Donna hit the Diet Pepsi button on the soda machine much harder than usual at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. The day was proving to be a killer; a sweet carbonation fix was absolutely critical.

The reason? The 9-to-5 No-Negativity Challenge which she herself had issued to the staff, a harmless end-of-week activity, a game really. Little did she realize how harsh a spotlight it would shine on her own soul.

Normally by this time in the day, she would have made an offhand comment to Deb about her ridiculous workload, volunteered an innocent whine to Gideon about the morons who had tailgated her on the commute in, and joked with Val about how New Products would probably miss another Q2 deadline.

Today she had to suffocate it all, and with each moment of tongue-biting came a rush of guilt over just how negative she’d been in the past without realizing it.

Back in her days at the bottom of the ladder, the freedom to moan had been a helpful frustration reliever. And it had become even more necessary with the stress that a management title had brought.

But the eight-hour challenge, which she’d read about in an industry magazine and launched on a whim, suddenly made her realize that she had to crush the casual grumpiness altogether.

Nell popped into the kitchen just long enough to grab her Lean Cuisine and sigh that Ty had dragged the IT meeting out by going wildly off-topic and boring everyone, then vanished again. Challenge lost.

“And that’s why I like that woman but don’t really look up to her,” Donna thought. Why did I need to hear that about Ty? What good did that do? And how many days of that are ahead? Five flippant and mildly bitter comments per week for 49 weeks a year … multiplied by 10 people … what is being exposed to that going to do to me over the years?

And so Donna silently decided to stretch her own no-negativity challenge indefinitely, knowing she’d fail it, yes, but the goal wasn’t perfection. It was just to inch a little bit closer to the ideal of becoming a role model.

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