“Work hard, play nice” is my mantra. I learned it growing up, and now I want my children to live and breathe it.
No one deserves good things in life if they cheat to get there. One thing I knew for sure when I became “the boss” (though I hate that word and try to never use it) is that I never wanted to be intimidating. I wanted to encourage people to work hard and find their strengths without resorting to scare tactics.
Thankfully, it’s working for me: “Work hard, play nice” has become my overarching philosophy in life and in work.
After all, we all knew the mean girl in high school or the bitch in the office, but I didn’t want to play dirty with them. I believe that playing nice will get you just as far—as long as you work hard. Nice girls can be badasses too without being bitches.
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When I first started POPSUGAR, my mission was to create a website that would be a refreshing break from all the snarkiness and meanness on the internet.
But for me, nice doesn’t mean saccharine or relentlessly positive. It can mean being fiercely competitive (which I’ll be the first to admit I am) as long as you play by the rules. Nor does nice mean being sickly sweet or timid (I also curse like a sailor).
My brand of nice comes from a place of honesty, supporting others, and being empathetic. Nice is the simple lesson you learn in preschool: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I cannot stand anyone who acts like an asshole to flight attendants or servers, who treats people as if they are beneath them.
I seek out friends and employees who treat everyone with the same respect. Some people think it’s a problem to be too nice, but I disagree. In fact, if I hear any manager at our company is being egotistical or political, I do my best to crush the behavior immediately.
My number one rule when I started the site—one that our editorial team still lives by today—is to never say anything about celebrities you wouldn’t say to their faces. That’s also a rule I follow in life: Never say something about someone you wouldn’t want them to overhear if they unexpectedly appeared from around a corner. That doesn’t mean I’m dishonest. I believe it’s far nicer to be honest, even if telling the truth isn’t easy.
After having some pretty tough bosses in past jobs in San Francisco, I knew early on that I wanted to be the type of leader who was encouraging and not intimidating. Even now, if I ever hear someone who works at POPSUGAR is scared of me, I need to figure out why, and how I can change that. There is simply no reason not to be nice or easy to talk to, whether you’re the most junior employee or the boss. You don’t have to be scary to be successful.
My “no mean girls” philosophy extends to our office culture. I want to create a safe, positive environment where I’d rather hear what the 22 year-olds have to say than make them cower in fear.
And being the new kid or the youngest employee shouldn’t mean you have to do all the dirty work. At POPSUGAR, we have the mentality that everyone should know how to do a little bit of everything. Sure, you need to start by learning the basics and train your way up to bigger tasks, but being at the top doesn’t mean you are ever above doing a little dirty work.
That’s part of working hard and playing nice.
Lisa Sugar is the founder of PopSugar. This essay is adapted from her new book, Power Your Happy: Work Hard, Play Nice, and Build Your Dream Life.