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 @! 

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.”


Lessons from Dad: “Don’t say no to yourself”

Ray Newman.JPGWhen I didn’t think I would get into a top conservatory, my dad encouraged me to apply. “Don’t say no to yourself,” he said. 

When I was afraid to ask a friend a big favor, my dad told me to try. “Don’t say no to yourself,” he said.

When I didn’t think I would get a writing job…you get the idea.

Among the nuggets of wisdom that my eccentric, intellectual, lovable father has passed down to me, this is one I find myself coming back to again and again. I’ve been known to offer this advice to others, even as I strive to consistently put it into practice in my own life.

In popular culture, this advice usually goes by the name of “Ask for what you want.” But “don’t say no to yourself” goes beyond that, encapsulating the what to do and the why to do it all in one phrase. Don’t say no to yourself, because there are plenty of other people who will gladly say no to you. Don’t say not to yourself, because if you say no to yourself, who do you expect to say yes?

My dad followed his own advice in 1979: he walked into a radio station in New York, asked for his own radio show, and got one. At the time, his qualifications consisted of 20 years of being a lawyer, not exactly relevant to the broadcasting field. He got a job that became a passion, a job that he still reminisces fondly about today.

If you think of the whole big range of possibilities available to you in the world, saying no to yourself just closes off avenues that may lead to your happiness. So say yes to yourself, and at least you’ll know you’ve done everything you can to get where you want to go.

A little mind trick to stop negativity

stop negativity I’ve recently become a subscriber to Headspace’s guided meditation app (hugely recommended), and I love the way Andy Puddicombe sets you up for a meditation. After you remind yourself of your personal reason for meditating, he asks you to reflect on the people in your life who could benefit from a happier, calmer you.

That might be your family, or your friends; it might even be the cashier at the grocery store. The point is to realize how your mood affects others, and give yourself a little extra boost of motivation to stick with the practice.

I think this same trick can be applied to pull yourself out of a negative mood, something I have lots of difficulty with. Something bad happens, a rush of negativity washes in, and I literally don’t feel strong enough to resist it. The world has been unfair to me; why should I have to put in extra effort to be positive on top of that? Sometimes I gather my facial muscles into a smile, but it doesn’t take long for my real emotions to peek through. I know being negative isn’t helping the situation; I know I’m wasting precious moments of my life; but being positive just feels impossible.

One night this sort of thing happened, and someone close to me looked into my eyes with a face of pain and sadness. I saw that my negativity was spreading – as negativity does – and I immediately stopped. I felt terrible. I literally said, “Fine, I’ll be happy” (and in my head added, “for you”).

For me at least, the desire to be positive isn’t yet strong enough to overcome negativity. But love is. Love, and wanting someone else to be happy, and not wanting to cause them pain. So when you’re feeling negative, try looking into the faces of those around you and asking yourself if you want to bring them unhappiness.

And this works both ways: if someone around you is negative, you can try to subtly appeal to their feelings for you. I have a relative who is often negative, and sometimes I’ll say, “I’ve had a stressful week and I really want to relax – can we just be positive?”

That said, I call this a “trick” because I don’t think it’s a long-term strategy. Friends and family can come and go, and you don’t want your motivation for self-improvement to go with them. And you definitely don’t want to become resentful of them for not appreciating all the hard emotional work you’re doing – “I’m doing this for you!” – when in fact you’re just making yourself happier.

But as a quick fix, it can train your brain that it is possible to be positive. It can help you see and experience – not just “know” intellectually – that positivity is the better path. And in the future, it can give you the strength to be positive for your own sake.

Photo by Flickr user PhineasX

The day I forgot my passport

Paris Eiffel TowerI like making lists.

I make grocery lists, lists of conversation topics, and (most importantly) packing lists. I do it because I’ve left too many things behind: a razor, a jacket, a jar of coconut oil. So for my trip from Paris to New York, I made a 30-item packing list on my handy Reminders app and started my trip confident that I had everything.

That is, until the lady at the check-in counter asked for my passport.

In an instant, I realized that I was going to miss my flight, I was much less smart than I thought, and these list things weren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

But I had the slimmest of a chance: what if my flight were delayed? So while I stayed at the airport, doing my best to negotiate in French and figure out my options, Fred raced back to our apartment (a 50-minute train ride each way) to retrieve the only item that I absolutely needed to have. He knew exactly where it was: in his laptop bag, next to his own, right where he had put it when we were crossing over from London to Paris.

Of course, my negotiations were in vain – apparently a driver’s license or digital copy of your passport won’t do, and no, they won’t check in just your luggage without a passport. Fred showed up 5 minutes before my flight was supposed to leave, and I was given clear instructions to return at 7 am the next morning to get on the waiting list for a flight at 11 am, which was fully booked (as was the other flight that day). I only had three days in New Jersey before I had to fly to Vegas, so I was praying to the airline gods that I’d get a spot.

You’d think that was quite enough excitement for the day, thank you very much, but it didn’t end there.

At 7 pm, exhausted from an afternoon mostly spent at the airport, we decided to venture outside for dinner. As we were leaving the building, I turned to Fred and ask him if he had the keys to the apartment, which locks automatically when you shut the door. Can you guess what he said?

We called our Airbnb host, who sympathetically but firmly explained that there was nothing she could do – after all, we had requested to have her spare set of keys. The only solution was to visit a nearby cheese monger the following morning, who was holding onto keys for the landlord. I told her I needed to be at the airport at 7 am, and tomorrow morning wasn’t soon enough; we contemplated climbing up the building into our second-story window; I wondered how the heck to say “locksmith” in French, and whether anyone would possibly be open this late.

On the brink of utter frustration and exhaustion, I ran to the cheese monger to check if they were open – and they were, for precisely 25 more minutes. I had that much time to convince a stranger to give me a set of keys without authorization from the landlord, whom I couldn’t reach because I had no more phone credit to call my Airbnb host. Luckily, he took pity on me.

So the night ended in an unexpected place: not on a plane, but in Paris, at a little couscous restaurant, eating savory grilled chicken, lamb, and sausage. “I think this is our worst day ever,” said Fred. But he was grinning, not frowning. We were both exhausted, starving, and had wasted a lot of work time, but we still had a nice meal and we certainly didn’t hate each other.


When I arrived at the airport the next morning (bright and early), I was greeted with some good news: “We have an extra flight at 9 am today because one was canceled yesterday.” It took a few minutes before I realized what flight that was: my flight. This was confirmed by a fellow passenger, who explained that the plane had had mechanical problems. “Yesterday was a long day,” he told me. So it was – and if I hadn’t forgotten my passport, it might have been even longer.