I’m going to get a lot of crap on social media for saying that.’
She said, ‘But whatever your opinions are, someone is going to be angry about them. So why bother saying anything other than what you think?’
Again, mind blown. She’s right. You can clench that jaw into a rictus grin until your teeth bleed. But no matter how nice you try to be, no matter how nice you might justifiably believe you really are, there will always be someone who begs to differ.
Think about this too: Sometimes people want or even need you to be the shit. They need to cast you as the villain of their life, in order to feel better about the choices they made in their dealings with you. We all have those people in our lives who we view as ‘the enemy’ in some way. You will be that person to some. Fine.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not about me actively wanting to be perceived as a shit. I’ll never be one of those ‘just being honest’ people who’s gleeful about telling you your hair looks rubbish today. My over-sensitive, Piscean brain really wants to be liked by everyone. This is why I really needed to hear that that’s never going to happen.
If I know I’ve tried to be my best self - and as much as possible in my job - fair and consistent, that sentence continues to serve me as well as it did when I first heard it in 1998.
It brings me peace. I want that for you too.
Bonus: Some actual goodness from My Goodness!
I wanted to share with you a few small things that have given me joy lately.
This cult TV show
This is years old, but I don’t know that many people who’ve seen it. It’s dark, twisted, hilarious, compelling and frankly, gets weirder and weirder by the season. If you’re a millennial who can’t have a little laugh about millennials, then maybe avoid. Otherwise, get involved it’s brilliantly done. Get it on i-player.
These practically perfect pink shoes
Yes, I need them, shut up I do.
These incredible drain cleaners
Dazlincleaning alerted me to Sink Sticks.
Utter bloody gamechanger, thanks Lindsay. In fact I think she’s my most soothing, satisfying cleanfluencer.
This sensational budget chocolate
My mother-in-law always has a good stash of off-brand chocolates and other sweets on the go at her house and this is where I recently became acquainted with these cheeky little chocolate sticks. And I have a Lidl two minutes’ walk from my house so this is a fatal new relationship.
My new podcast!
Yeah, shameless plug, incoming. I’d hate for you to have missed this fantastic chat with Amanda de Cadenet, my latest podcast guest on Fame. She’s had a wild ride with fame that she nearly didn’t survive. She is so sharp on the whole subject and has a lot of hard-won wisdom to share. Seriously, thank you so much to all of you who have listened and taken the time to feed back about it. I’m loving making it.
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On the same line, “what anyone else’s thinks of you is none of your business!” 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 Brill Jo
Love this, Jo! And I'm really enjoying FAME - Jameela Jamil's episode is brilliant. Side note: I was New Woman's biggest fan. I was really sad when it closed! x