Fran Rugo’s calling is to share her positivity with the world

This is the third in a series profiling positive people and attempting to discover what exactly “positivity” is. If you know a positive person we should write about, email kiramnewman @ gmail.com! 

Fran RugoOne of my first interactions with Fran Rugo was at the SXSW conference last year. Tech Cocktail was putting on a huge event, and I arrived around 7 am to help out. Fran, an event consultant for us, had already been there for an hour or so. She was probably exhausted, and we barely knew each other at that point, but she greeted me with a big, genuine Fran smile. I liked this girl.

It might have been obvious to me that Fran was a positive person, but she had only just realized it at that point. “For me, it’s just how my mind works,” she says. Her friends insisted her positivity was unique, but she couldn’t see it – until a personality test confirmed that out of 34 strengths, positivity was her #1.

Fran was lucky to grow up with happy, grateful, hardworking parents. But her brain rebelled against the little negativities she sometimes heard from them – a complaint from her father about a B on her report card, or her mother repeating the Italian phrase “If I live to see another day.” She made a conscious decision to always do her best, and be happy with the outcome: a combination of hard work and acceptance.

I learned from Fran that her big smile dates all the way back to high school, when she went out of her way to cheer other people up. Walking through the hallways, she would think, “Well, I’m going to smile as much as I can because hopefully if someone doesn’t have a smile, I‘ll be able to make them smile.”

These days, Fran is working as an admin assistant at DePaul University’s Student Leadership Institute. When students come into her office complaining about stress or boy problems, she shares her positive advice. Things will probably work out in the future, she tells them; haven’t they worked out in the past? And if they don’t, maybe it’s a sign to take a different path.

That’s the same thing she tells herself when something bad happens. She sees every failure or bad experience as an opportunity for learning. When Fran found herself without a job after college, her response was: I guess I’ll have to learn something about this whole getting-a-job business. You accept reality, then you do something about it.

That can be hard to do in the moment, but Fran has a little ritual that helps. Almost every morning, she wakes up with a song in her head. As she gets ready, she turns on the song and sets an intention for her day: a goal she wants to accomplish, or something she’s looking forward to. Sometimes she records it on her blog, which is named after her favorite quote: “A coeur vaillant rien d’impossible” (“With a willing heart, nothing is impossible”). This routine is Fran’s own gratitude ritual, inspired by setting an intention in yoga. 

Fran believes that we all have unique talents to share with the world, but sometimes we forget what they are. A psychology test opened her eyes to her positivity, but it turns out it’s not just her #1 strength. Sharing positivity with others has become her purpose in life, whether it’s through mentoring students at DePaul, helping out at Tech Cocktail, or just widely, genuinely smiling. She says, “I hope that by being aware and sharing my positivity I am able to contribute to the world – even if it’s a small change.”

Positive people: For Shashi Bellamkonda, positive is the nicest way to be

Shashi Bellamkonda - Philly - 2Shashi Bellamkonda grew up in India in a competitive environment, pitted against his peers to see who would get into the best schools and get the best jobs. But instead of adopting a cutthroat mentality, he took on a different attitude: “Smiles are free and priceless.”

Shashi thanks his father for that lesson, which came in the form of a book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, perhaps the most famous “networking” book of this century. From it, Shashi learned that a smile goes a long way – whether that’s in the midst of a crisis or on the street.

“The communication between two human beings can actually create some energy,” he says. “If you’re walking into a place and you’re smiling and you’re happy, you’ll find that the whole world also starts becoming happy.”

Now, Shashi lives in the US, teaches at Georgetown University, and works in digital marketing. When something goes wrong at work, you’ll probably find him smiling and trying to solve the problem – not assigning blame.

“You can train yourself to say, ‘How can I be the nicest person and at the same time get my message across?’” he says. “When you’re dealing with other people, your goal should be ‘How do I get this done?’ more than ‘How do I tell people that they’ve done something wrong?’”

A question of perspective 

Positivity is an evaluation: seeing the world and pronouncing it good, or at least expecting good in the future. And the way we evaluate depends largely on us. To most adults, a rainy day is an annoyance; to many kids, a rainy day means fun, colorful boots and jumping in puddles. It’s a question of which perspective we take.

Shashi has a few tips on how to look on the bright side of life and avoiding honing in on those dark corners. First, start directing your eyes and heart to the good things you already have.

“Happiness is a state of mind,” he says. “You can think you need $1 million to be happy or $10 million to be happy, or . . . people seem to be happy even if they’re not living in the biggest mansion ever.”

Then, go about your day with an eye for those bright spots – in essence, stop and smell the roses. But these days, he says, that expression needs a bit of a digital update. “It’s now become stop to smell the roses and take a photograph – which is okay because you want that memory,” he laughs.

Next, take 15 minutes to clear your head, whether that’s meditating or just sitting quietly. That should clean out your mind of its negative ruminations and make room for the positivity to flow in.

And one of the ways to fill your head with positive thoughts is to seek out positive stories and news, Shashi says. If he ever started a nonprofit, its goal would be to get every media outlet to produce 10 percent positive news – a huge change from the 24/7 cycle of negativity that we find on most networks. Positive news helps you put things in context – the economy may be bad, but people are still succeeding, innovation is still happening, and communities are still rallying together. Shashi even attributes some of his positivity to the stories of good triumphing over evil that he read as a kid.

We may not be able to control the news, Shashi knows, but we can change the channel. We certainly can’t stop the rain, but we can buy a fun pair of boots. And if nothing else, we can curve the muscles of our face up into a smile.

Positive people: For Fred Ngo, being positive is a no-brainer

This is a series profiling positive people and attempting to discover what exactly “positivity” is. If you know a positive person we should write about, email kiramnewman @ gmail.com. 

Disclosure: Fred is my fiancé, which also makes him an excellent test subject. 

Fred NgoIn 2003, Fred Ngo signed a five-year lease on a dance studio for Cat’s Corner, the swing dance school and venue that he had created five years earlier. At the time, Cat’s Corner was barely breaking even and Fred didn’t know if the school would still be in business in a few years, but he didn’t dwell on it.

“I can only do the best I can and let the chips fall where they may,” he says.

But Fred wasn’t relying on blind faith to get him through; his positivity came from the confidence that he would be able to figure it out. He had already paid most of his way through college, worked as an adjunct professor, and gotten a full-time job; he could make this work, too.

Fred’s experience suggests that positive people may spend less time planning and thinking about the future because they trust they’ll be able to adapt and prepare for it. In entrepreneur fashion, he actually says, “Planning is a fallacy.” But that doesn’t mean Fred or other positive people think they’re invincible; in fact, it’s essential to recognize that you have faults and will make mistakes so you don’t react negatively to them.

“You have to give things the fullness of time to work themselves out. You just prepare as best you can and you let it play out, see what happens,” Fred says.

The second pillar of Fred’s positivity seems to be the practical realization that negativity and worrying are useless. In the early 2000s, while he was working a full-time job and starting Cat’s Corner, Fred finally decided that if he didn’t stop stressing out, he was going to have a heart attack. That motivator – not having a heart attack – was an easy mental switch that has kept him more relaxed for the past ten years. Now, he says, the little things don’t matter.

Nor do the things that he can’t control. In Fred’s eyes, there’s something especially ridiculous about giving yourself a heart attack over things that are set in stone. So he always asks himself: can I change this now? If not, “that’s life.” That goes for things like not getting a particular job or losing a bunch of money.

“Recognizing reality is a very powerful thing.” he says. “You could argue your entire life is a process of learning reality and recognizing it.”

Fred relates this to the concept of a sunk cost in economics, a cost that can’t be recovered and should have no bearing on future decisions. Once you accept past costs, you can focus on doing the best you can now.

Fred’s story shows us three elements of positivity that we could all learn from: self-esteem, practicality, and acceptance. It reminds me a bit of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Except Fred’s version is a bit more secular; we might call it the Practicality Principle:

I have the practicality to accept the things I cannot change,
The ability to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.