our intern’s cube is covered in handwritten affirmations of her worth

A reader writes:

We have an intern who recently started in our office who sits near me. We sit in cubes, so you can easily see everyone’s decorations and whatever they’ve put on their walls as you walk around the office. The intern has filled the most prominent cube wall with hand-written affirmations and inspirational quotes, including “I can do this!” and “You are enough!”

I will admit that I have never appreciated or gotten anything out of daily affirmations, inspiring quotes, etc. But if they are helpful to you, it’s none of my business. However, it does kind of make me want to roll my eyes whenever I walk by the cube. And it makes me wonder if this intern has such low self esteem that they need to hang these in their cube. I think it’s different from, like, a Martin Luther King Jr. inspirational quote, or that cliched “hang in there!” poster — because those are just generally inspirational, while these are so personal that they invite questions about the person who hung them.

I don’t supervise this intern, and it’s such a small thing that I’m not going to say anything. But if they were my intern, would I be out of line to gently suggest they put these affirmations in a less prominent place (or the bathroom mirror at home), because they may interfere with a strong, confident first impression you want to make on coworkers? Or am I being way too snarky?

Ooohhh. I agree with you that if I saw someone’s cubicle covered with those quotes, it would feel … more revealing than they perhaps intended. And yeah, not quite professional — because it’s sort of like announcing “I am worried about my ability to do this job.” It’s imposter syndrome in poster form.

The fact that they’re hand-written definitely adds to that feel. I’m no fan of cheesy inspirational posters either and wouldn’t recommend that someone wallpaper their entire cubicle in them. But the fact that these are hand-written makes it feel less like different taste in decor and more like an unexpected window into the person’s insecurities, in a way that it doesn’t serve her to provide to her colleagues.

This would be more problematic if she were more senior. Imagine walking into your boss’s office and seeing notes she’d written to herself reminding her that she was good enough and to hang in there, etc. It wouldn’t inspire confidence. But to some extent, we all need to inspire confidence at work, even at a more junior level.

So yeah, it’s not great.

I agree with you that it’s not your place to say anything. But if you were her manager or mentor and you’d seen signs that it might be affecting how people in the office saw her, in theory you could say something like, “I noticed you have a lot of affirmations posted in your cube” and then wait to see what she said about it. Depending on how that went, I can imagine saying something like, “I love that you’ve found something that helps you. One thing I’d think about is whether you can get the same effect from fewer — even just one. I get how you’re using them, but they could inadvertently signal to colleagues that you’re worried about your ability to do your job. I want people to have the same confidence in your skills that I have, and I don’t want you to inadvertently send signals that could undermine you. It’s up to you — it’s your cube and you get to decide how to weigh this stuff — but I didn’t know if you’d thought about that piece of it.” (I don’t love “it’s up to you” here — I worry that it sounds disingenuous because a lot of people will assume that if their manager is talking to them about it, it’s not really up to them anymore — but it really is up to her and it’s important to say that.)

But before doing that, I’d look at the rest of the situation: Does she seem confident in dealing with others? Do others seem confident in her? Is there any evidence that the affirmations might actually be weirding people out, or might I be the only one reacting to them? If there aren’t signs it’s affecting how anyone else thinks of her, I’d err on the side of leaving it alone and just figuring that people get to be quirky.

{ 585 comments… read them below }

  1. Rusty Shackelford*

    (I don’t love “it’s up to you” here — I worry that it sounds disingenuous because a lot of people will assume that if their manager is talking to them about it, it’s not really up to them anymore — but it really is up to her and it’s important to say that.

    Yeah, to me, this is like that pieces of flair conversation from Office Space. Don’t give someone a “soft” task and then say “but it’s up to you.”

    1. Busy*

      Yeah, I think this is something to only bring up if you really want or need for them to stop doing.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      Right. When you want someone to do something, you tell them. If it really doesn’t matter, why bring it up?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Because part of having an intern is coaching them in things that won’t be obvious at their experience level, and one of those things is optics. That doesn’t mean she *has* to stop doing it, but lots of people would appreciate the heads-up that something might be coming across differently than they realized. (Again, I would only recommend doing this if the manager had actually seen evidence of that.)

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Right, but then if the manager thinks it might be a problem (which I understand we’re talking in hypotheticals here because presumably the manager doesn’t have an issue with this since the intern hasn’t taken her quotes down), she could just say that. She could tell the intern that she wanted to give her a heads up that she (intern) may want to think about the optics of her quotes and how they may come across to people who don’t know her or her work very well. The “but it’s up to you” part can be eliminated altogether because some people would read it as passive-aggressive (I know I would).

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          But in that case, you could (should?) say “this is going to look like X to some people” without saying “but it’s totally up to you if you want to keep doing it anyway.” It’s just that particular bit of the conversation that rings false.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I have to agree. I feel pretty strongly about only using ‘it’s up to you’ when you genuinely, truly have no opinion and no preference for the outcome, because in any other case it carries a strong whiff of passive aggression. It’s an understated way to say ‘if you absolutely must, carry on, but know that you do so with my disapproval.’ I’d reword it in this case as something more like “If having this many of them up is making a positive difference for you, then that’s obviously more important than the aesthetics, but I’d encourage you to consider downsizing a bit.”

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Ha! I just typed the same thing before you posted your response – it does sound very passive-aggressive even though I’m sure that’s not the intent.

      2. boo bot*

        I love this wording. I had actually been thinking, it would be better for the manager to tell her to take them down than to say nothing, if those are the only options, but I think this splits the difference really well.

      3. Kiki*

        I really like this rephrase! I especially like acknowledging that if it’s actually really helpful to the intern, they should just keep it up. I think for every person starting out in the professional workforce, it’s important to acknowledge that there are little quirks that can make you be perceived as more or less professional. If you do really good work people are more likely to overlook some less professional quirks, but those little things matter a lot more when you haven’t proven yourself yet. If something helps you execute good work, though, you should almost always keep it up because in a certain amount of time your good work will override this “less than professional” quirk.

      4. HQetc*

        Yeah, I think that’s a good framing. Another approach might be something like “optics are one, but not the only, factor to weigh when you make business/presentation decisions,” which could then also give you an opening to talk about how to offset bad optics if you feel like the other factors outweigh the optics. So, in this instance, should could decide that the post-its help her so much that they aren’t worth taking down for optics reasons, but then she might put extra effort in appearing calm/assertive/confident/whatever to offset them.

      5. Guy who Prefers "It's Up to You"*

        Personally, I actually would hear “I’d encourage you to consider downsizing a bit” as being a direct order to downsize, but I can’t technically do that because of legal reasons. Perhaps it is just because it strikes me as something that I could hear coming out of the month of a character played by Dame Maggie Smith, a statement that has a sense of nobility and pose that hides a fair amount of aggression disapproval. As a result, I would hear a statement like that as saying “These may be the result of something that is a protected class or have some legal protection of some sort, so I can not force you to remove them. However, you will be severely judged if you don’t and there may be some retributions in the future in a plausibly deniable way from me.” While this is obviously not the intent, that would be my interpretation if I was the intern. Some of this may come from some baggage that I have with my family growing up and being only in my late 20s myself, but “I’d encourage you..” would be worse than “it’s up to you”, as at least the latter seems slightly more neutral and is more likely to actually mean that the speaker does not have any ill will (I usually take “it’s up to you” at more face value).

        I would keep most of the language you suggested the same, but reorder it slightly, “Some of this may seem a little much to some people, however, if it is helpful to you then that is obviously what matters most”. It opens up with the negative, and closes with the positive, which is what should be focused on more: the inturn’s well being over what “looks good”.

    4. Emily K*

      We took a communications training course at my job a few years back and one of the things that really stuck with me was being told to think very carefully about using the word “but” – the trainer said, when you say the word “but,” the other person often hears it as you invalidating everything that came before the “but” because of whatever came after the “but.” Which is the right tone in some scenarios but is often not something the speaker is actually intending to convey, so she advised us to be careful and make sure we’re only using the word “but” when we do mean to invalidate what came before it.

      “I know you have a deadline, but I’m too busy to help you,” -> “Your deadline doesn’t matter because I’m busy.”

      “I can tell you worked really hard on this, but it’s missing a few important elements.” -> “Your effort working on this doesn’t matter because it’s still wrong.”

      “How you decorate your cube is up to you, but these daily affirmations reflect poorly on you.” -> “It doesn’t matter that this is your cube and you like these decorations, because it reflects poorly on you.”

      The trainer suggested that if you don’t want to invalidate the stuff before the “but,” you’ll often get a better response if you phrase it another way.

      “I realize you’re on a deadline right now, and I’m swamped myself. Is there any way to push the deadline or proceed without me?”

      “I appreciate the effort you put into this. To get this up to the standard we need, it needs to have a few more elements it’s currently missing.”

      You’re still communicating the same thing, but using less dismissive/invalidating language.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yup. As a former comms/journalism major, we got the whole “but” lecture as well in many of my classes. It’s to the point now that I rarely use it in verbal conversations because I don’t want people to think I’m being wishy-washy or not saying exactly what I mean.

  2. Falling Diphthong*

    I’m no fan of cheesy inspirational posters.

    I’m a fan of demotivators (see despair-dot-com) but they have to be deployed with care and restraint. OR used to gradually replace all the cheesy motivational posters in the office.

    For this case, though, someone trying to talk themselves into a mindframe of confidence is a bit alarming, if I’m about to entrust them with something that matters to me.

    1. Amber Rose*

      OK but have you been to InspiroBot-dot-me? It generates endless inspirational posters. Today I got “Dream About Ambition. Don’t Prepare for Dinosaurs.”

      So important.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        You should prepare for dinosaurs. Probably the dinosaurs insert these dismissals into their motivational sayings so people will be unprepared for the coming dinosaur apocalypse.

        1. Amber Rose*

          Well, the next one I got was “You can’t have human nature without a reptilian shapeshifter” so there’s a solid chance you’re right. xD

      2. Zephy*

        Oh my goodness, thank you for bringing InspiroBot into my life. “Sorry! No dehumanization for you!” indeed.

        1. HistoryChick*

          I was today year’s old when I learned about these two sites and my life will never be the same! I just got “getting an education is surprisingly like getting blackmailed.” ::nods:: I think this might be actual wisdom.

          1. SI*

            InspiroBot has given me things like “Show responsibility. Make sure your Robot isn’t shameful.” and “Before the minute you die, comes the screaming.”

      3. HJG*

        I have a whole folder on my work computer that’s just my favorite inspirobots for when I need a pick me up. If IT ever comes across it they might have some….concerns

      4. kittyincc*

        My Inspirobot words to live by are “Shut Up, Attack, or Smile.” A friend made me a pen and a poster with this quote and it’s my go-to pen for important meetings with challenging people.

      5. Free Now (and forever)*

        Just checked it out. I got: “Tell the truth and a lily of the valley will be obese.”

      6. wittyrepartee*

        Apparently inspirobot is a traditional religion, and therefore I am not allowed to go on the site at work. :-(

        1. Marmaduke*

          While that is sad news, I am excited to have finally found the religion that is right for me.

    2. Adlib*

      I remember when a friend introduced me to despair-dot-com in college. I could barely contain my laughter during class! (I think it was a DreamWeaver class…that’s how long ago it was.)

      1. TardyTardis*

        I really wanted to put the Nepotism poster up somewhere, but I probably would have been caught. It would have been way too true where I worked.

    3. KoiFeeder*

      I remember the time my class replaced the “Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.” poster in the spare exam room with a “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.” poster.

      We all got detention, and it was so, so worth it.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          A least two years, although I haven’t been back to check in eight years and I don’t intend to return ever.

    4. Avangelis*

      Its normal to feel impostor syndrome. Most of us dont put it on our wall in poster form. Does the intern feel welcome? I had impostor syndrome when I did not feel welcome at my new job. It probably took me a year to feel like I belong in the position and that I was the right person for the job and not just a diversity hire. Maybe she needs someone to invite her for lunch or coffee.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’m a fan of demotivators (see despair-dot-com)

      The only ones I display are the ones my supervisor gave me. ;-)

      1. kiwidg1*

        My favorite demotivator is: Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut (with a large picture of a box of French fries. )

        1. AnonyNurse*

          That’s my favorite, too! Because while being funny and sarcastic, it is also 100% true. And I hate the idea of “if you just work hard enough, you can be anything you set your mind to.” Because… no. Many, many brilliant, hardworking people set goals of being an astronaut. Few became one. Only 45 people have become president. All were men. Only one was a person of color. None were non-Christians.

          Anyway. I love demotivators. I bought myself a calendar a couple years back, saved all the images and now use them as a “mood of the day” board.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Sometimes brilliant people are barred from astronaut-hood because of stupid things like their height or their vision.

        2. Filosofickle*

          One of my favs is: “AMBITION – The a journey of 1000 miles sometimes ends very very badly” with a pic of a bear snatching a salmon out of the river.

          I also like “FAILURE – When your best just isn’t good enough.” Because that’s absolutely true! Just like we can’t all be astronauts, sometimes the very best effort doesn’t win.

        3. SpaceySteph*

          This one would be exceptionally funny in my office, since I work at Johnson Space Center. I’d say 99% of my coworkers (self included) wanted to be astronauts as kids. We got close. But also not that close.

  3. Always Wondering*

    What about people who write daily/weekly affirmations and post them outside their cubes to inspire others. Good idea or not?

    1. Robin J*

      I’d find that more irritating than putting them where they’re obviously just for her (even if I can see them in both cases.) In her cube, she’s doing something that works for her. Outside, she’d be assuming it worked for everyone else.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s quirky. My tolerance for quirk is very person and situation dependent. Are you otherwise a blazing ball of competence that randomly affirms me as your thing, like Dwight’s thing is exciting neckties? Alrighty then. If you derail meetings to demonstrate your quirkfulness, I will find all other reminders of quirk grating.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      This would be creeping into Positivity Bully territory for me.

      I like my job and actively enjoy coming to work, so that’s not the issue. But I get chipper advice in enough other areas of my life as it is.

        1. AMT*

          Maybe “positivity evangelist” is a better word for it? I share Dust Bunny’s loathing of chipper advice regardless of whether it comes from someone higher or lower on the totem pole than me. Less annoying when it’s from an intern than a manager, sure, but still annoying.

    4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I worked somewhere, public facing, where one of the part-time morning shift people took it upon herself to write an inspirational quote on a blank chalkboard for everyone to see. At first, it seemed silly.

      When she changed shifts, if the board was empty, people would complain. “Where’s our motivational quote?” If someone else on staff tried to come up with one, and failed, we’d get complaints. “I don’t like that TV show, that’s not motivational at all because it’s a bad show!”

      Finding and posting quotes became someone’s full time permanent job duty. If that person was going to be out, he’d have to find “coverage” for the quote posting job or there would be a riot. I am not kidding.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          That is phrased poorly. I meant, the job of finding inspirational quotes got assigned to a full time employee whose permanent schedule was early mornings.

      1. Dobermom*

        In a previous position, I used to (anonymously) post horrible puns in the blank corner of a sales tracker whiteboard in a common area of the office. When I switched roles, people finally found out who had been doing it all along. People were actually upset that the puns were gone. Maybe puns are more inspirational than inspiration?

        1. RandomU...*

          Great… now I just found a random pun of the day site. I’ve been trying to find a way to lure my team into using MS Teams… Maybe I need to find a couple of more inspirational websites like this. (I’m so not into affirmations or cheesy encouragement!)

        2. Gumby*

          We had one whiteboard that had funny and/or inspirational quotes added on a random basis – except they were in Latin. When the quote poster left the company we were all sad.

    5. That One Girl*

      I think it depends on your group of people. We have people at my workplace who have this weird, passive-aggressive Bible quote war going on on their inspirational quote boards…

      1. RandomU...*

        Is it anything like the ‘all dogs go to heaven’ church sign war? ’cause that was funny :)

    6. anon for this*

      I know this isn’t a popular thought on this blog where everyone is proud to be grumpy and anti-social and I’m sure someone will get their feathers ruffled, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that as long as it doesn’t have any political or religious connotations.

      If a daily/weekly affirmation is posted outside their cube, it’s something you can easily ignore. Especially if someone just writes it and isn’t forcing you to read or talk about it. I’ve worked with people who love posting daily inspiration quotes outside their cube wall and that’s all they do, post it and don’t engage. People who read it can choose to engage, but most people either smile and walk on or ignore it.

      If you’re getting worked up over something you can just choose not to read or that “disrupts” your day for 30 seconds, I think that says more about your issues and personality than anything else.

      1. Mop*

        I am a grump. But if someone wants to post an affirmation of the day outside their cube, eh, whatever. Doesn’t hurt me.

      2. Queen Anne*

        “I know this isn’t a popular thought on this blog where everyone is proud to be grumpy and anti-social and I’m sure someone will get their feathers ruffled..”
        I just loved this comment.

        1. Kinda Bothered*

          Me too! This can be a really negative group sometimes. At other times it is very kind.

        2. Michael Valentine*

          Me too! Of course, I just got back from a work trip where we had a huge team feast that ended with a giant group hug, so when I’m here on this site, I wonder if I work at a unicorn company. We have a great time and enjoy each other’s company socially. And if we had a teammate who loved positive affirmations, even if we weren’t into them ourselves (we’d be more likely to have silly ones instead), we’d probably gift our teammate with more post-its and awesome pens so they could continue putting them up on the wall.

          Personally I’m not into inspriational quotes because they’re usually misattributed and that bugs me. But really, as much as I hate the phrase “You do you,” I am actually on board with the sentiment. Bring your unique self to work! I welcome the diversity of thought.

      3. Hiring needs a selling edge*

        I’m not sure what’s wrong with religious connotations. Could you please clarify?

        1. Federal Middle Manager*

          Quotes like “If God brings you to it, he’ll bring you through it” are not workplace appropriate in a non-religious setting. Full stop.

            1. Elle*

              This isn’t a matter of opinion. Unless you work for a religious institution, religion does not belong in the workplace.

              1. Rogue*

                Maybe it’s just my own lean. I tend to be pretty tolerate of what other people wanna do with their lives and what they wanna identify as.

        2. Emily K*

          There’s maybe a bit of wiggle room for regional culture, but in general religion doesn’t belong in the workplace.

        3. Holly*

          I once worked in an office where a woman came in with a t-shirt that said “Hang with Jesus – he hung out for you.” As a Jewish person, I felt deeply uncomfortable with it as it seemed to be not just “motiviational” but quite explicit proselytizing. Not all religious quotes are that explicit, but in a workplace with diverse individuals, I wouldn’t want to have to draw the line between a safe religious quote and one that seemed to be proselytizing.

          1. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

            Agreed, and it doesn’t really make sense. Sounds like Jesus just “hung out” like a buddy, minimizing his sacrifice (as believers see it).

            Skeptical that anyone ever experienced a religious conversion via a T-shirt saying.

        4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          It can feel like proselytizing, or make people feel excluded if they’re of a different religion, or no religion at all.

          That’s a thing that can be easy to overlook if most people in your area share your religion.

      4. Important Moi*

        +1 Agree with every word of this!!

        I also have inspirational words discreetly place in my office, so I’m very biased.

      5. Clever Name*

        This. I love genuinely positive people, and I hate how being snarky and negative is seen as “cool”. One of my favorite coworkers is quirky and upbeat, and I just love his attitude.

        1. anon for this*

          Yeah, it’s why sometimes I have to take a break from reading comments here because they skew towards negative or anti-social in the sense that anyone who does something someone doesn’t like is a bad person trying to ruin your day or tell you how to live your life.

          Most people aren’t putting up inspirational quotes to harangue their coworkers. They think it’s a nice way to make someone smile for 20 seconds. I think it’s a little depressing that everyone is so angry at someone else putting up something they find inspirational just because they don’t agree with it or want to snark about it.

        2. Lissa*

          Oh definitely, hating positivity and mocking the “too cheerful” person has definitely become a phenomenon. It’s not that I am particularly positive myself, and I’ve certainly encountered people who are TOO MUCH! for me (the person acting like she was a kindergarten teacher to her coworkers in a previous letter) but often people get very mean-spirited in a group kind of way around anything or anyone who shows anything other than cynicism.

      6. Fenchurch*

        It varies soooo much from person to person and quote to quote.

        In my previous position, people really liked when I put up a new quote… until I was told I was being let go. Then I was cheeky and put up a quote from Chumbawumba about getting knocked down but getting up again.

        That was when my manager decided to step in and tell me that I should change the quote. Perhaps it’s because it’s an earworm of a song, or maybe they didn’t like my tongue in cheek attitude about the situation, but regardless…

        In my new role I still write quotes on my white board. But now I simply put up a quote by the author I’m reading at the time. It’s fun and I enjoy it. It’s also a fun way to get creative with lettering!

    7. Lissa*

      I’m neutral on these and they don’t bother me at all, but some people hate these with the power of a thousand burning suns and react to them the same way as if the coworker were to leap in from of them and scream “be haaappppyy!” with a serial killer grin so your mileage may vary.

    8. Librarian of SHIELD*

      It feels like Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars, whose voicemail message was a rotating series of inspirational quotes.

      1. Data Nerd*

        With a particular fondness for Eleanor Roosevelt. Obligatory psychotic–you know the rest–but man, what a character.

      2. Gumby*

        Kind of. Though I suspect the co-worker would be more sincere. Logan’s quotes were kind of sarcastic. (I am only 2 episodes in to season 4 but I’d be happy if the quotes returned.)

    9. LizZziL*

      I would be indifferent. I don’t find generic affirmations useful, but if others do, that’s fine.

      I do think if building morale or spreading positivity is the goal, it’s much more effective to just do it in the context of work. I had a former coworker who was constantly recognizing others’ hard work. “Your presentation was on point yesterday” or “I loved how you made that point on the client call” or “I checked out that project you launched yesterday, it’s awesome!” or sending out announcements in Slack when a project launched and calling out each person’s contributions. It was super genuine and really boosted morale on our team.

    10. Rusty Shackelford*

      Oh no, please, no. Someone else’s random affirmations are not inspiring to me, and I actually get a bit annoyed that they’d make that assumption.

    11. zora*

      I think one (at a time) is fine! But, I am able to take what I like and ignore anything else, so if it applied to me, I’d enjoy it, and if it wasn’t I’d be glad it was there for someone else. But as social media has shown, a LOT of people have a hard time with that and have to make a point of rejecting anything they don’t like. ;)

      In our office I got us those fun felt letterboard signs for our desks, to put our names on them. And also there’s room for a short sentence or so, and some people have fairly ‘inspirational’ statements, and some just go for funny. I like it and think it’s fun to see what people choose to put on theirs. But it’s ONE statement. If someone had an ever growing collage facing out of their cube, I would get irritated.. that’s a lot.

    12. Emily K*

      See, I wouldn’t have even batted an eye or given a second thought to affirmations in a personal cube. It takes all kinds and I know some people who are just really woo and into positive thinking, so it wouldn’t even occur to me that they might be having a crisis of confidence. I’d just assume they’re one of those positive thinking hippie types.

      But I in no way shape or form want a coworker to try to inspire me. I will regulate my own inspiration, thanks very much! Keep it in your cube.

      1. Emily K*

        Just read a couple of the other replies and realized my lack of familiarity with cube farms may have colored my interpretation of this answer. I assumed “outside the cube” meant something like, “in the kitchen” or other communal areas.

        If it’s just tacked to the outside-facing wall of their personal cube, then I don’t care what they put on their cube wall, inner or outer, as long as it isn’t rude or insulting.

      2. mrs__peel*

        My inspiration is getting a regular paycheck, and that’s more than enough for me.

    13. advocateextraordinair*

      Like most things, I think it depends on the workplace. Reading some of the comments above it sounds like a lot of people find it annoying or unnecessary. In my office, everyone has white boards on their office doors to write things like where they are that day or if they’re on lunch. We are a non-profit providing direct client services and many of us staff are social workers and therapists. We have one office shared by 3 people and they often put a motivational sentence there. It’s always thoughtful (not just “choose happy”) and it can be nice to see when you spend all day listening to people describe their sexual assault or suicide attempt. In my view, if the message isn’t inappropriate or aggressive, it doesn’t hurt anyone to have on your door or desk but it might actually help a few people having a tough day or who just need a reminder.

    14. Double A*

      This has been pretty common in my workplaces but…I’m a teacher.

      I think if people react negatively to it it’s probably because it reminds them of school!

    15. Rachel*

      I didn’t agree with OP that it’s a lack of self confidence. I think leave it alone if it makes this person a happy.

  4. ShwaMan*

    I definitely agree with Alison that it’s not a great look, but… ultimately I think everyone there – manager or not – should let this one go. UNLESS it was part of a set of additional behaviours that project unprofessionalism. You could do more harm than good, make her self-conscious. And who knows, she may have a therapist or someone who told her to do this, and then you’re in a big ol can of worms you don’t want to be in.

    1. Desperately seeking cute kitty*

      As someone whose therapist told me to stick self-esteem-related stuff around my mirror, I think if I went to her and said “I put up confidence-boosting affirmations at work but got told that it could make people doubt my competence”, she’d just suggest other methods that don’t cause that problem. I don’t think any good therapist is going to say “NO YOU HAVE TO PUT THEM ON THE WALLS OF YOUR CUBE OR IT WON’T WORK”.

      1. LGC*

        I’m just imagining the kind of therapist that would say that. I imagine that they would be extremely committed to “The Secret.”

        But…I think ShwaMan is on to something in general – like, I feel like in the end this is a Harmless Weird Thing the intern is doing. (I mean, yes, it could torpedo her career, but at this point I’m convinced that literally anything and everything could torpedo someone’s career.) But then, I’m all for weird (and I have had employees litter their workstations with affirmations and self-help mantras!), and – just as importantly – she’s an intern.

  5. JustAClarifier*

    Maybe this is just me, but I personally find this fairly judgmental. I think it is up to each individual how they would like to decorate, and I don’t think that self affirmations are in any way a reflection on the person other than trying to encourage and surround themselves with positivity. I do think Alison’s answer was well crafted in contextualizing an intern vs a supervisor, but my first thought reading this letter was that the LW should be focusing on their own work vs rolling their eyes at someone else’s choice of decor.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      I agree with the judgmental part. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen a lot of weird shit in people’s workplaces, but I would just laugh to myself and keep it moving. That sort of thing doesn’t affect your life in any way, so it seems kind of odd to be focusing on it.

      1. JustAClarifier*

        Exactly. I would almost take it as a sign of confidence in their place in the workplace that they feel like they could decorate at all; I know people with full Lego collections in their cubes, people with Funkos, people with posters and memes tacked up – if it’s relatively normal I think it just shows their personality and is nothing to over-analyze.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          There was a manager at one workplace I was in that had a bunch of Marvel action figures and Hello Kitty dolls all over her cubical, and people actually stopped by to play with them from time to time – it was odd to me, but no one else thought her desk was unprofessional. And this was at an insurance company where you would expect everybody to be stuffy and boring.

          1. Anon for this, colleagues read here*

            My rule is, you can PLAY with the toys, but you can’t TAKE them. [sadly, I have reasons for this rule]

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        Yeah, I don’t see why this rises to the level of “make her take it down” while other people can have a cube covered in comic book merch, or sports stuff, or whatever. There’s a world where you could see any cubicle decor, or “excessive” cubicle decor, as unprofessional. But, like… really? Let her have her thing. Who cares?

      3. Patty Mayonnaise*

        I don’t find the answer judgemental, but I do think this kind of thing is more workplace-dependent then what’s reflected in the answer. Like you, I’ve worked in a lot of places where people put weird and/or playful things in their cubicles and it’s very common in my industry (entertainment). The affirmations wouldn’t be super out of place in the offices I’ve worked, but if this is a conservative industry then it’s a very different story. I think the advice to both the LW and the intern can be to look around at the rest of the cubicles and make sure the intern’s desk/your desk are matching the level of decoration and professionalism.

        1. Patty Mayonnaise*

          Edited to add: I work in the gentlest realm of the entertainment landscape – there are many areas of this industry where the quotes would not fly.

        2. Tom & Johnny*

          Yes agreed, it’s highly industry specific.

          In some industries, this would be par for the course, even welcome.

          In others, it would be bizarre to the point of inviting questioning of her judgement and abilities.

          Learning how to “read the room” is an important professional skill.

          If the intern is in a room where inspo quotes don’t fly, gently coaching her in how to read that is not a disservice.

        3. Alanna of Trebond*

          Yeah, I lean toward saying something only *because* this seems really culture/industry dependent to me, and it might be something that isn’t obvious to an intern. Especially for young women, there are lots of memes and social media accounts (and apparel and posters and etc!) geared at positivity and self-confidence. If that’s going to be so out of place in the workplace that coworkers will think less of you for it, it’s helpful to know that. (FWIW, that’s not the case at my office. But I trust OP’s read on her office/her industry.)

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      But decor is something we notice, by definition, unless it has succeeded in being so bland as to be indescribable. (Like interviewers who ask about the color of the chairs in reception as a test of attention to detail.)

      I’d also judge someone whose decor was nothing but photos of them drinking in minimal clothing (downthread) or a wall coated in cynical comebacks or posters of kittens with giant eyes. The last one doesn’t say anything about their work habits, probably, but a lot of these decorating choices do–e.g. is the humor self-deprecating geologist jokes or a wall of “I hate my job. And you” cartoons?

      1. JustAClarifier*

        You have a point, but there’s a far cry from some post-its with positive affirmations and minimal clothing photos/giant kittens/etc. And regardless – I really don’t think it’s enough to warrant the LW starting to fixate on this to the point that they felt the urge to write to AAM about it.

        1. WellRed*

          The LW isn’t fixated on this. We’d have no AAM if people couldn’t write in with honest questions.

          1. Kinda Bothered*

            Fixate may have been too strong a word, but to even think so deeply about it to write in is likely not somethig many people would do.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                Well do I recall “someone moved my candy dish” and its 1400 responses.

                1. Fortitude Jones*

                  But that’s perfectly rationale – like, why in the world would you be moving my candy dish?! If I have to get up and go search for my sweets, I’m going to be highly annoyed, lol.

              2. boo bot*

                I always love the minutia letters, I feel like that’s where things really get fascinating.

        2. Matilda Jefferies*

          I think that was the entire point of the letter – to get a reality check as to whether or not it’s worth worrying about. Lots of people write in for this exact reason: “Hey, this is something I noticed, and I’m not sure how important it is. What do other people think?”

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Yeah. Sometimes it’s “Your office is full of bees, run” and sometimes it’s “Your office is full of staplers, which is normal in an office, and you should let this go.”

            Would people other than OP find this decor off-putting? Clearly yes.

            Is it OP’s job to say something? OP, Alison, and the commenters who find it off-putting all say no.

            In some hypothetical where this were your intern, might it make sense to say something? That’s where some range of crowd-sourced responses from “finding inspirational posters annoying is my own quirk; I can ignore this” and “if all I know about you is that you need a wall of inspiration to handle work, I am hesitant to entrust you with any” is useful.

            1. techRando*

              Thank you for the opposite phrase to “your office is full of bees”. I’m going to keep that one in my back pocket.

              1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                Though “your office is full of staplers” has me imagining evil flying staplers that spit staples out like a machine gun in a WWII-era cartoon.

                1. JJ*

                  Miss Pantalones, if you haven’t listened to “Where Have All the Staplers Gone?” from Veggietales, you need to.

          2. Kinda Bothered*

            But how coud it be something to worry about? It’s just some stupid affirmations! It says nothing about the person posting them, unless it’s the 12 step type of quotes (One day at a time, let go let God, that type of thing). Even then, it is the poster’s business.

            1. ampersand*

              I disagree—only because I’ve seen this same behavior in someone who wasn’t and still isn’t a good employee, needs lots of reassurance/hand holding and has been fired from jobs for failing to do their job, etc. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone who puts up motivational quotes in their cube—but my first thought on reading this letter was hmmm, this is a potential red flag. I understand why the LW asked the question.

              1. uranus wars*

                I post my affirmations on my bathroom mirror, not in my office for the world to see but they are actually my strengths as others see them.

                Currently in dry erase marker on my bathroom mirror it says…
                You are strong.
                You are confident.
                You get shit done.

                These are all recent ways people have described me to others and a way for me to remind myself that if I push too hard at times the outcome is the right one, etc. the intern could be using them in the same way.

            2. Tom & Johnny*

              It might not be unfair to say that being so deeply annoyed by another person’s frustration with the inspo quotes is also something one might wish to let go of.

      2. Approval is optional*

        But noticing and judging are different things.
        I think it says more about the person judging a person because of the decor of their work area, than the decor says about the person who ‘owns’ it, in many cases. And eye rolling is pretty judgemental – even if it’s just an internal roll.

        1. JustAClarifier*

          +1, I won’t repeat what you’ve succinctly pointed out here, but this would have been my response to the above comments.

        2. Lance*

          I don’t necessarily disagree… but also, I think it’s largely just in human nature to judge what we see, and what OP’s seeing is a wall (or more?) of hand-written quotes, which even to me would feel a bit… out of place.

          1. Kinda Bothered*

            You are entitled to feel however you feel. The affirmation posteris entitled to feel how she feels about affirmations. Nobody should judge anybody.

            1. Lance*

              I’m not talking about what should happen, because yes, ideally, nobody would ever be judged for this. I’m talking about what’s likely to happen, as have several others.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              Humans judge each other. Constantly. (Other times, of course, we ignore each other and no one actually cares what you’re doing.)

              Judgment might be “Cute” or “Not my style, but whatevs” or “Soulmate!!!!” or “Poor font choice” or “Huh… I’m going to their less odd (by my lights) fellow intern with this.” But a judgment free office, or any other human interaction venue, is not very likely.

            3. pancakes*

              Nobody should form opinions about people based on their behavior or on other choices they make? Why? Certainly nobody should pre-judge others based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., but what is unfair or illegitimate about forming an opinion on someone?

    3. Jimming*

      Yeah it’s a little judgmental. I can also see how if it’s not in line with company culture that it would cause a few eye rolls so I can see both sides.

      The LW’s preference for quotes/decorations she would understand is odd, tho. The one quote she referenced is Maya Angelou “You alone are enough…” that’s a pretty famous inspirational quote.

      1. Anna*

        I think “not in line with company culture” is a catch-all that is trying to give permission to people to be judgmental about things. Besides, if a company’s culture is such that this is a huge disruption, I think culture might be sick.

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          Yeah if self care and personal development are “not part of company culture”, I’m both not sure what is, and also I’m not sure that’s a company that anyone particularly would want to work for.

    4. Kate R*

      I admit, I was sort of torn on this. Particularly when OP said, “And it makes me wonder if this intern has such low self esteem that they need to hang these in their cube.” Like, yeah, probably it is. The whole idea behind CBT is that you are re-framing your thoughts into something more positive, so affirmations are probably her coping mechanism. It doesn’t make the intern a bad person for having low self esteem. So that did seem a little judgmental to me. But, it’s also important to consider how you’re perceived at work, and being seen as insecure could make people think you’re less capable, which could limit your opportunities. As a supervisor of an intern, I think it would be wise to point that out because they are learning workplace norms, and it’s your job to explain the sort of unwritten rules (as well as the written ones) of the workplace.

      As for the OP noticing something that appears fairly conspicuous, I don’t think that’s odd. People can notice things about their colleagues while still being dedicated to their jobs.

    5. Not a big deal*

      I tend to agree – I think imposter syndrome is so far-reaching in younger generations and a lot of us DO feel a lack of confidence in the work we produce. This can be exacerbated by toxic workplaces and bosses, who make us question our worth and abilities.
      They’re signs reminding her she CAN do her job, even when or if she feels shaky. It’s not a big deal.

      1. pancakes*

        I think it can be a pretty big deal when people let an acquaintance like a boss or co-worker have that much control over their sense of self-worth, especially an acquaintance that could fairly be described as toxic – it reflects a pretty serious lack of discernment and clarity. Wanting to be liked or valued as worthy by people who themselves have poor judgement or toxic values is pretty rudderless.

    6. Lissa*

      I mean, it IS a bit judgmental, but I think that’s sort of the point – should the intern be warned that some people are likely to see it and have a judgmental reaction, enough to stop doing it. Like, regardless of whether or not one “should” feel like this makes the intern look bad, if enough people will do feel that way, perhaps the intern should downsize since most people who have a negative reaction won’t write AAM to get chastised for their judgmental feelings about this – they might just subconsciously react.

      1. Just Elle*

        I agree. If you’re doing something you might be judged about, wouldn’t you want to know so you can decide whether or not its something you want to open yourself to judgement over? Right or wrong, people judge people for all kinds of quirks. I personally have to fight the urge constantly. But others are not so nice about fighting instinctual judgement, and subconsciously allow that to slip into their overall take on a person.

    7. Just Elle*

      Just curious – would your opinion change if she was spending work time/resources to do this? My (uneducated) guess is that she’s not doodling on her own post it notes and bringing them into work the next day. And it sounds like it took considerable effort / # post its. Basically, can you judge someone for poor use of time even if you think their decor is none of your business?

      We had an intern last year that spent all meeting every meeting doodling affirmations, including goals for the next school year like ‘lose weight’ and ‘be nicer to people’. She even used multiple colors of highlighters.
      And, maybe its judgmental, but its what I remember her most for. It was such a unique combination of disrespect to presenters in the meetings, and the extremely personal content of what she was writing – as if all of us couldn’t see the highlighter pink outlined ‘make more friends’?

      1. Shan*

        I mean, how long does it take to write “You can do it!” on a post-it note and stick it to her wall? There’s nothing to indicate she’s doing elaborate doodles.

    8. Moray*

      When I was an intern I covered my desk with many little origami cranes. Someone gave me a gentle hint that it might make me look like I didn’t have enough to do or wasn’t working very hard. It was good advice, they said it kindly, and I appreciated the heads-up. I still did origami all the time (still do) because sometimes I need something to do with my hands, but I didn’t display them by the dozen.

      If I was this intern, I would very much appreciate it if somebody told me about the optics of the affirmations. And I wouldn’t be humiliated or feel judged–I would just move them to post-its where mostly only I would see them.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I had a page-a-day origami calendar and I kept all the creations around my cubicle. I got mostly positive responses about them, particularly the cute or intricate ones. But I didn’t have personal photos or knickknacks other than those.

        I think it’s a volume thing. A couple of affirmation post-its aren’t likely to draw much attention or judgment no matter where they’re placed around someone’s desk. An entire prominent wall covered in affirmations might come across as more attention getting and less like it’s only meant to be meaningful to the cubicle occupant. But then again maybe it was a daily habit that just kept growing, like my little origami creations.

    9. Not Me*

      But that’s essentially the point of decorations that you show other people: “this is something I feel an affinity to/with, this is something I want you to connect with me because I enjoy it”. It’s a lot like clothing in that way. It’s a part of individuality and personality that’s very important.

      No one displays something for others to see that they don’t enjoy and want to show off, unless they are trying to manipulate the way others see them (like keeping up happy couple pictures at work when in fact you’re going thru a horrible divorce and don’t want anyone to know/ask you about it). Those are the things you keep private, which is perfectly fine.

      1. Emily K*

        Eh, I think that’s partly true but not entirely. It’s true that I wouldn’t put up anything I don’t want others to associate with me, but most of what I hung in my office when I worked in one was primarily for my own benefit, not something I especially wanted people to connect with me. I had a 2-page list of 10 tips for writing great copy that I tacked over my desk so that I could keep those rules in mind while writing. I had a kanban board style collection of colored post-it notes I used to keep track of progress on various projects. I hung all of my speaker badges in one corner primarily so I didn’t feel guilty about landfilling them and secondarily as a bit of personal motivation/reminder that I’m awesome enough to have been invited to speak at all those events.

        With each of those, I of course considered how others might react to it, in the sense that I didn’t want to put up anything that someone would negatively react to, but my intent in putting those things up wasn’t because I wanted other people to see that I cared about great writing, or that I’d spoken at a lot of events, or that I use kanban boards. I put them up entirely for my own benefit.

        1. Not Me*

          Right, but work notes on progress of projects aren’t “decorations”. That’s a different thing altogether.

          1. Emily K*

            The intern might argue that affirmations she writes for herself aren’t “decorations” either – that they’re functional for her and serve a purpose just like my kanban board does for me. Anything displayed prominently is a decoration in the sense that it’s a visible part of the image you project.

      2. Not You*

        Uh, that may be why YOU display things, but don’t assume everyone has the same motivations as you. I decorate my spaces to make ME happy. I’m not interested in what other people think about it, and I’m not doing it to get them to “connect” me with anything. That’s just weird to me.

        You may be more outwardly-focused than me, and that’s fine. But you shouldn’t assume my reasons are automatically the same as yours. People are more complex than that.

        1. Not Me*

          I think you’d have to be pretty far out of touch with how society works to not recognize that people will connect your decorations to you. Most people display things that make them happy are aware that the people who see them will connect them to the decorator. “Sally has a bunch of pictures of her dog on her desk, she must love her dog” is not a strange or wild assumption.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Right, but that’s not “the point” of having those things there, which is what you were claiming – it’s a side effect. Sally doesn’t bring in pictures of her dog because she wants everybody to know how much she loves her dog, or not entirely – she brings them because she loves her dog and wants to have the pictures to make the space she’s in 8 hours a day nicer and more “hers”, and because other people also work there they see them and connect her with the dog. Similarly, this intern is probably not displaying these quotes because she wants other people to associate her with affirmational sayings, but rather because she gets some kind of motivation or inspiration from them and doesn’t realise that she’s gone overboard.

    10. mcr-red*

      I work in a completely open-air concept office, so right now sitting here looking around the room I can see literally everyone’s workspace – and I couldn’t tell you what half of the decor on their desk says. My main thought is, “Who is studying the intern’s workspace that closely that they are reading what she wrote on post-its?”

      I have a pretty scenery page-a-day calendar with inspirational Biblical quotes on it sitting on my desk. There’s also a mish-mash random assortment of sci-fi/pop culture toys as well and Cthulhu. Everyone has random bits of stuff on their desk, including hand-written notes, but I’ve never studied what they say.

      1. pancakes*

        Things people keep on their desk or their walls aren’t random, though – they’re chosen, not pulled out of a grab bag or lucky dip. “Random” doesn’t mean “assorted,” it means “made, done, or happening without method or conscious decision.” The letter says the intern “filled” the most prominent wall in the cube with affirmations so it doesn’t sound like noticing them requires much studying, if any.

    11. Close Bracket*

      Not just you!

      I do think Alison’s answer was well crafted

      I don’t. Her only answer should have been, let it go. It doesn’t affect either you or her work, so walk on by and keep your judgey-ness to yourself.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But the OP is already planning not to say anything, so she’s already “walking on by.” Her question was whether it would be appropriate for a manager to. My answer was that if it’s affecting the way people see her, it’s a kindness to give her that info.

    12. GreenDoor*

      But the fact that it’s judgmental is exactly the OP’s concern. That this is an intern who may not be used to workplace norms and would be unfairly judged as incompetent or emotionally fragile due to the number of quotes in her cube. I certainly wouldn’t want to set myself up for unfair scrutiny and maybe this intern doesn’t realize that’s what she’s doing.

  6. Robin J*

    Eek eek eek. If she has confidence issues, which she knows about, and these notes are a step she’s taking to deal with them — telling her that those notes themselves are evidence of a lack of confidence could seriously set her back.

    (I’ve had, and ignored, the same advice from a therapist too. But different things work for different people.)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I disagree, though I think the message would need to come from her supervisor and not OP. Wearing a T-shirt that says “Hi, I lack confidence” is not a good way to inspire other people to have confidence in you, and it would be a favor to someone struggling to build confidence in themselves to point out that this public declaration was counterproductive.

      The same would go for, say, cowed body language. Or a tone of voice that made the new person seem to doubt everything. Or their staying totally silent in meetings, example from a while back.

      1. Robin J*

        It’s not a public declaration if it’s on the inside walls of her own cubicle (and we don’t know whether it’s ever visible to the public or clients – LW only mentions cow-orkers, which makes me suspect not.)

        It doesn’t say “I lack confidence” – it says “I can do this” — literally the opposite. At worst, the subtext is “I am working on my confidence.” And as an intern, working on her own skills is part of the deal.

        1. Owler*

          Wait, what? Inside the walls of one’s work cube is a public space. If one wants to keep her confirmations private, one needs to carry them in a journal or post them at home.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This. Private affirmations go on your bathroom mirror, your fridge, next to your front door, on notecards in your desk drawer. These are public.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Meant to add that it reminds me of a journalist who tended to insert “You know” constantly while interviewing. Her editor pointed it out, and suggested before each interview saying “You know” 10 times fast to get most of them out of her system. This worked, and she did it. But not in front of the interviewee! She didn’t say “Hey, I say ‘You know’ a lot as filler, which doesn’t work for interviewing where I actually want your answers, so before we start I’m going to say ‘You know’ to myself a bunch.” She did it in the hallway, or before picking up the phone. All sorts of things can help us in private that make people uneasy when done in public.

          2. Emma*

            Yes! When I was fairly new in my current job, there were some things I wanted to remind myself of – like habits from my previous job that I needed to change (e.g. grabbing things I needed from coworkers’ desks without checking what they were doing first). Some of these were more soft skills/attitude focused.

            I wrote them on an index card which I carried around in my trouser pocket all day. I put my hands in my pockets when I’m not doing anything else with them, so I kept ‘finding’ the card and either reading it or just remembering what it said, which was exactly the kind of through-the-day reminder I needed, and importantly, was *actually* private.

            This would work for affirmations or confidence-boosters as well, without the accidental oversharing.

        2. Kella*

          Yes! Affirmations are not a manifestation of insecurity. They are a tool to improve your sense of confidence, regardless of where your confidence was to begin with.

          I feel like getting the read off of someone using affirmations that you can’t trust them to do their job well is like seeing that someone uses an alarm to remind them to go to a meeting and not trusting them to show up on time. They are using that tool to help them do their job *better*. Why is self improvement/self coping tools an indication that they might be bad at their job? If a person had post-it notes up reminding them of things to do for work, would that also make you not trust them to do their job?

          I think that the fact that the inside of a cubicle is sort of a hybrid public/private space is one of the issues here. This intern may be thinking of the space as private and not be aware the degree to which other people can see the notes she’s writing to herself. If I wanted to use affirmations at work, I’d probably write them all in a list in font small enough that you’d need to be right next to it to read it, and post it at *my* eye level, so people passing by would have to look closely to be able to see it.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            This is about where I’m at, too, and I’m really surprised by Alison’s script and what appears to be the commentariat consensus today.

            I mean, maybe I hang out in different corners of the internet from the rest of you, but I see these kind of affirmations as a proactive and protective mental health exercise, not just as (reactive) therapy. I’m a bit squicked out by the implication that tending to one’s well-being is some kind of red flag.

            Which is to say that there are an awful lot of assumptions flying around and while they may be accurate they may not be appropriate. If your workplace would look askance at desk photos indicating a same-sex relationship, in 2019 we don’t advise the employee to pretend to be straight, we make the workplace more LGBTQ+ friendly. If people sneer at mindfulness and wellbeing, we see how we can promote good mental health more generally. Don’t we? Can’t we?

            The scripts about optics make me think of “ok you can have white noise but not if your supervisor doesn’t like your headphones” or “don’t let the employee who uses crutches work on the top floor”.

            I am rarely so out of sync with the consensus that I’m really wondering what I’ve missed from my reading.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I’ve read more comments now and there are more I agree with. But still I’m unsettled by the frequent suggestions to conform with prejudice rather than change the environment – suggestions to a manager, not a general employee.

            2. pamela voorhees*

              I think the problem is that people aren’t reading these as a proactive, “these things help me” thing — they’re seeing them as a reactive “I must have these or I will fall apart” thing, which means people are concerned about how close the intern may be to falling apart, and therefore not be able to keep working. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how they’re being read.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                But “cut down on this behaviour or tank your professional reputation” doesn’t represent the full list of options. Significantly missing from Alison’s response is “promote and support proactive mental health endeavours in the workplace” whether that’s better provision for counselling, better work/life balance, protected vacation time, or whatever.

            3. Avasarala*

              I can’t speak for others, but personally I see it as making something public/visible that should be private.

              I brush my teeth before I go to work, but if I forget, I have an emergency toothbrush in my desk drawer/office locker. If my dentist tells me to start brushing after lunch and I need a reminder, I would put one on my phone, or use a post-it note that says “locker after lunch!” and know that that = brush my teeth after lunch. I wouldn’t put a post-it that says “Don’t forget to brush your teeth!” because if someone sees that, they might think that Avasarala can’t remember to brush her teeth every day without a reminder, does that mean there are days she doesn’t brush her teeth, what other basic things does she need reminders for? It’s just not a doubt I need to put in others’ minds.

              So it’s perfectly fine to use affirmations, but we need to think about how much of our health maintenance we publicize to others. I think your comparison to LGBTQ+ pretending to be straight/cis is a little off-base because someone who is “mentally unwell” pretending to be “mentally healthy” doesn’t make sense, as we do expect everyone to present at work as stable, kind, patient, even-keeled, and professional.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                … and people who struggle with their mental health aren’t capable of being stable, kind, patient, even-keeled, and professional?

                1. Kate2*

                  Look I have 2 mental illnesses and someone in the middle of a crisis does not belong at work. That’s what sick and personal days for. At work you need to be 100% on top of it or at least high functioning. Someone on the verge of falling apart, whether it’s because of bereavement or mental illness or divorce doesn’t belong at work if they are that close to the edge.

                2. Avasarala*

                  You are mischaracterizing or misunderstanding my comment.

                  As Kate says, if someone is struggling to the point where they can’t be stable and professional emotionally, they need to step back from work. Just as if someone is too sick to work they step away. If you saw someone plastering their cube with “Don’t forget to wash your hands!” “Take your meds!” “Tell that kidney to stuff it, we’ve got stuff to do!” “Pain is weakness leaving the body!” you would wonder if they were well enough to be at work. And you might know more about their health than you would like to. Especially in the absence of other data points (as with an intern), this might affect their professional reputation.

                3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  Eh, I think that’s taking concern for someone’s health a bit too far. I struggle with depression and low self-esteem; that doesn’t mean I’m unstable and having an emotional crisis. A few mild affirmations like “you can do this!” are hardly signs of a serious crisis. It feels like exacerbating a stigma that people who aren’t 100% on top of everything all the time are dangerously mentally ill and should not be out in public. Especially for something that reads to me like a little bit of cheerleading for someone who is starting out in a new role that is a bit of a stretch for them, rather than intensive therapy for a crisis.

          2. PBJnocrusts*

            I agree and I find this seriously judgmental. I had a co worker who hag affirmations on her desk/cube they were non religious, phrases like, keep going, be strong, you got this. She had a family member who was DYING and these phrases have her comfort. No this was not public knowledge, she did not wish it to be. Her job performance was not effected. I find it very offensive that someone would look at positive affirmations and think Ah this person has a problem/can’t do their job. You have No idea what people are going through personally. This is so judgemental and sign of a toxic workplace IMHO

            1. Avasarala*

              I don’t think anyone is saying a couple affirmations are bad. But a young intern with a whole cube of affirmations? That signals they might not know what is appropriate or normal in the office. It makes people question “What is this person going through, that they need so many affirmations?” And your example honestly kind of proves that point.

    2. Nikki*

      Right! This letter screams “your positivity makes me uncomfortable” which is more insecure than the intern.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think the point was that the LW didn’t consider it positivity, and it’s worth knowing that not everyone will.

  7. Nikara*

    So, at least one of these (You are enough), is sort of a “Dear Evan Hansen” quote. Given the hand written nature of many of these notes, they may be quotes from some of their favorite books/movies/musicals. They still may come off as juvenile and not professional, but my guess is that the specific quotes are from media that’s important to the intern, in the same way a high school locker or binder cover could be decorated with inspirational quotes. I definitely think a kind conversation about the image these portray in the workplace could be helpful, but I also find this to be pretty harmless- same as lots of folks who have a few Disney figures on their desk, who I don’t judge for their desk decor. It’s a way of adding some personality, and reminding people of things that make them happy during a long work day.

    1. The Bean*

      It might be good for the intern to think about how people might interpret it though if they don’t have that cultural knowledge.

      I have had a couple instances in my life in either role where someone not realizing something was a pop culture quote caused misunderstanding. I try to keep that in mind when quoting things.

      1. Nikara*

        Exactly. It’s one of those things you have to start learning as an intern- how to bring a little of your pop culture interests into the office in a way that makes you happy but that also presents the image and message you want to present to your bosses and co-workers. Sometimes those pop culture references won’t be appreciated, and can be misinterpreted. (if this is actually the quote I think it is- it could just be those pure, inspirational quotes as well).

      2. Lissa*

        Yeah that’s very true. It’s like when someone posts depressing song lyrics without making that obvious and then gets mad when the other person is worried about their wellbeing. I am often one who misses references and it’s honestly really frustrating for me when people all start giggling and quoting stuff out of context.

      3. Anna*

        Yes, it’s good to keep in mind pop culture references that could be interpreted as off-color, but we’re talking about positive words, not possible drug references.

    2. Antilles*

      I also find this to be pretty harmless- same as lots of folks who have a few Disney figures on their desk, who I don’t judge for their desk decor.
      I think it really depends on the amount though – a few Disney figures would get perceived differently than an entire wall of Disney figures. Honestly, I’d probably say this would apply to most types of office decor in general – nobody will blink at a few pieces, but going over the top draws eye-rolls.

      1. Chinookwind*

        As someone who chooses her Funkos based on how she sees her role, it wouldn’t surprise me if office decor of some people is meant as a subtle nod to how they see their role. At one job I had a plush “Anger” doll from a staff party that I could use as a threat (“don’t make me throw my anger at you”) and a Felicity Funko because I saw myself as the local IT guru and all around amazing behind the scenes person. I bought Roz from Monsters Inc after spending a day uttering phrases about which coloured form goes where and bothering people for paperwork.

        I had one coworker who had a “how I feel” flip book, dragons and a custom made mini zen garden that used logoed mini construction vehicles instead of a rake. You could tell how welcome a purchasing issue would be that day just by looking at her desk.

        1. Surly*

          Huh. I hung up photos of wolves because I think wolves are neat. I hope no one’s reading that much into it.

    3. Karo*

      I write down quotes from my favorite books and songs that are important to me and make me feel better, but I put them in a journal I can flip through when I’m having a hard time. The journal is on my desk, but it’s much less obtrusive than pasting them all over my cube walls.

    4. Psyche*

      I think quantity matters. Our cubicle/desk at work sends a message to our coworkers. Adding a few things that reflect our personality and values can be nice. Adding too much makes it look like our priorities are off and the focus is no longer work. You become the Disney person, which if you have a long track record may not hurt you but definitely could as an intern. It’s the same with affirmations. One or two probably wouldn’t be noticed but if there are a ton it is going to affect what you think about the person. No intern wants to be “the one with the affirmations everywhere.”

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Which if you have a long track record may not hurt you.

        This. A while back I had an example of a hypothetical person coming to work in a blazer made of troll dolls, and if she’s “Jane, the only person who can fix the software” people don’t care what she wears to do it. Whereas if you’re an unknown quantity, walking in and asking people to trust you with their software and passwords while being completely covered in troll dolls is unsettling.

        1. Cog in the Machine*

          Seconding the need to know if this is a real blazer.
          I can see your point, though. We had someone come in to work on our copier last year who was wearing all the Christmas bling – including inch long nails with 3D Santas and snowmen. None of us knew this person, so even with ID it was somewhat disconcerting to let them work on the office equipment. (The usual repair person has a vague uniform.)

      2. ThatGirl*

        Based on my desk, I’m the dog/Timid Monsters/stuffed animal person. I’m fine with that. (I have half a dozen pictures of my dog around, plus little plushies, including Disney and assorted animals, and six Timid Monsters.) But I’m also not an intern.

        1. Emily K*

          For many years I had a framed Dave Eggers print hanging in my office. A line drawing of a poodle with the caption, “Yes, but isn’t our very existence equally preposterous?” written above and below the poodle.

          1. L.S. Cooper*

            I’m very glad you shared this, because I’ve discovered a new artist! And I want like…all of these prints.

    5. Queen_of_Comms*

      Oh noooo. This brings me back to my early days of working. Fresh out of college. Covered my cube in pieces of paper with quotes from Wicked and other timely pop culture references. It took my boss pointing to the quote “Everyone deserves a chance to fly!” and asking what I meant by it for me to cringe and take them all down. I’m dying a little inside thinking about it.

      This intern probably has no idea how this is coming across to coworkers. Quotes, for whatever reason, are a means of defining and expressing oneself in early adulthood. She probably doesn’t have the life or work experience to realize how juvenile these might come across to others.

      1. irene*

        this reminds me of the tattoos and such based on otherwise-insipid or banal quotes from media. they have so much meaning to the wearer but absolutely nothing to the uninitiated, but aren’t yet kitsch. i cringe when i see them because i don’t know the context and it’s like…you have inscribed yourself with that for all time? (very often they are a first tattoo, or near to first, which gives it more weight – it feels different when it’s one of many)

        i try to remember that we all have rich internal lives that don’t always use the same vocabulary or references, but without knowing the context, i do tend to think of the bearer as young or not having really explored the world much. (i know this is wrong! and i check myself, but it’s instinctive. i do the same thing about myself when i come across things i wrote as a young adult)

      2. anna green*

        Oh yeah, same for me. Cringe-city now when I look back on it. There’s definitely a way to show personality and be professional and it just takes some time and gentle guidance to figure out.

    6. neeko*

      “You are enough” has existed long before “Dear Evan Hansen”. It’s a pretty common generic aspiration.

  8. Teacup Llama Wrangler*

    Oooo this is so interesting to me. I have always had a post-it note on my computer or on my desk (just one or two) that said … something. Like right now the one on the bottom of my monitor says “Is my energy aligned with my goals?” Just a quick check-in for me to make sure I’m focusing on my highest priority things every day. I previously at a super toxic job had the four agreements jotted down (The Four Agreements are: Be Impeccable With Your Word. Don’t Take Anything Personally. Don’t Make Assumptions. Always Do Your Best.) to keep my brain clear.

    Is a post-it note with some sort of affirmation on your desk unprofessional by definition?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      A Post-It sounds like it’s a lot less conspicuous. I don’t think it’s the presence of them so much as the prominence of them that the LW finds a bit (“odd” feels like an overstatement).

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        The prominence and the number, I think. One or two, sure. It sounds like there are more than a dozen here, on one wall of the cube.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Seconding prominence and number. Like a cynical cartoon–one is humorous, a wall of “I hate work” is more off-putting.

          Worth considering how many viewers of your cube will know you well–so there’s a context in which they put your decor statement–and how many are new and so you’re Person With Decor o’ Bitterness.

      2. boo bot*

        Yeah, I think it’s mainly the quantity, but it also sounds like they’re particularly revealing of the intern’s particular insecurities?

        I think one way to test this might be to ask, could I easily explain this to a colleague in a way that wouldn’t feel too personal? So, above you said yours is “Just a quick check-in for me to make sure I’m focusing on my highest priority things every day,” which is a totally work-appropriate thing to say (it’s also what I would assume if I saw the note).

        “I can do this,” or “You are enough,” feel like the explanation is more likely to be, “I really struggle with my confidence and self-image, and it’s a reminder that I’m good enough,” and that’s a lot of sharing for work.

        Your reasons for checking in with yourself about your priorities might stem from an equally personal place! But the message itself doesn’t invite the reader to speculate about your personal insecurities.

        1. 562326658*

          “I think one way to test this might be to ask, could I easily explain this to a colleague in a way that wouldn’t feel too personal?”

          YES, this is such a good way to put it!

    2. Light37*

      I think this is fine, because it’s simple and unobtrusive. It’s when someone plasters their entire cubicle that I’d find it off.

  9. Amber Rose*

    The hand written thing is a little weird. Pictures is usually just someone like “hey I like this picture lemme print it” but I imagine someone scribbling dozens of little messages to themselves and I have to wonder why. I guess it could be a misunderstanding of the advice to write that kind of stuff out in a little journal every day.

    But well. My cube is covered in comics and that one “what I do/what other people think I do” meme. So I don’t have much room to judge.

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’d also add that, much like professional attire, office decor is another unwritten expectation that no one ever tells you about so you figure it out as best you can or…don’t.

    At my old job, one fresh grad put brightly colored tissue paper all over her walls in her cube, which were about six feet high. Then she covered the tissue paper with pictures of college, her wedding, family reunions, baptisms, etc. It was a bit overwhelming because there were at least two dozen pictures in this tiny space.

    At the same job, another new college graduate had shorter cube walls, but she still covered them in pictures from college. Every picture featured her holding a glass of alcohol, and she was in very skimpy clothing in half of them. When she’d look up up stuff on her computer for corporate donors, every man was constantly looking at his feet or the ceiling.

    I thought this was a young, naive thing until I worked for an agency head who had 48 (I know because he was VERY late for a meeting so I counted) framed 4×6 pictures of his family in his office. 48! He was in all of them.

    Then again, I’m the wrong person to talk because I have nothing personal in my office except a dorm fridge and a headshot of a former politician that’s supposed to be an inside joke.

    I feel like AAM should run a separate thread for office decor stories!

    1. Robin J*

      Cubicles are rare here in the UK, but you can bet if I had one I’d decorate it the heck how I wanted (within limits like “not offending people”.) I’m going to spend eight hours a day in it, after all.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        That’s my view on it. I could see if the intern had something offensive up, but it’s motivational quotes – if they get her jazzed to come in and sit at a desk for 8 hours a day and help her to do her job effectively, what’s the problem? I feel like people want to stamp the individuality out of people in the workplace, which is highly disturbing – we’re not cogs in a machine. We’re all people with individual tastes who should be left alone if said tastes don’t infringe on the rights of others.

        1. Robin J*

          This! And it’s not like she’s even showing that much individuality – it’s bland motivational quotes, not a communist mural.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Update: “Dear Alison, I used your script and spoke to our intern about her affirmational messages and she has removed them without any fuss! However, she has replaced them with a colourful wall mural in the Socialist Realist style depicting the overthrow of the capitalist regime and triumph of the proletariat, and a small bust of Nikita Khrushchev. Our company culture leans more towards Russian Futurism – should I let her know I’m concerned she’s going to seem out of touch?”

          2. Michael Valentine*

            This made me laugh out loud. I mean, if she’s got bland quotes on the wall, she’s also probably got dozens of copies of the Communist Manifesto stuffed into her desk in case someone seems open to persuasion…So she’s actually quite dangerous. Red flags galore.

        2. Shan*

          Yes! My office has bobbleheads, a sloth stuffie, pictures of Harry Styles, and about a million robots (inside joke with a colleague)… and frankly I don’t care if people judge me for it. Everyone here knows I do my job.

        3. Wannabe Disney Princess*

          Yeah…..same here. My desk looks like my personality threw up all over it. It makes me happy to sit here. (I mean, as happy as I can be sitting in a cubicle under fluorescent lighting for 9 hours a day.) As long as someone gets their work done and the decor isn’t offensive, I don’t see the problem.

        4. Thany*

          I agree with this. I had a coworker who had wallpapered her cubicle with a print, and posted inspiration quotes and images. I asked her why (we had a friendly relationship), and she pointed out that if she had to sit there 8 hours a day, she wanted to surround herself with something that made her happy. I never had thought of it that way before, so I started decorating my space more because of it.

        5. mcr-red*

          All of the desks at my work have some sort of bits that give you insight into the person sitting there.

        6. smoke tree*

          I agree with this, but also think it would be a kindness for the manager to give the intern a heads up that her decor choices may affect how she comes across to others. She can still choose to decorate this way if that’s what she wants, but then it’s a deliberate decision. I think that if your office decorations send a really strong message like this, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s going to change how coworkers perceive you–even if it were something even more innocuous like having a million axolotl photos or something. Maybe you’re okay with being Axolotl Woman in your office, but the intern might not realize that’s likely to happen.

      2. Choux*

        Yep, the fact that I’m here and awake for more hours than I spend anywhere else is the reason I have 16 Funko Pops in my cube. I like them, I like looking at them. It’s a small thing that makes me happy when I come into work.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I so want to hear these. The one time I had a cubicle I’m sure I decorated it somehow, but I don’t remember it. My office at home is not very thrilling, although I do have a little plaque with a sad panda that says “I wish I was a unicorn”. I thought it was funny so I bought it, but it has no further meaning.

        1. MMB*

          I knew it! Hahahahaha I have a sister who was in one and my job is ….. sorority adjacent :)

    2. Mockingdragon*

      Yeah…when I got my last job, I brought all the knick-knacks and decorations I had at my cube at the job before, and spent some time on the first day setting them up. It was two or three months later that someone told me my watercolor Little Mermaid poster had to go because the big boss might see it and freak out that it was unprofessional. It hurt SO MUCH MORE to know that they’d been worried about it for so long and I had no idea. I ended up taking all of my stuff home with it, and only very slowly re-introduced some figurines and things that helped me focus when I fidgeted with them. I never really felt completely comfortable in that office again, and luckily it’s a non-issue now (switched to freelance)

  11. Tigger*

    *looks nervously at we are not going to be suck this year hockey poster and my note on my monitor to breathe*

    um… yeah this intern is a bit over the top. Maybe she just doesn’t get the optics of what the notes signal about her? I would talk to her boss about it since it might be weird coming from you.

  12. seriousmoonlight*

    I work at a university and have seem affirmations around a lot — like little stickies on the mirrors in some public bathrooms and events/demonstrations/art installations where people write affirmations to each other or make posters or whatever. I’ve even had students come up to me when I am sitting out on the campus at lunch reading and minding my own business and ask for a high five or tell me they hope I have a nice day. (This in fact makes my day worse, because I just want to be left alone . . .) I think it’s all part of a culture of support/mental health awareness that is very common with younger people. She probably doesn’t realize how this looks in the workplace or how her co-workers could interpret it, so this conversation could be a good learning experience for all.

    1. The Bean*

      Yeah in college it’s ok to be vulnerable. Working world? Ehhh, you should be careful. In biglaw you have to be careful about showing your neck at all unfortunately. If this person were a new female associate it would be unquestionably unprofessional. Instead of projecting competence she can do flawless work on behalf of the partners and clients she is admitting doubts.

        1. fposte*

          The need for the statement is what raises the doubt. Think if somebody wrote “I can stop calling my co-workers names.” That’s the opposite of a doubt, but it also raises questions about why it would need to be an assertion in the first place.

          1. Lissa*

            Ok this made me laugh really hard and imagine an office full of these. “I have the power to not steal my coworker’s lunch!”

          2. EventPlannerGal*

            I wonder if this is an age disconnect thing. I know that when I was at university (2011-2015) stationery, posters, phone cases and all sorts of similar things with affirmational/inspirational messages – especially ones targeted at young women – were so common as to be almost cliche, and I’m sure they still are amongst people of current intern-age. (You can go on any website that sells writing supplies and stationery and find hundreds of these things. I just looked on Paperchase and saw notebooks with “She believed she could so she did”, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”, “Hello you beautiful thing”, “H Is For Happiness!”, “Choose Better, Make It Last”, “Only love here” etc etc, all in literally the first three pages.). It’s just a Thing.

            Certainly the quantity and the handwritten nature makes it feel a lot more personal, but the quotes mentioned by the LW are so generic that I personally wouldn’t interpret them as literal admissions of weakness. To me that’s like hearing someone say “Go Bruins!” and asking them “why do you need to say something like that unless you think they’re going to lose?”. Generic positive statements and affirmations are so normal now that I think the intern just might not realise how they’re coming across.

            1. Oh So Anon*

              I’m a bit older than you (started university in the mid ’00s) and the affirmational/inspirational message office supply trend was ramping up as I entered the workforce. I’ve definitely seen lots of women have one of these items at work, but the the emphasis is on *one*. I’ve had fresh-out-of-university interns who are your age come to work with a phone case or a tote bag with some inspirational message, and I just read it as on-trend rather than a potential cry for help. (The one who had the “F****** Brilliant” notebook, though, maybe that wasn’t the best at-work choice.)

              I’ll sit in meetings with millennial-aged women who show up with a “You got this” or “She believed she could so she did” notebook and it doesn’t really stand out as saying anything problematic about them. They’re all totally competent, trusted women on their teams and throughout their organizations. It would send a totally different impression if this stuff is all over their workspace, or if these affirmations are on hand-written notes.

              1. Jill March*

                I also started college in mid 2000. I hate to break it to you, but we’re both millennial-aged. :)

              2. EventPlannerGal*

                I’m pretty sure I have that exact notebook! I use it for evening classes rather than work, though.

                “It would send a totally different impression if this stuff is all over their workspace, or if these affirmations are on hand-written notes.”

                That’s a good point! I think what I’m getting at is that these types of messages are so normalised now even in a office or study context that the intern might not realise that handwriting them or having a large number of them is coming across differently than if they were on a Topshop phone case. Like, if your notepads say “You Got This!” and “You can do it!” on them anyway, why not write it on a Post-it? Even to me it doesn’t seem as weird as it seems to be for a lot of commenters. I think a lot of people, including the OP, are taking these very generic-sounding messages and interpreting them as a window into her psyche when I would just read them as, as you say, on-trend.

            2. fposte*

              I think that’s a reasonable point–that there are some really generic pump-up messages. I think that relates to the “some is okay but this might be too much” possibility, in that the sheer volume makes the need feel more acute.

            3. Kate2*

              But the Bruins losing IS a real possibility. It’s not inevitable that they are going to win. Meanwhile you would hope the person you hired is capable of doing her job every day.

        2. Purt's Peas*

          Not really. It’s like seeing a knee brace. Using the knee brace means that the person has a stabilized knee, but it doesn’t mean that their knee is 100% healthy.

          Similarly, it’s ok if the intern is insecure, and if the affirmations help her, but it certainly does make her look insecure.

          1. Robin J*

            Would you rather someone tried to walk on a wonky knee without a brace, so that they don’t risk projecting an image of having a wonky knee?

            1. CheeryO*

              Come on, it’s just a metaphor. The point is that there are a lot of options between “no affirmations” and “wall covered in handwritten affirmations,” and it might be a kindness if someone (preferably the intern’s supervisor) let her know that people notice stuff like that, and it may be better to reduce the number or make them less visible.

            2. Purt’s Peas*

              Of course not, but that’s a different goalpost! I was replying to your assertion that absolutely nothing can be read into the affirmations.

              1. Purt's Peas*

                Excuse me–that’s not what you asserted! I was replying to talk about why I think the affirmations do generate an image of insecurity, not whether it’s ok to ask the intern to take the affirmations down.

      1. pancakes*

        Why gender this? It would be considered unprofessional for a male associate to have a wall full of affirmations or a desk full of stuffed animals too. I don’t think a wall of affirmations would raise eyebrows for admitting doubt, though – it would be a matter of signaling unfamiliarity with workplace norms. And to a some extent it’s a class issue as well. Pretty much every biglaw firm I’ve been in (and medium and small firm) there are at least a few IT people and admins with those sort of things in their space, and no one bats an eye at it because the norms and culture are somewhat different than they are for associates and partners.

    2. Not woo-woo, just self-aware*

      Agreed – it’s a new culture of mental health awareness, and I don’t think anyone who believes in it would find it helpful to be told to tone it down.

      1. fposte*

        If it’s completely out of step with a workplace, that’s important information, though, whether they enjoy that information or not.

        1. Robin J*

          In that case, I’d say it’s the people managing the workplace that need the information – that it’s OK for people not to have perfect mental health, especially if they’re clearly working on fixing it – whether they enjoy that information or not.

          1. fposte*

            It’s not about people having imperfect mental health, it’s about what you’re doing about it in the workplace. AAM is littered with questions about people whose ways of dealing with mental health problems in the workplace aren’t appropriate, often from people whose ways of dealing with it are great.

            I don’t have a strong take on the affirmations themselves (though our workstations are too public facing for them to be acceptable in my unit); I’m just noting that “it’s for my mental health” isn’t enough to make it a good or even acceptable work plan.

          2. CheeryO*

            That doesn’t fix the situation, though. Alison gives realistic advice for the world we live in, not the one we’d like to live in. You don’t have to be a judgmental d-bag to see someone with a million handwritten motivational quotes in their cube and have a half-second thought of, “Whoa, what’s going on there?” As an intern, she may not 100 percent “get” that, so it may be worth having that conversation.

            1. Robin J*

              Why’s it “realistic advice” for the intern to stop doing something that helps her deal with personal issues that she’s aware of, and not for the supervisor to change their thought patterns in a way that helps everyone? Especially since the latter is the one asking for advice?

              1. fposte*

                The person posting here isn’t a supervisor. That was key to Alison’s answer.

                I think the OP is reacting more strongly than some might to the cubicle and people in turn are reacting to her approach. But in general, if somebody is the supervisor of an intern, coaching them on work norms is what you’re supposed to be doing, rather than letting everything they do fly on the grounds of “Eh, maybe it’s just me.” It’s not helping everybody to let an intern work for you without getting the coaching she’s there for. People are posting lots of good suggestions for her to have access to affirmations in her cubicle in a way that’s more office appropriate–it’s unlikely that her mental health is dependent specifically on having multiples all over and in handwriting–and those are things a supervisor could pass on to her as well.

                Ultimately, work spaces aren’t private recharging spaces where you can do whatever you like; they’re more on a continuum with work clothing, where what you choose to do reflects on you, and where the codes aren’t always easy to discern without experience. That’s why you *want* your intern supervisor to give interns feedback about this kind of thing, and where, as long as you’re clear in your wording, it’s okay to say that the behavior is within code here but wouldn’t be at some offices, so next time out check to see the office norms before going ahead.

              2. Moray*

                Because the LW isn’t just concerned about her own perception of the intern, but how the intern might be projecting an image of insecurity to her coworkers in general? The question is essentially “will giving her a heads-up about the possible optics of this ultimately be helpful to her professionally?”

              3. techRando*

                Because it’s an internship, for one. If the intern doesn’t have the information that “College is different than the workplace, you’re more likely to get judged here for these affirmations,” it’s kind to give them that info.

              4. smoke tree*

                I mean, it seems more realistic to let the intern know that her office decor may be unintentionally sending a message than to try to coach the rest of the office into not reading anything into it.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          This more of a general thing and quite possibly a derail (sorry, Alison), but I just want to point out that workplaces don’t exist in isolation from the rest of society and social norms change. I think that both the rise in awareness of mental health and a general trend towards positive, affirmational messaging are major shifts that are happening fast and not going to go away any time soon. I’m willing to bet that in the near future we’re going to see a lot of people entering the workforce (i.e. this intern’s age) who are more open about these things and don’t interpret “I can do this!” notes as an admission of personal weakness, and I’m interested to see how that impacts our ideas about what constitutes professional behaviour.

      2. Avasarala*

        I think we can be aware of mental health issues without witnessing/overhearing a coworker work through their issues. I am all in favor of better mental health care but I don’t want to be privy to each step of everyone’s journey.

    3. JSPA*

      1. Are they even in her handwriting? Could be from a (grand)parent, friend, S.O., and carry extra meaning for the intern, for that reason.

      2. Are they “nice writing” (calligraphy or similar)? Some people make these as a craft or hobby; if it’s a side-hustle (or attempt at one) that has to be dealt with differently.

      3. if they are to counter some mental health issues, is it worth giving even the mistaken impression that you’re fishing for that information? I’m thinking that’s a strong “no.”

      Frankly, if I were their manager, and if I were going to address it at all, I’d probably say something like, “a person is more than the sum of their affirmations–if you want to bring in a personal item or two to make the space yours, please do.” That’s enough to let the intern know that their affirmations are noticed by others; that they’re not being shut down from personalizing; and they might take the hint that the endless affirmation notes come across as a bit “one-note.”

  13. Project manager*

    Oh, I feel sad for her. Hopefully she is doing all right.

    I have a feeling her therapist might be telling her to hang these, it was advice (that I didn’t take) from a therapist I briefly saw.

  14. Nikki*

    The real question needs to be towards the person thinking that affirmations are weird. Are you so insecure that someone else being encouraging makes you feel uncomfortable? Do you need motivation but don’t know where to find it? Your having an issue with someone else’s encouragement says more about you than them.

    1. Seifer*

      That’s kind of rude. A lot of people would find that weird for exactly the reasons that the LW and Alison said. It makes people question whether you can really do your job, and that’s not really the impression you want to give off… at your job.

    2. Busy*

      While i think this comment is overly harsh on the OP, there is definitely something a little snide coming out in this letter and I think OP could possible take a look at. And it is true that times are changing towards mental health stigma, and younger generations are a lot more vocal and a lot less judgemental of that struggle.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I think this is a stretch. One, it does seem a little unusual/personally revealing, and two, the LW says she has no plans to say anything. We all have our weak spots and eccentricities but most of us don’t advertise them on our office walls at work because work is not really the right venue for that.

    4. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I don’t know. When I walk into my doctor’s office, I don’t want to see stuff like that.

      I realize that this person is not a doctor, but those notes would make me question, not admire, someone’s abilities. Ironic, I know.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        I just got a mental image of walking into my doctors office and seeing quotes like “You can do this!” and “Have faith in yourself”, and “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again” and I simultaneously giggled and was horrified.

        1. Anonymoose dc*

          Yeah… if my surgeon had quotes like “if you fall down, get back up,” “keeping working at it and you’ll succeed,” “tomorrow’s a new day” or “mistakes happen” on notes all over their desk I will applaud their dedication to self care but likely look for a different doctor.

          1. JSPA*

            ironically, one of the hardest issues in improving surgical outcomes is getting surgeons and other medical staff to honestly speak up and then dissect what went wrong. A hospital with a commitment to admitting mistakes is quite likely safer than one that’s focused on preserving the “no mistakes ever” veneer. (Said as the person who writes the name of the operation and “correct side / wrong side” on my own body, in the mirror, with sharpie, prior to surgery. Might as well make it easy for them to do the right thing, y’know?)

            1. Nikki*

              This is the most honest thing I have ever read. It also highlights the importance of self-awareness. Maybe I just empathize with the intern. The world does enough to break us down and to mold us into what we aren’t. Can she just have this cubicle as her happy place without feeling like she’s a problem to others?

            2. Avasarala*

              Sure but I think it can be simultaneously important for surgeons and doctors to be honest and vulnerable with each other and with other hospital side staff who are evaluating their work and dealing with the inevitable mistakes, and also for them to project confidence and competence with patients who are trusting their expertise. Just as a lawyer should perform competence in front of their clients, and be honest and vulnerable with their doctor.

              I think having a wall of handwritten encouragement reveals a little too much about one’s emotional state, and especially if the person is very young, it would read as unconfident and oversharing to me. I might question if she was missing the first part of “fake it till you make it” and if she had the skill of hiding her nervousness. If the job required dealing with clients or being cool under pressure, it would raise doubts whether she could handle that.

            3. pancakes*

              A solid commitment to admitting mistakes is admirable, but a hospital decorated with affirmations wouldn’t necessarily reflect a solid commitment to admitting mistakes. Decor isn’t evidence of rigor, honesty, or competence. Similarly—in my mind, at least—it’s admirable for people to look after their mental health, but sloganeering isn’t necessarily an effective way to do so.

              FWIW, I’ve had several surgeries in recent years, and the surgical team made sharpie notes on me every time. I found it reassuring! If that had been the only evidence of their commitment to procedural diligence I wouldn’t have, but fortunately it was not. I don’t think it’s advisable to DIY mark yourself before surgery. If the lead surgeon is accustomed to doing that or seeing it in a particular place, why take even the slightest chance of throwing them off for even a moment? It sends an odd message, too. I’m a lawyer, and if a client turned up for, say, deposition prep having drafted their own questions, that would be a weird waste of time.

    5. Brandy*

      I agree. When I step into a cube of a co-worker to ask her a question and I know she knows more then I do at our jobs, I see these and think that that is just how she chooses to have her cube. I choose to do mine different. To each there own. Then I forget all about her cube decor.

      1. Kate2*

        But you have a condition you apply “when I know she knows more than I do”. This is an intern, not a knowledgeable trusted coworker. You have to prove yourself. And if you become known as “the person whose cubicle is plastered with affirmations” or the “insecure person” you’ve pretty much killed your cgances of becoming known for your knowledge, both because reputations are hard to change and because if you become known for being insecure and fragile you probably aren’t going to get hired permanently.

    6. Another Analyst*

      No, it’s a workplace so you still have to be aware of how things are perceived and affect others. Like, I have a bit of a dark sense of humour so a “None of this will matter when we’re dead” kinda poster would remind me not to sweat the small stuff, but it wouldn’t jive well with others. But in private, yes, put up whatever motivates you!

    7. KoiFeeder*

      Personally, I’d have to say that the majority of positive feedback/encouragement I’ve encountered has been either insincere or so broad as to be meaningless. Feedback and encouragement is not an innate skill, and a lot of people actually don’t know how to provide it- especially not to someone they don’t know well, or a bunch of people all at once. If someone’s experience with affirmations has been primarily been that they haven’t worked or have even been unhelpful, it’s perfectly natural that they’d side-eye them.

    8. Falling Diphthong*

      I recently had a massage from a new person (I get them as physical therapy, countering some muscle problems) and she kept telling me how scatterbrained she was, due to menopause. And she was! Like, the fact that she told me at least 5 times in 20 minutes. It would be an overstatement to say I felt unsafe–I would have left in that case–but this was not the picture of confidence and capability that I want to have when I strip off my clothes and let someone twist my arm way up behind my back.

      If my new neurologist (whom I see for said muscle problems) had an office covered in “You can do it!” “You’ve got this!” “Believe in yourself!” messages, I would find that disquieting. I need to make myself vulnerable to this person (ask me about the electric current in needles test!); I don’t want them being vulnerable and unsure back at me.

      So yes, in some contexts, a person needing to be encouraging to themselves would make me uncomfortable. And large-scale, I think it’s something for your bathroom mirror–private encouragement, not public. Like getting feedback from your manager on what to improve should be private, not public.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Totally. It’s perfectly common for people to struggle and doubt themselves sometimes, but when one is trying to sell themselves as capable and reliable, they shouldn’t lead with information that contradicts it.

        1. Nikki*

          But the thing is, she is doing this for herself. She isn’t trying to sell anything or an image to her coworkers. Why does it matter to someone else?

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Because it’s visible. Just like, if before she spoke in a meeting, she said “Okay Noelene, you can do this! Project confidence! Make sure your opening anecdote doesn’t rely on an obscure pop culture reference! And end with a question to invite engagement!”

            Those might all be good things of which to remind herself. But not visibly in front of everyone else.

          2. mrs__peel*

            “She isn’t trying to sell anything or an image to her coworkers. ”

            For better or worse, part of advancing in a career is doing just that– appearing to other people to be competent and collected. Perception and image do matter professionally, and appearing incompetent or unsure of yourself in the workplace is likely to have professional repercussions (e.g., not being asked to work on new projects, not being considered seriously for promotions, etc.)

          3. pancakes*

            Doing something for yourself isn’t necessarily the same as doing something privately or discreetly, though. And there’s no way to opt out of presenting some sort of image to others short of living as a hermit.

    9. Jessica*

      Removed. You need to be kind here. You’re welcome to repost this without the personal attack. – Alison

      1. Nikki*

        I was surprised too, but I guess people don’t realize how much projecting we tend to do towards others. That intern is just tryna be motivated. Why wouls it bother someone else? Of course an intern wouldn’t be as confident or competent as someone else already in the job. That is why they are an intern and not an employee.

        1. mrs__peel*

          Just because she’s an intern doesn’t mean that it’s irrelevant how her co-workers perceive her.

          Let’s say that there are two interns in a particular office, one who appears competent and one who seems very unsure of herself. If one full-time position becomes available at that office, which intern do you think is going to be more seriously considered for that job…?

    10. Working Mom Having It All*

      Yeah, the insistence that a well-known inspirational quote (“you are enough”) is some kind of unacceptable aberration or sign of weakness kind of implies that the LW is the one who needs to internalize that they, indeed, are enough.

    11. Close Bracket*

      I do think that people need to investigate why they take away what they take away from these notes. Most affirmations don’t resonate with me, either, but I don’t judge people who like them.

  15. Jaguar*

    Man, if I found something that helps me, and one of the first things my manager said to me is, “Hey, could you take those down because people might think you’re stupid?”, I would be pretty disappointed to say the least.

    1. JediSquirrel*

      I would hope that a manager would be more nuanced in their approach than that, but this letter is about the optics of the situation.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      The OP is not a manager, and Alison’s advice was specifically *not* to ask the intern to take them down. And neither the OP nor Alison used the word “stupid.”

      Alison’s advice was that the OP might want to have a gentle conversation with the intern about how people are perceived at work, and to suggest that there’s a difference between one affirmation and dozens of them. In the same vein as “we sit on chairs in meetings, not on the floor” and “we don’t have a specific dress code here, but you may have noticed that nobody else is wearing flip flops.” Part of the point of an internship is to learn all those cultural norms – the things that nobody tells you but that might affect the way they look at you in the office.

      The OP doesn’t *have* to say anything, and the intern doesn’t have to act on it, but it’s entirely appropriate that the OP *could* say something in this context.

      1. Jaguar*

        I was responding to the part where Alison said that if the letter writer was the manager, they could say something. And let’s not pretend that dancing around the word “stupid” means that’s not what’s being said. And hanging things on a cubical wall is not comparable to sitting on the floor or wearing flip-flops. I mean, c’mon.

        I don’t understand why so many people hug “norms” so closely. Just let people be themselves at work. This is something that literally hurts and affects nobody and it’s correcting for the bigotry of others.

        1. Jen2*

          I thought it was a pretty good comparison. None of those things are inherently wrong, but they might not be well received at work.

        2. mrs__peel*

          “Hanging things on a cubical wall is not comparable to sitting on the floor or wearing flip-flops”.

          Why not? They’re all activities that are visible to co-workers.

      2. Natatat*

        “Part of the point of an internship is to learn all those cultural norms – the things that nobody tells you but that might affect the way they look at you in the office.”

        Exactly. I think it can be done in a way that is kind to the intern, and is more of an FYI of “you might not realize this but typically in an office etc etc”. Interns are often new grads, so it’s really helpful to let them know about office norms in a kind way, to set them up well for future jobs.

        Also, Alison’s advice is “But if you were her manager or mentor AND you’d seen signs that it might be affecting how people in the office saw her, in theory you could say something” so Alison’s advice seems pretty fair rather than harsh.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      It would be pretty common to give your intern feedback on how their body language, tone, etc were coming across as “I cannot do this; I have no idea what I’m doing.” This is decor that can carry that same message. Especially as she’s a new intern, so it’s not like people are putting this into the context of her blazing competence at all aspects of the job.

      People can be helped by essential oils, or reading their emails out loud to themselves, or a bunch of other things that turn out to be inappropriate in some spaces. That it helps you doesn’t make it fine.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree. If she was standing outside the office for five minutes every morning saying ‘I can do this, I can do this, I am good enough’, anyone walking past would probably ask whether she was OK, and it would probably raise a concern or two about whether she was up to doing the job. I feel like having post-it notes all over your office saying ‘I can do this’ gives off a similar impression. Like you’re needing to pump yourself up just to be at work in the first place. Also, she’s an intern – it’s one of those things where it’s OK for Sue in Finance to have affirmations all over her office wall, because she’s worked here for 10 years and everyone knows that’s what Sue does, but I think it does raise a flag or two if an intern turns up and plasters a load of ‘OK come on you can do this’ messages on their walls.

  16. merry*

    Honestly, I feel like this is a bit harsh. Is the intern young/college age? Lots of people are like this, especially when they are just starting out and are inexperienced and nervous. I remember having to battle my extreme anxiety constantly in a new environment when I first started working. If they are doing their job I think non-offensive hand written notes are harmless.

    1. Lady Jay*

      I got the impression there were a LOT of them, like 10+ on little sticky notes all over the wall. If there were 1-2, I’m not sure I’d notice or get the impression that this person was insecure; I’d chalk it up to somebody liking the sentiment, maybe putting it there for a “down” day. But the amount of stickies needed to “fill up” the walls of her cube suggests a need that runs a little deeper than simply liking the sentiment.

      Also, while it’s certainly possible this person has “extreme anxiety” like you experienced, it’s not necessarily to her advantage to broadcast that anxiety publicly, especially in a junior position (we wish the world would be more accepting of anxieties, but the fact remains, it’s not, and people need to account for that lack of acceptance in making decisions that work for them). Therapy/time helps with the anxieties, as does affirmations in a less obvious place (desk drawer, audio ones piped in through an earbud, etc.)

    2. BethRA*

      To me, it’s more that someone putting up so many affirmations in their space is going to make me wonder if they’re ok and/or worry that they’re in a fragile state. And that’s not necessarily the impression you want to give someone in a professional context.

      1. mrs__peel*

        There’s definitely a certain number of affirmational post-its where I’m going to be concerned for the person’s mental health…

    3. CheeryO*

      I could see myself doing something like this back when I was interning, had I had a cube to decorate. I was also the person who left every day at 4:55PM because I felt useless and invisible, and I didn’t think anyone would notice. I would have appreciated it if someone had a gentle conversation with me about workplace norms and optics, because I was eager to do a good job, but everything was overwhelming and I didn’t have the faintest clue about office culture. YMMV.

  17. Booksalot*

    Just to be clear, these are handwritten, but on paper, yes? Intern isn’t Beautiful Minding all over the walls, right? I’ve learned not to assume here.

  18. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I actually think this is a conversation better had with a peer who doesn’t supervise an intern, than a boss who does. “I saw your affirmations, and I’m concerned that someone else who sees them could take it as a sign they don’t have to respect you. I’ve seen things like that happen (examples relevant to your work experience), and it’s something you have to be careful of in the workplace because they can get so competitive! Just thought I’d let you know,”

    Kind of like the way you let the intern know that the last sink in the restroom is broken and will splash water all over your crotch so it looks like you wet your pants, or that Joe in the next office is a creepy creeper so if he’s being friendly be careful, etc.

    1. Jessen*

      This is a little of topic, but I’m saddened that that last example would ever come up in the working world.

  19. JediSquirrel*

    Index cards.

    Write an inspirational saying on each one. Punch a hole in the corner and put them together with a book ring. Toss it in your desk drawer and pull it out when you need a pick-me-up. It’s a bit more discreet, and you can use colored index cards and add stickers or drawings on the back.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      This is perfect! Or taped inside a binder, or something like that. You have your go-tos, and you’re not displaying your anxieties to everyone.

      That doesn’t mean anxieties need to be hidden at all costs! If someone notices the card stack and asks about it, just say, “Oh, they’re just some ‘chin-up’ reminders for when I’m feeling a little down.” People understand that.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        This is precisely what I’ve done at work, and they’re in a binder with a totally inconspicuous label.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I like this idea as well. If I was the kind of person who liked affirmations (I don’t), I would totally do this.

    3. Arjay*

      I have a small box that just fits 2″x3″ note paper that I use for this. Not so much affirmations, but quotes and things that resonate with me. It’s nice to look through it now and then.

    4. EH*

      This! Yes!

      I think the issue is less about having any affirmations and more about having an *entire wall* covered in them – probably the wall opposite the cube entrance, since OP says it’s the “most prominent” one. It sounds like at least a couple dozen of them, which is enough to be weird even if they weren’t prominently placed.

      Weird isn’t bad, though, and I’m with Alison that it’s probably best not to say anything to her.

  20. Andrea*

    I think if o were in charge of the intern I would suggest one of those daily calendars that has a new quote each day. For any she wants to keep she could tape them into a file folder and pull it out when she needs a confidence boost. Also maybe recommend some sort of digital version, perhaps a screensaver or wallpaper on her computer?

    1. Not a big deal*

      What is the difference between her writing a note to herself and having it on her computer screen?

      I think the issue here is OP is put off by something that is, largely, none of their business. Positive affirmations are hardly a red flag about someone and I think it kind of says more about OP’s opinion on displays of perceived “weakness” than it does about the intern.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        It’s the difference between one or two notes and a whole bunch of them on the cube wall,

        1. Quake Johnson*

          Neither of which are OP’s business, nor should they even have an opinion about at all.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Come on, we’re all going to have opinions about things. It’s not OP’s actual place to do anything about it, which everyone acknowledges. But their direct supervisor might want to, because it’s part of office norms that not all interns are aware of. That’s what being an intern is all about–learning what’s normal in a professional environment.

      2. Andrea*

        The difference is that it wouldn’t be obvious to everyone else unless they see her background.
        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t thi k it’s as big of a deal as the op is making it out to be, but if it is giving others the same concerns than perhaps its an option.

  21. Glomarization, Esq.*

    Enh, a few affirmations tacked up near the front door got me through law school and single parenthood (roughly age 35 o 45). One was a quote from a favorite author; another was along the lines of “you’re awesome!” I’d still see ’em every day except that I’ve moved out of that apartment. I’m sure they looked cheesy or childish or unnecessary to other people.

    If someone asked me about them, I’d be happy to talk about it. But if someone got judgey about them? Eff off, that decade was pretty hard and they helped me every time I went through the door. Affirmations aren’t for everybody, but different strokes for different folks (which perhaps is a fine phrase itself to write down and tack up in your cubicle if you start thinking too much about what other people’s cubicles look like).

    1. L Dub*

      But from the sounds of it, those were at your home right? Having them in your house and having them all over your cube at work are two very different things.

      And no one is saying the intern can’t have *any* at work, but edit them down, rotate them, etc. Heck, there was a great suggestion upthread about having a whole set of index cards with the quotes on them where you can pull them out as needed.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        My main point was to address any view that affirmations are weird or childish or inappropriate for an adult to use: “it does kind of make me want to roll my eyes whenever I walk by the cube.” They work for some people and I’d caution against being judgey of people who use ’em.

        As to the workplace, if I’m doing my work, my cube doesn’t face clients or the public, and my decorations aren’t obscene or otherwise contributing to a hostile work environment, then my co-workers should mind their own business. Take out business cards and flip through them at my desk? I guess, but I’m not entirely sure how doing that would be less oddball than tacking up affirmations onto my cubicle wall?

        1. smoke tree*

          Part of the debate here might come down to differing views about affirmations, which probably colours how strongly any individual would react to this. As someone who’s not a huge fan of them, I still wouldn’t think twice about one or two of them on someone’s cubicle wall. But a whole wall of them looks more like a deliberate statement, and it’s going to intensify the response it gets.

    2. Nikki*

      Right! You don’t know what that intern has gone through to get the internship let alone be able to stay there. This letter is moreso about minding your busy and your perception of someone else than the actual intern. People gotta learn how to mind their business.

      1. mrs__peel*

        “People should mind their own business” might be a nice thing in many situations, but it isn’t going to magically happen overnight and it isn’t terribly helpful advice for a young person who’s learning to make their way in a real-world workplace.

        If someone wants to advance in their career, then they do need to learn about workplace cultural norms. *Then* they can make an informed decision about what’s most important to them, and how they want to handle various situations like this one. Withholding information about how their co-workers may negatively perceive them is not necessarily doing them a kindness.

  22. Semprini!*

    Also, before doing or saying anything about the intern coming across as lacking confidence think critically about whether it’s actually important for an intern in this role to be/come across as confident. (As opposed to just mindless conventional wisdom that being confident is important.)

    If, for example, the intern is doing client-facing work, perhaps they need to seem like they know what they’re doing to retain the confidence of the clients. If the intern is sitting in a cube doing behind-the-scenes work, there’s no harm in their being uncertain. They’re a total newbie.

    1. Joielle*

      I don’t think it’s important for an intern to be confident in, like, a business sense – what they’re doing is, by definition, not critically important – but it is important for networking. Years down the line, I’ve kept in touch with some of my internship coworkers and mentors and have traded job leads, etc. If my impression of an intern is “seemed timid, didn’t know what she was doing” I don’t think I’d be inclined to refer her to jobs. Interns need to be competent (at a level you would expect for an intern), and project competence, if they want to reap the benefits of an internship.

    2. mrs__peel*

      I would say that the appearance of confidence is necessary to various degrees for pretty much *all* jobs.

      Even if you’re not client-facing, it does matter how you’re perceived by your co-workers. Someone who knows you as a intern might be interviewing you for other jobs in the future, talking about you to friends who work in the same field, providing references for you, etc.

      1. mrs__peel*

        And confidence doesn’t necessarily = “I can run the company”-type arrogance, but just things like “I can complete the work that’s assigned to me and do it correctly”.

  23. Katie the other Fed*

    I have an inspirational page-a-day calendar. When a quote really speaks to me, instead of recycling the day’s page, I save it in a drawer and look through them occasionally. I would never hang them up for fear it would say something about my personal life or how I feel about my job. Or, just in general, inspire small talk, which I don’t want. So I keep them to myself. Op’s Intern could be advised to do the same. But the fact that this person is an intern might mean they need more guidance as to “how things work” in professional settings.

  24. Deborah*

    Very surprised the advice here isn’t to ask yourself if this is affecting your work, and if not, then it’s none of your business. It’s not that strange. I have all kinds of odd stuff in my cube, and I don’t really care what anyone thinks of it because it’s my own space and it’s nothing offensive. This is a solution in search of a problem.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That *is* basically the advice. Leave it alone unless you’re her manager or mentor *and* you see signs it’s impacting how people see her.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think the latter is important–from over there, it’s hard to judge what is just my personal decorating limits and what people in general might find off-putting.

        Like the screaming flying monkey toy.

    2. Myrin*

      OP says herself “if they are helpful to you, it’s none of my business”.
      She also says “it’s such a small thing that I’m not going to say anything”.
      So the question she’s asking is entirely hypothetical – if OP were intern’s supervisor, then would it be okay for her to suggest to put the notes in a less prominent place (not even to remove them, just move them somewhere else!)? It’s actually completely unsurprising that Alison’s answer is NOT for OP to ask whether this has anything to do with her or not, since OP won’t actually be doing anything about this anyway.

    3. Cranky Neighbot*

      I agree. I also think that, if the affirmations are overwhelming or very… emotionally intimate, for lack of a better phrase, telling her to tone it down would be understandable.

      1. Joielle*

        I think the level of”emotional intimacy,” as you astutely put it, is the key. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with positive affirmations, but they give a level of insight into someone’s emotions that isn’t really appropriate at work. One or two for personal consumption, sure – but not a whole wall of them.

        There seems to be a lot of pushback in the comments against the idea that it’s important to hide mental illness at work. I agree that in general, mental illness is becoming less stigmatized, which is great! I have clinical anxiety myself. But I don’t broadcast it, because that’s not the persona I want to project at work, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

  25. Paper Jam*

    Fascinating – I’m curious to see where other commenters stand on this. This never would have crossed my mind as an issue – I would just think of them as motivational quotes/decorations for her cube, and I honestly wouldn’t have given them a second thought beyond her being the intern who has quotes on her wall (much like I’m the person with a Snoopy collection on her desk…)

    All of the thoughts about lack of confidence seem like projecting about something we have absolutely no information about, but I’m curious to how many others have the perception the OP and Alison had – obviously multiple people are picking up on it, so I’m curious how it reads to others.

    1. Koala dreams*

      I also think it’s odd to see this as a sign of low self esteem. Positive sentences is a very popular decorating theme, just like cute cats and Star Wars things. I do look at pictures of cute cats when I want to cheer up, but I wouldn’t assume that other people decorate with cat pictures because they are feeling sad all the time. People have different taste in decorations, and usually that’s fine and not something you would need to point out to each other. Your Snoopy collection sounds delightful!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I would see the notes as things you need to be reminded of. Like if I have a note that says “Buy milk, apples, bread” and one that says “Write extra example, no art” it’s because I need to do those things but might forget without the reminder. I don’t remind myself of things I’m confident in. So I’m surprised at how many people view them as affirmations of things believed, rather than reminders of things you often don’t believe/do/remember.

        1. irene*

          this might be a pessimist/optimist thing.
          i’ve been reading the comments and mentally sorting the responses, and comparing all of that to something i saw a few years ago about how people naturally respond to these affirmations. it’s a pop psych study so take it with a grain of salt, but people who tend to pessimism (often struggle with chronic anxiety or depression but not always) see these as To Do List as you describe or impersonal and worthless. meanwhile people who tend to optimism see them as reminders of values they have or support/redirection for the times when they need a boost to their usual thought processes.

          it reminds me a bit of how to do lists and pomodoro technique can work amazing for neurotypical folks, and they’re really good for neuroatypical folks who may have ADHD, but the ADHD folks have to work so much harder to implement them. a well-placed positive affirmation in context can be a good rejiggering for some people’s day, but they may need more than just “You can do it!” and a smiley face, while others are able to easily use that poster to connect to all the other ways they can, indeed, do it.

          1. irene*

            fwiw i remembered that study but not the details because it told me why i loathed those random social media memes people would send around about “you are loved!” they originated with strangers and were directed to the world at large and i found them impersonal and inauthentic, but some of my friends adored them and loved seeing/sharing them. the explanation of chronic anxiety disorder vs more typical anxiety levels seemed to fit and i appreciated having an understanding of why other people liked something so obviously inane. :D

      2. mrs__peel*

        I think there’s a big difference in perception between (say) a handwritten note (which is far more personal) versus a mass-produced neon sign with a cute saying that you can buy at Urban Outfitters (which is more clearly a decor item, and therefore less personal).

    2. Genny*

      Agreed. It doesn’t read like a lack of confidence to me, more like young person who probably decorates her dorm room like this too and is still figuring herself out. This just seems like the kind of thing she’d naturally grow out of as she becomes more sure of who she is, not a major teaching moment (unless there’s some massive disconnect between her decorations and the workplace culture that’s impacting her work or other peoples’ work).

    3. R.*

      I agree. Really surprised by Allison’s answer and the idea that this could be problematic at all. Maybe it’s a generational thing? Young people are much more open about mental health (a good thing, IMO). Work is hard enough; let the intern have her affirmations!

  26. Not woo-woo, just self-aware*

    I don’t agree with Allison’s recommendation to say anything. I wonder if this is an age difference. Younger women find lots of value in remembering their worth through affirmations, especially in workplaces that constantly remind you, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that you are not worthy. Handwritten Post-It notes are a sign that *you* think you are worthy, not just a reminder from a designed poster. It is a reminder that even when you are feeling down today, there were days before where you found confidence in something.

    Since you don’t manager her, you should say nothing to her, and support her the way you would any other woman new to an office. Her own manager should be keeping in check her confidence and her ways she communicates with others. Of all the things the intern could be doing, this is by no means worth stepping in for.

      1. Not woo-woo, just self-aware*

        The advice is that if her manager see signs of it affecting how people see her, the manager should say something. I don’t think the manager should say something at all. There are likely other things that the manager should talk to an intern about that are not as judgmental.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          It’s the intern’s supervisor’s job to advise her on office norms. She can and should be empathetic and kind while doing so.

    1. Manon*

      I agree that many young people value affirmations as part of an effort to destigmatize mental health issues. At my university there are public art projects every year centered around failure and struggles with academics, depression, anxiety, etc.

      However, speaking as a college-age woman, this kind of very public display in a workplace makes me cringe. Maybe it’s just my own social/workplace anxiety speaking but I can’t imagine anything more mortifying than broadcasting this kind of insecurity to a bunch of professional adults at an internship; I’ve had to “affirm” myself in front of a large group of peers as part of an extracurricular board and that was bad enough. It’s the kind of thing I might write in a private journal or confide in to a friend, not tell people I don’t know very well.

      TL;DR – ymmv wrt public self-affirmation

      1. Mellow*

        “I can’t imagine anything more mortifying than broadcasting this kind of insecurity to a bunch of professional adults at an internship; I’ve had to ‘affirm’ myself in front of a large group of peers as part of an extracurricular board and that was bad enough. It’s the kind of thing I might write in a private journal or confide in to a friend, not tell people I don’t know very well.”

        Nailed it, Manon.

      2. mrs__peel*

        I don’t know if I qualify as “younger” anymore (late 30s), but it seems like many of my female friends dislike these kind of affirmations as much as I do. (I have a particular hatred of affirmations that exhort me to “Smile!!”, which IMO is one step up from street harassment and makes me want to punch something…) I completely agree with you about finding it embarrassing as a public display.

        I don’t think it’s entirely a generational thing– actually, I think this kind of affirmation is also popular among older folks who go in for Prosperity Gospel theology, where it’s assumed that good things will come to you if you think positively enough. (The flip side being, I guess, that if something bad happens to you, it was your own fault for not trying hard enough to be positive).

    2. Natatat*

      That is what Alison is saying. She says not to say anything. And the OP herself asks this question as a hypothetical if she were the manager.

      Part of Alison’s advice in the post is:
      “I agree with you that it’s not your place to say anything. But if you were her manager or mentor and you’d seen signs that it might be affecting how people in the office saw her, in theory you could say something…”

    3. ...*

      That’s a vast generalization that “young women” all need affirmations to be able to work effectively. Also I believe the advice is not to say anything unless you were her mentor AND you noticed it affecting the way people view her. Also if people are frequently trying to undermine women’s successes (which I don’t disagree with) then I don’t think have sticky notes that say “you can do it” would give off the vibe that they CAN in fact do it. It would be read negatively by some and when you’re already a salmon swimming upstream why would you want that? I’m a young ish woman fwiw.

  27. Mouse*

    I have done this in a very limited way—in particularly difficult times, I have written the serenity prayer on a small post-it and stuck it to the bottom of my computer. I’m not even a particularly religious person, but that prayer has always resonated with me. Then, when things get better, I take it down and move on. I don’t know that anyone has ever noticed (I tend to have lots of work-related post-its anyway), but it’s a good thing to see out of the corner of my eye when I get passed over for a promotion and have to train the replacement, or my boss is blocking avenues of growth, or the big project is nearing completion and everyone is going crazy. I absolutely see the value of one particularly meaningful message to yourself.

    That said, if these are covering an entire cube wall, that seems excessive. I’m wondering if the intern is a little bored and is using these affirmations as a kind of doodling or time-filling. It could also make her feel a little down if she feels like she isn’t being utilized. Is there any chance she just needs more work to do?

    1. mrs__peel*

      I do occasionally imagine Jerry Stiller yelling “SERENITY NOW!!!”, and feel a bit better.

  28. Meh*

    Honestly surprised by how negatively this is perceived. One department where I work maintains a bulletin board with memes and affirmations that you are encouraged to take for yourself or share. I know it isn’t everyone’s jam but I never thought to judge someone’s self-confidence or competence if they took one. Sometimes you just like a saying.

  29. irene*

    I’ve seen this as a trend with casual/modern calligraphy in line with the Live Laugh Love plaques you can buy at Target. So I wonder if by “handwritten”, it’s scraps and whatnot, or if it’s done artsy modern calligraphy style. It could be picking up on that trend from Pinterest or Instagram or wherever, as well as a more youthful support thing like seriousmoonlight mentioned in their response.

    Several people on my floor have similar affirmations on display, and I find it a little awkward, but they’re definitely part of the artsy calligraphy trend, and usually countered by other more jokey things. The people with these affirmations are primarily younger, but a few are in their 40s or 50s. They definitely see it as a supportive, optimistic attitude thing. They also tend to have at least a few plants and garlands or wreaths or other homey decorative touches, so it isn’t just these signs.

    Plastering only the signs everywhere and not in that artsy style is a different effect entirely!

  30. Lyn*

    Genuinely don’t think this is a big deal if the intern is otherwise doing well? It’s very cheesy and not what I’d do, and if I saw an older or more experienced person with a ton of affirmations I miiiiight think it was odd, or even off putting…but not enough to make judgements about them honestly. Besides, what else is going on I the interns life that OP doesn’t know about? OP doesn’t sound like they know enough about this intern to take this as seriously as they do.

    1. fposte*

      I think that your second sentence is what Alison’s thinking of, though; that’s useful information for somebody if they don’t know it. It doesn’t sound like the OP is in a position to offer that kind of growth advice, but maybe somebody will.

      1. Lyn*

        You’re probably right, but it doesn’t sit well with me that OP is so determined to correct this fairly innocuous (to me) behavior! Alison seemed to agree with OP, so maybe I’m in the wrong, but it really reads to me like a good opportunity to mind one’s own business.

    1. AliciaB*

      This is what I was thinking! I am good enough, I am smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

  31. CherryAde*

    Because I do software installations and upgrades, I get to see a lot of people’s desks, and I *did* once do an install on a senior manager’s pc where the monitor was ringed with post-it notes, with about 50% management-literature pep-talk type quotes on them and 50% cheesy affirmations. TBH I already had questions about him, based on his aggressiveness and his apparent inability to listen to anything anyone said to him, but all these quotes just added another layer of weirdness. I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for a deeply insecure person hiding their fears behind a snarl, or worried that I was working for CEO Jekyll and CFO Hyde…

  32. What's with Today, today?*

    While researching the subject of an investigative piece I wrote a few years ago, I sent an FOIA request for 1,300 of the guy’s work emails(local government official). At least a third of the emails were personal affirmations he had emailed himself from a personal email to his work account. It was beyond weird, and since he’s a horrible human, also hilarious. Definitely provided an insight into the insecurities of this bully.

  33. MicroManagered*

    I think it depends, at least a little bit, on industry/office culture. I went from private sector to higher ed, and there seems to be a marked difference in what is normal for office-decorating between those two spheres. Covering one wall of your office with floor-to-ceiling literature quotes might be normal in higher ed, but not in a private sector teapot company. I would not necessarily see a “you got this!” post-it (or even several of them) as someone signalling they think they’re incompetent.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      It can even change within offices. For example, I worked at an insurance company where the division I started in as a trainee was very old school in approach – most people were very conservative in dress and manner. There was very little cubical decor to be found outside of a couple pics of people’s kids/spouses. Then I went to two other divisions in that company where people had long lines of action figures on their desks and other pop culture paraphernalia strewn about, so it was confusing as to what level of professionalism the company was going for as a whole.

      But at the end of the day, I liked that people tended to leave each other alone about these things. Except for the manager who had massive pics of Jesus and the cross in his cubical. He was told countless times to take that stuff down since others in his office may not be Christian, but he did it anyway to the annoyance of HR.

  34. Faith*

    I have a couple of “motivational” items at my desk, but they also happened to be sentimental. One is a card signed by old coworkers when I left OldJob with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail…” I have it pinned to the wall of my cubicle, where you can’t really see it from the outside, but it gives me certain comfort to look at it because it reminds of me the great people that I used to work with and of how far I have come already since that time. I feel like it’s pretty office appropriate, and does not really say anything about my perception of my own adequacy or ability to do my job. However, I do agree that these things can sometimes get pretty over-the-top, and you don’t necessarily want to give your coworkers a reason to view you as anything other than a capable adult.

  35. BridgeNerdess*

    Now I’m curious about my own cubicle decor. I have a small (9″x9″) “Nevertheless, she persisted” card on a prominent wall in my cube. I’m a women in the engineering/construction industry and I also lean left politically. I thought this was a subtle way to be authentic. Now I’m wondering how it might be perceived by others. That said, even if there could be negative perceptions, I don’t think I’ll take it down. My cube is otherwise fairly minimal: a pic of each of my kids, an item from my alma mater, a couple of plants, a professional license, and a lot of books, codes, and reference materials.

    1. The bad guy*

      I think this is very different.
      A) It’s political. You’re showing your liberalism in the workplace which is obviously a workplace dependent standard.
      B) As a woman in stem, you are often talked over and have your ideas invalidated or stollen (generalizing). “Nevertheless, she persisted” is a way to remind yourself and others that your ideas and actions are just as valid as your male counterparts.
      Yours is not an affirmation that you can do your job, it’s a statement that you have an uphill battle every day in your industry.
      Keep up the good fight.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      It’s the number of them that might be a little off-putting. Sounds like the intern has more than a dozen.

  36. The bad guy*

    I think this definitely depends on what field you’re in. I know in my area this would be viewed pretty negatively while in others it might not even register at all. I think based on the OPs industry they might actually want to say something. As Alison often says, internships are not only for learning job skills but also workplace norms. This seems like something that could legitimately frame your work in a negative light and invite condescending and patronizing comments from more experienced colleagues based on subconscious judgement. I don’t often disagree with Alison, but I think saying something might be the right move here as a piece of friendly advice.

    1. Lissa*

      Yup this is what I was thinking too. I think that if I were the manager I’d only say something if it was wildly out of sync. But if other people have decorations around that aren’t strictly business, then this would be fine I’d think. Where I work this would be completely OK and not raise eyebrows but in a more strict workplace I could see it standing out and not for the better.

  37. Stealth*

    I have a few reminders posted in my cubicle. The only one anyone else can read says “External validation is a bad habit.” (The rest are written in a combination of alphabets, etc. that I’m confident only I can read.) They’re not all that positive, to be honest, but they do help me keep a sense of perspective when I start to become too invested in things over which I have no control.

    Maybe it’s a childish technique, or whatever. (I’m 50, so not really worried about being seen as childish.) But if it works, what’s the problem? Are there better techniques for remembering the steps required for emotional regulation with the aim of making a habit of professional behaviors? Would it be worthwhile to share those with an intern?

  38. IrisEyes*

    Suggesting an alternative place might be valuable.

    Ideas include but are not limited to
    handwritten on a To-Do list
    As a computer wallpaper
    Find a calendar with such things
    Listen to a positive self-talk podcast on your way to work
    Come up with an emoji based version
    Written on a photo frame
    On a letter board

    Any of these would probably feel less…intimate.

    1. DaffyDuck*

      I agree that the combo of handwritten, number and placement is a factor.
      I was thinking that moving them so casual passers-by couldn’t see them easily (wall next to the hallway) may be a choice. That may make them more of a personal statement tho, and if people come into her cubical it probably wouldn’t be optimal.
      I like all of your suggestions.

  39. Retired Teacher*

    From inspirobot: A thought is pretty much just like being addicted to heroin.
    What does this even mean?

    1. fposte*

      A lot of what it inspirobot produces doesn’t make sense–that’s the fun of it. It’s just computer-generated mashups of inspirational phrases.

  40. Formerly Arlington*

    I think this is somewhat generational, with people who grew up on Pinterest/Instagram finding inspiration in this kind of thing, while their older counterparts might find it annoying. I personally would let it pass…I feel the same way about cat posters and Precious Moments. Not my style, but maybe they’d find my cube too plain.

    1. pancakes*

      Before Pinterest, there were bumper stickers, posters, novelty t-shirts, etc. This stuff has always been with us one way or another. Victorians had collectible advertising cards & scrapbooks.

  41. Another Manic Monday*

    I have struggled with low self-esteem my whole life. I decided to get a “motivational tattoo” on the inside of my left forearm. It’s a constant reminder to myself, but not visible when I’m wearing my office clothes.

    It is the last two lines from the poem Invictus.

    ‘I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.”

  42. EmilyG*

    I personally find this to be a bit much, in the the sense that I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t think I could judge it without feeling all “I had to walk both ways uphill to school through the snow, and so should you!” It seems like younger people are more frank about their feelings and struggles, or maybe just frank about them in different contexts that I was used to when I was in my early 20s. Some of them seem a lot more self-aware than I was at 22 and I’m happy for them.

  43. no, the other Laura*

    It varies so much between company cultures. I’ve seen places where anything more than a couple of family photos, tastefully framed, would be considered A Bit Much vs. people who go all out and wallpaper their spaces with motivational posters. General feeling seems to be:
    -If you have absolutely nothing personal on your desk, not even a coffee mug, you’re either planning to quit or anticipating a layoff. Some kind of short-timer.
    -If the company suddenly puts up a lot of motivational posters, everyone is about to get laid off / they are anticipating a mass exodus / internal Engagement Survey turned up bad results and within 30 day there will be a company-wide email that says “the beatings will continue until morale improves”
    -If employees are putting up their own motivational posters, it’s time for management to do an Engagement Survey.
    -If you have a ton of crap on your desk, you are planning to stay not only at the company but in this specific position, in this specific department, for a very long time (i.e. not ambitious to move all that stuff to a corner office).

    I suspect this is one of the many reasons that hoteling desks upset people so very much. It says implicitly that you should anticipate a layoff at all times.

  44. Delphine*

    Sometimes the letters and comments here offer a lot of insight into how judgemental people can be about things that don’t affect them at all…it would never occur to me to infer from a colleague’s motivational stickies that she has no self-esteem or to sit there and analyze her mental health. I’d be more likely to think she finds self-motivation a useful tool and move on with my life.

    I think the LW’s instinct to say nothing is appropriate, as is the advice given, but I think the implication that the LW is right to be judgemental is offbase. There’s a benefit to giving advice based on reality–if the intern’s stickies were impacting her reputation, she might need to remove them–but it’s also important to tell people that this type of judgment is useless and shouldn’t impact how you see someone in the workplace. I’d advise the LW to have some self-awareness in this regard so that they’re not enabling someone’s reputation to come into question down the line.

    1. Delphine*

      To expand a little: Had the intern written in my feeling would be she *should* take the stickies down and maybe put them in a planner, so she can see them every day. In that case, “it’s unfortunate, but that’s the world,” would be an appropriate approach. Here it just ends up sounding like the LW is right to judge an intern for this.

      1. Usually Lurks, Sometimes Comments*

        I agree. I’m shocked by how judgemental so many of the responses have been. Who cares if the intern (or anyone really) wants to fill their workspace with positivity? It doesn’t impact her job and honestly shouldn’t really affect how people perceive her or her capabilities in most contexts.

        To tell her to take it down just seems so overly stuffy in my opinion. Just because something isn’t to your taste doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I think we need to make more space for individuality in the workplace. If someone likes affirmations or decorations in their workspace and it doesn’t impact client perceptions or their ability to do their job, then it shouldn’t matter. And everyone else should be less judgy about the whole thing.

    2. LilyP*

      Yeah, this is how I feel. It might be useful for the intern to know that some people can be bizarrely judgey about this stuff, but that doesn’t mean OP isn’t being bizarrely judgey in the first place.

  45. I don't decorate*

    And letters like these are the reason I don’t ever decorate my work space with anything personal that wasn’t given to me by someone at work. I just looked around and the only things I have up are birthday cards given by coworkers and a take-home gift from a work event that we went to. There is a painting hung on one of the walls but that was hung there before I worked here.

  46. matcha123*

    I have also never been a fan a personal affirmations. However, I did have a period of reading through some a few months ago to get my head in a better place.
    I don’t think I’d notice them as long as they weren’t too excessive. There are going to be things that people say or post that are not inherently bad, but would definitely cause me to roll my eyes.

    On the other hand, I am curious about how appearing unconfident is something bad or unprofessional. I get the feeling that I come off as unconfident/unprofessional to some groups of people, and I wonder if it is a problem on their side, or if I really am lacking something.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      I kind of feel like “unconfident” is supposed to be a euphemism for weak, here, and we’re all supposed to agree that this person is a loser who deserves to be bullied.

      1. zora*

        Wait, what?! I didn’t see a single comment that could possibly be construed as “this person deserves to be bullied.” Your comment is wildly off base.

    2. Allonge*

      I can only speak for myself, but for me “consistently unconfident” in a work context can be annoying, just as “always confident” can be.

      I think it is because I work in a team. The reason (for me) we have a team is to have different expertise, views, approaches etc. as well as enough hands to do a job. I expect that I was hired for particular bits of what I know and if you (general you) are on my team, I expect the same for you. So I appreciate it when I can turn to you for your expertise.

      I DON’T expect you to know everything ever! For me, you saying “I need to check that, I am not sure” or “go to Rob, he knows this stuff better” is demonstrating competence, and extremely confident.

      But unconfident colleagues can make work tough, for me. If the answer is always along the lines of, “oh, perhaps, it is X but I am sooo bad at this, I forget, I am stupid” (actual quote from my experience), then 1. I still have my work problem and 2. it seems that I am expected to be an emotional counsellor, which I don’t like. (maybe not! Maybe I am not supposed to say “of course you are not stupid!” But it comes across like that.)

      We ALL have confidence problems. I have zero issues with people using whatever tools they need to overcome them, in general. At work, I need my colleagues to be (mostly) dealing with this without involving me.

      A whole wall of self-affirmations is a bit borderline – it’s not technically involving anyone but still very visible. Which is why it may be appropriate to point out to an intern how it could be percieved. But it is very appropriate also to leave it be. Life is a complex tapestry.

  47. Duffel of Doom*

    Sooo what if this is happening on a smaller scale, but with a permanent hire…and the quotes are Christian?
    I have nothing against this person, and I’m not a manager, but I’m not entirely comfortable with this display. I’m Jewish, so I feel like speaking up would other myself.

    1. staceyizme*

      It really does bring up an important question, something along the lines of “how YOU can you be in decorating your cubicle?” Political, religious and cultural perspectives vary. I guess this is why companies have handbooks…

    2. The bad guy*

      Oh man, this should be a letter unto itself. What a flaming volcano of controversy this could be in today’s world. I don’t envy your situation, good luck.

      1. Duffel of Doom*

        Thanks! Maybe I’ll write in a more complete letter and see if Allison wants to tackle it.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      Depends on a few things, I’d think:

      1. How offensive are the quotes? Are they kind of the “you’d better accept Jesus or burn in hell” type? Or more the “Love one another” type?

      2A. Is the organization supposedly non-religious and is the person’s desk/cubicle/office often in the view of customers/outsiders?

      2B. How prominently are these displayed?

      1. Duffel of Doom*

        This is very thoughtful, thank you!

        1) Definitely not burn in hell quotes- those I would report without feeling guilty. They’re positive affirmations, a psalm, “gd I am thankful for…,” and “all things through gd” type of stuff.

        2A) We’re definitely not a religious org. Our office doesn’t have clients, but her desk is very visible to all coworkers.

        2B) Her workspace isn’t really private at all, so anything that isn’t in a drawer or cabinet is obviously present.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I think my main concern would be customers / outsiders and how they might perceive things, then.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Not even that – how do other employees see this?

            I posted this (briefly) above, but at my old company, HR had to tell a manager who was almost director level to take down a Jesus shrine in his cubical. A few interns over the years, and a couple of people who sat near him but didn’t work for him, had complained to HR and my former manager (who used to manage some of the interns/trainees directly) about his shrine. I’ll admit, I don’t remember anything that guy said to me during my “training” rotation with him because all I could focus on was Jesus looking down on me with extreme judgment and the 50-11 crucifixes he had hanging by his monitor. It was incredibly off-putting.

            According to my manager, who’s a loud and proud Catholic, HR told him a million times he had to take the shrine down because he was making others uncomfortable and our workplace isn’t religiously affiliated (although our CEOs are prominent Catholics in our community), but apparently he interpreted that to mean remove one or two items. When my manager asked if he still had the shrine up, and I said yes and laughed, she rolled her eyes and sighed saying she’d have to talk to HR again because it was ridiculous and distracting (she wasn’t wrong). He seemed nice enough though.

        2. EMW*

          Do you have a functioning HR at your workplace? If so this could be something to bring up with them, if only to ask if there’s any formal policy on posting this stuff this religious or political all over the cubicle. I can understand why you’re not comfortable with the display, but I’m also not sure she’s necessarily doing anything wrong if everything is in her specific cube area and isn’t the burn in hell type quotes.

          1. Duffel of Doom*

            Sadly no real HR, but! We currently have a suggestion box open, so I dropped in a note asking for clarification on religious content policies.
            I also saw someone else eyeing the desk today, and based on the little I know about them, it likely also made them uncomfortable. I’m feeling less awkward about doing something now and I’m hoping for an easy fix.

  48. staceyizme*

    This shouldn’t register anywhere on the Richter scale of professionalism for an intern. Mindfulness, positive psychology and related self-care concepts are a “thing” for many people. It doesn’t assert a religion. It doesn’t require anything from a casual observer. Commenting on this in the absence of need, even as a manager, is questionable. It’s on the level of a Dilbert cartoon or a cat screen saver. None of them is particularly professional, but they should be tolerable- barring other significant performance or relational issues at work.

  49. MSK*

    I’ll be honest- this response and the comments here reiterated to me that the office is not the place for me. I don’t know where else to go, but holy judgmental nonsense (and even from Allison! I was surprised and disappointed ).

    Is there really such a problem with acknowledging insecurity or doubt? Must we all pretend to be totally sure of ourselves at all time, even if it’s not true, or else be “unprofessional”? Ugh.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Fortunately, not every office is like this, but yeah office cultures can be a bit weird sometimes.

    2. Mellow*

      You’ve overlooked that the *amount* of affirmations is what is in question here, not that there are any.

      One or two or even a handful – seems reasonable. But copious amounts could be indicative of an uncertainty that possibly should be addressed.

      1. TyphoidMary*

        Actually, we don’t KNOW that it’s a copious amount. We know that the OP subjectively thinks it’s a lot, but it might be, like, 8. Which honestly is quirky but not unreasonable.

        1. a1*

          Agree! I mean, cube walls are small to begin with. At least 2 of them are filled with desk and cabinets. One of those has a top cabinet (if the cube walls are tall enough for it). The third wall sometimes has another credenza on it (sometimes not, though). And the 4th wall is usually non-existent, or may as well be (i.e. a partial wall with maybe a coat hook). And none of the walls go up to the ceiling, even with cubes with taller walls. It wouldn’t take many notes to go from above desk to top of cube.

    3. Usually Lurks, Sometimes Comments*

      Same. I am so disappointed by how judgemental the responses have been.

    4. Fortitude Jones*

      To be fair, I don’t think Alison was being judgmental – she told OP she has no standing to speak to the intern about this since she’s not the intern’s manager. And as much as I wish people would mind their own business in the workplace and just let people live, Alison’s right to say the intern’s manager would have standing to tell her that her inspirational quotes may not be coming off the way she intends them in the workplace, and it may be giving her coworkers the wrong impression about her professionalism, especially if this is an office where affirmations aren’t really A Thing. But I do agree the original letter itself was dripping with judgment, but that’s another reason the intern’s manager could possibly speak to her about this – like it or not, what we present to the world is going to be scrutinized and people will have opinions about all the things. It’s doing the intern a kindness to make her aware of that and let her decide for herself whether or not she cares.

    5. TechWorker*

      There is a wide gap between being ‘totally sure of yourself all the time’ and ‘publicly very unsure of yourself all of the time’ – which some people read covering a cubicle in affirmations as. There’s a middle ground! :)

    6. Joielle*

      I mean, there are a lot of options between “pretend to be totally sure of ourselves at all times” and “wallpaper our workspaces with reminders that we are not sure of ourselves.” Like… I don’t think it’s judgmental to suggest that the intern scale back to one or two affirmations, to be more in line with office norms.

      It’s the same as suggesting that someone with 20 Disney figurines might want to scale it back. If you want to be the Disney Guy (or Positive Affirmation Guy), that’s fine, but the intern may not realize the impression she’s giving, and it would be kind to tell her.

      1. Joielle*

        Whoops, I typed this a while ago and didn’t refresh before posting. I agree with you, TechWorker!

    7. coffee cup*

      I mean at work, yeah, I think it’s generally expected to look like you’re confident in what you’re doing, even if you’re not. Doesn’t mean you *are* or that you can’t express doubt or concern to your manager or colleagues, but it’s not going to inspire confidence in others if you’re outwardly reminding them you’re not so sure about yourself either. I am *really* not confident, but I have to train junior staff and answer questions and I don’t think they’d be that sure if I openly kept telling them I how un-confident I was.

    8. Jill March*

      Agreed. The negative comments especially are hitting the trifecta of sore spots for me by criticizing (1) young (2) women who dare to be even a little bit open about (3) mental health. And what is with the emphasis on the notes being hand-written? I’ve read more than once that the fact that they are hand-written (as opposed to what? store bought? typed? rubber stamped?) is what *really* makes them problematic.

      I have mandalas on my wall and a zen garden on my desk. I hope no one is questioning my mental stability. (The mandalas aren’t hand-drawn, so I’m probably safe.)

      1. LilyP*

        Ugh yes!! There’s a whiff of “things associated with young women (and especially with their expressions of positivity/self-worth/emotion) are obviously lesser/cringey/unprofessional” in all this that has me making faces

      2. No Tribble At All*

        You can get nicely printed posters, cards, even embroidered samplers, etc. Handwriting them on sticky notes seems more personal because you know she wrote it herself, right then and there? A poster could’ve been a gift, you like the colors, maybe the background of the mountains or whatever, but the sticky note you know came straight from the intern.

    9. No Tribble At All*

      Must we pretend to be totally sure of ourselves all the time? No. Is it unprofessional to constantly need reassurance? Yes. Office cultures vary, but a professional is expected to know their capabilities. Within my group, I’ll ask my peers and my boss for advice and help, but when someone from an outside group asks me for a status report, they’re trusting me to give them precise and accurate information. It’s my responsibility, and I’d undermine my credibility by acting insecure. At some point, you stop being able to do your job independently if you’re constantly expressing doubts.

    10. Reina*

      I mean, the cynic within is saying that broadcasting your insecurities/doubt is the same as broadcasting a weakness to be exploited.

      If you’re in a competitive workplace where people fight and trade favors to get on good projects, then anything that might make you look unreliable is definitely not ok.

      But again, this heavily depends on the workplace. It could be she would be doing the intern a favor. Or in other places, she’s just sticking in her nose where it doesn’t belong.

  50. Mellow*

    I personally don’t see anything wrong with affirmations, especially if they help with keeping people focused and within a good work/life balance, but having them all over the place, even within one’s own workspace, gives off a vibe of attention seeking and possibly some kind of appeal for help. As a coworker, I’d likely ignore it; as a boss or mentor, I would start a conversation to see if there’s more there than just an over-decorated space.

  51. PB*

    I dunno I think you’re off on this one Alison.

    But that’s because I have a mental illness and it would be peachy-keen amazing for people to stop thinking the tools I use to manage it mean I’m otherwise not equipped to handle life, because that is an incorrect assumption at its very core and carries on the stigma. People should be allowed to show weakness in the workplace without it calling their entire ability to function into question, especially if they are otherwise getting everything done with no issues.

    You’re both also assuming this isn’t just a temporary tool she will eventually grow out of, and that she’s not aware of how it looks but choosing this as the best course of action anyway, AND that she wants to advance to a management role where looking confident like a leader matter. Not knowing any of that, trying to talk to her to coach her into tailoring her behavior/look for upwards momentum when that might not be her current goal is quite rude and presumptive IMO.

    1. mf*

      “People should be allowed to show weakness in the workplace without it calling their entire ability to function into question, especially if they are otherwise getting everything done with no issues.” This x 1000.

    2. PB*

      Simply put, stop assuming she somehow doesn’t know how this comes off and isn’t making a conscious decision to do so anyway. Start there, not the other way around, and the rudeness of your presumption becomes clear.

      You’re both paternalistically assuming she’s unaware of how it looks and thus not taking the best path for herself, but that as an outsider with limited information you will be able to ‘help her’ or show her the ‘right way’. Meanwhile, you don’t know anything about her, her goals, etc.

      Big NOPE on all of that. Instead, OP should work on investigating their own internal anxieties as to why seeing someone affirm themselves so much makes them so very very uncomfortable. Do your own inner work, don’t try to do the work of others for them.

      1. Mellow*

        What if she is being harassed and this is her way of calling attention to it?

        I mean, aren’t you also being presumptive in neglecting to consider that this could be – could be – a cry for help of some sort?

        1. PB*

          No I’m not, because my position starts from the viewpoint she is a competent person who can communicate what she needs, and yours assumes that she cannot and that you need to read further into her behavior to help her.

          Even if it is a ‘cry for help’, you are not a therapist and this is out of your depth. Be kindly, be cordial, be a colleague and coworker, and leave it at that.

      2. Not Me*

        Alison clearly says that it would only be ok to discuss with the intern by a supervisor/manager. That person would have information directly from the intern on what their career goals are.

        1. PB*

          I do see that Alison mentions that, but it’s still pretty far down and still somewhat after she also leans into the presumption that OP is somehow naive and unaware.

          Without even realizing it, they’re both assuming less of this person right off the bat. Just because she has the audacity to leave kind messages to herself around her space.

          This person described here is doing literally nothing wrong. The only issue here is that it’s more messages than OP finds to be the proper prescriptive amount of self-affirmation as is appropriate for a professional adult.

          This is a case of the call coming from inside the house – the problem is not coming from the person described, it’s coming from within the OP.

          1. PB*

            Ooop to clarify here: “…still somewhat after she also leans into the presumption that OP* is somehow naive and unaware.”

            * = Person mentioned in OP, not OP themselves

          2. Usually Lurks, Sometimes Comments*

            Exactly! To me, this is way more revealing about how judgemental and closed-minded some people are compared to the confidence or professionalism of the intern.

          3. Jen2*

            No, she’s assuming the intern is naive and unaware because she’s an intern, and most interns are naive and unaware when it comes to workplace norms. And teaching people workplace norms is one of the main purposes of internships!

      3. smoke tree*

        I don’t think it’s paternalistic to recognize that interns might not fully be aware of office norms such as office decor–particularly those specific to the particular office. I’m sure there are some offices where the wall of encouragement would not be welcomed, and I think it would be a kindness to make sure the intern is aware if she’s in one of them. She may choose to go ahead and keep them up anyway, or decide that this kind of work environment isn’t right for her, but that’s part of the learning experience of an internship.

    3. Working Mom Having It All*


      I also have a mental illness, and it plus some previous life experiences have caused me to suffer from impostor syndrome, workplace related anxiety, and a fear that I’m not doing enough or performing well enough.

      I happen to do this sort of thing (hand-written affirmations) in a journal rather than on the walls of my cubicle, but I have had things like this on display in my area before. Hopefully discreetly, but after reading this letter, who knows?

    4. mcr-red*

      I agree, PB, and also because I deal with mental health issues, as well as RA, so physical health issues as well.

      There was a time where my mental illness was really bad to the point where I could barely function. I just barely made it through work every day and I’m sure my performance sucked at that time. It was probably around that time that my decor started appearing on my desk, because I needed to be able to focus on things I liked to get through the day. Thankfully, I got on my medication and things are better. But I can only imagine how I would have been if someone at that time had said, “Your desk doesn’t look professional, put Deadpool away.”

    5. L.S. Cooper*

      Yep. I have ADHD and depression. I do things in odd ways, but I still get them done, and get them done with a good attitude. People get so hung up on forcing others to do things the “right” way, even when the “right” way confers absolutely zero benefits, other than freedom from the judgments of those who can’t shake their need to cling to tradition.

    6. mrs__peel*

      No, she may not ultimately choose to advance into management, but I think it’s generally accepted that participating in an internship means that you want to learn about [x] field. Coaching and explaining cultural norms are both typical parts of the internship process (if you’re doing it legally, anyway). It’s not inherently unreasonable for employers to assume that someone applying for an internship will want to advance in roles and responsibilities eventually if they stay in the field.

  52. Anonymous Educator*

    I’m kind of surprised people are so negative about the handwritten self-affirmations. I’ve never written those or had anything like that around my desk, but if I saw a colleague with them, I’d think it was great she’d found something to keep her positive and motivated. Maybe I might think it a bit odd if the person’s workspace was public facing (i.e., a receptionist desk), but for a semi-private cubicle or office (in which meetings with outsiders don’t take place), I don’t really see a problem here.

      1. Grapey*

        I admire it up to the point where I depend on them for the thing they’re vulnerable about.

        If the person that I depend on to write a time sensitive report constantly opened up with ‘I don’t know if I’m doing this right and I don’t know if I can get it to you on time!”, even if she did always do it right and always got it to me on time, I’d be constantly aggravated.

  53. Hall or Billingham*

    I know it’s common practice for Alison to use “she” in her responses, but in a case like this where the LW has been careful to use a gender-neutral pronoun throughout the letter makes me feel like we’re displaying some implicit bias about what kind of folks we expect to have hand-written mantras in their cubes. I feel like it’s not impossible for some internalized misogyny to be at play with how we’re reacting to this intern (when we assume the person is female).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, you’re right — I didn’t catch that in the letter. The OP and I had some correspondence where she used “she” so that was in my head when I wrote the answer.

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      I think internalized misogyny is at play no matter what pronouns are used. A woman with this sort of thing would be considered typical, if a little over-focused on self help personal development type stuff. (I personally think this stuff is great, but that’s both the LW’s perspective and the perspective of a lot of other people.) A man with this sort of thing in his cubicle is considered a slur I won’t type here.

      I’m like 99% sure that the reason LW has a problem with any of this is that it’s coded feminine. I’m guessing that nobody would write a letter about their new intern who has decorated their cubicle with movie posters, sports memorabilia, or funko figurines from their favorite comic book or sci fi franchise.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Those aren’t revealing of emotions that are normally toward the “not professional to advertise widely at work” end of the scale; they’re not a reasonable comparison.

        1. staceyizme*

          The point was that affirmations might be unprofessional because it could be asserted that they indicate low confidence or esteem in oneself. However, that is a matter of interpretation. Some would interpret Star Wars or other movie franchise memorabilia on display as juvenile. It’s a matter of perspective. But they’re not dissimilar, in my view.

    3. mf*

      Great point. Women are expected to appear self confident in the workplace (but not too much, because then you’re “arrogant”). When they dare reveal that they lack confidence or feel fear, they are labeled emotional and unstable. It’s a lose-lose situation.

      1. Ico*

        Do you believe the world is very kind to men who reveal that they lack confidence or feel fear?

        1. TechWorker*

          I wanted to ask similar. ‘Working mum having it all’ even pointed out that men with this kind of affirmation would likely also be criticised – potentially with different/gendered intention behind it – but I can’t see this being looked kindly on there either.

  54. mf*

    I don’t mean this to sound trite but… even if she IS lacking in self-confidence, so what? Why is it so important that she seems confident in the workplace if she doesn’t feel that way? Why are we (as a society) so judgmental of people who don’t come off confidence 100% of the time?

    1. staceyizme*

      It’s kind of like men being told to “man up” or women being told “you should smile more”. A cubicle is definitely

    2. Mellow*

      We’re all under-confident at some point, of course, but something like this – surrounding one’s self with *endless* reminders of being good enough – could indicate something that might need looking into. Maybe she is being bullied or harassed and is speaking up in this particular way.

      1. mf*

        If she’s lacking in self-confidence, the onus is on her to manage that or to ask for help–it’s not her manager’s job or coworker’s job to “look into” it. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that she’s being bullied or that her work product is suffering because of her lack of confidence. So if there are no red flags, why not just let her deal with her lack of confidence in her own way?

      2. Usually Lurks, Sometimes Comments*

        Maybe the “endless reminders” are what makes her feel confident and are what allows her to walk into meetings and do her job well. Maybe it’s not your personal style, but there is nothing inherently bad about this. I don’t see why so many people are so judgy and bothered by it.

        1. fposte*

          She’s an intern, though; she’s not likely to be walking into meetings with any significant requirements at all. I think the “intern” component is really key here, and that it makes it highly unlikely this is a conscious choice based on her knowledge of offices.

          That being said, something doesn’t have to be “inherently bad” for your office not to want you to do it on work time, dime, and property, either.

  55. staceyizme*

    Personal as well as professional space. Some leeway in self expression is wise, in my view.

    1. fposte*

      Yup, and what kind and how much are the eternal workplace questions. Answers will vary wildly depending on the era, the workplace, the job, etc.

  56. Jerm*

    I know a GS 15 who is 2nd in command of a large department in a DOJ agency who has this stuff all over the office.

  57. Jennifer*

    There was a fairly popular tv show, at least among black women, called Being Mary Jane. It just ended a year or so ago. The main character did this as well, in her home, not at work. A lot of fans of the show started copying this because they admired the character. I agree that it’s a little strange, but she may not be as insecure as you think.

  58. Elizabeth West*

    Eh, it wouldn’t bother me unless they made the cube look messy and the intern was seated in a public-facing area. Then I might suggest they tidy them up a little bit. Not necessarily remove them, but maybe consolidate them so it doesn’t look visually cluttered.

    In a non-public area, who cares? I’ve had coworkers who stuck crap all over their cubes or offices — magnets, posters, toys, etc. As long as clients couldn’t see it and it wasn’t anything NSFW, nobody bothered about it.

    1. Argh!*

      I agree with all of this. If someone in her first job needs to remind herself that she’s got a right to be there, and it’s not distracting to non-employees, why worry about it? People who plaster their cubes & offices with their kids’ photos and drawings send the message (to me) that the reason they are there is to pay the bills for their kids. I consider it my issue, though. They have to look at pictures of my dogs.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, the clutter aspect would be the only thing that would make me internally cringe because I love order and neatness (you should see my apartment/work-from-home space – it’s immaculate with nothing out of place). Otherwise, I would just chuckle at the cheesiness factor and move on with my day.

  59. Ashley*

    Could it be that she wants others to see it? That she intends them to be for the benefit of people who read them? I’m just bringing it up in case it helps with OP’s view of the intern.

  60. Gymmie*

    I TOTALLY lack confidence and have serious imposter syndrome, but I’m highly functional and run two divisions and have one of the highest productions in my company. I would never post these, but having to rely on stuff like this does NOT make a person not good at their job. Even totally lacking confidence I have gotten on a review that my boss appreciates my confidence. I’m not really talking about displaying these things (which I think is kinda weird and I wouldn’t do), but the comments that people are concerned about this person’s ability to do their job is pretty far out there in my opinion. If people knew what actually went through my head on a day to day, they would be shocked. But, I guess the point is then, that by hanging these you ARE exposing people to what you are going through.

    Not sure this makes any sense, but my point is that you can have raging anxiety and lack confidence but be totally successful and make it so no one knows the difference.

    1. Joielle*

      That’s exactly the point, though! You wouldn’t post these, I assume because you don’t want to advertise your lack of confidence. It’s not lacking confidence that’s the problem – someone can totally do a great job at work despite not feeling confident, and you’re a perfect example of that. It’s that the intern doesn’t seem to realize that posting a ton of affirmations is, in effect, advertising her lack of confidence. It’s projecting a persona she probably doesn’t want at work. It would be kind for her boss to point that out in case she wants to make a change.

    2. Oh So Anon*

      Boom. Yes. Totally agree with you. We might actually be twins. It’s almost that all one really needs is confidence in their ability to gracefully manage their lack of confidence.

  61. ELWM73*

    I have a quote from Princess Consuela Banana Hammock in my cube. Handwritten on a sticky.
    It is one of many politely sarcastic, realistic, acerbic, and honest quotes I have handwritten on stickies.

    1. in a fog*

      I have one from Lin-Manuel Miranda! “Their pace is not your pace. Find your pace.”

  62. Reina*

    Honestly, this behavior would be career suicide at my current workplace. It’s a pretty toxic/petty environment and people are like sharks when it comes to detecting perceived weaknesses. All it would take is a few rumors and passive-aggressive comments of “What’s wrong with her? Do you think she can’t handle the pressure?” and people could start passing over her for projects.

    I know most workplaces aren’t like that, and it sounds like she’s in a fairly welcoming workplace. For me, my desk has nothing personal revealing about me. All I have is a plain coffee mug, hand lotion, company calendar, and a bunch of post-its about work stuff. Even my desktop wallpaper is still the default Windows logo.

  63. Close Bracket*

    “it makes me wonder if this intern has such low self esteem that they need to hang these in their cube.”

    “it’s sort of like announcing ‘I am worried about my ability to do this job.’ It’s imposter syndrome in poster form.”

    You have choices in how you perceive things. You can make the choice to believe that the intern has a serious case of imposter syndrome and self esteem deficiency that she is announcing to the world. Or you can make the choice to believe that affirmations are an evidenced based way of maintaining mental health, and that maintaining mental health is just as valuable as maintaining physical health. Posting affirmations at work is equivalent to bringing healthy lunches into work. It affects you not at all. Let it go.

    Sometimes I think the most valuable thing I gain from this site is the reminder of how judgmental most of humanity is. Jeez, people.

    1. sunshyne84*

      Right who knows what this person has gone through in their life. She could have issues outside of work that the affirmations help to keep her mind off of. If it helps her stay positive that’s way better than someone moping around calling themselves stupid.

      1. Usually Lurks, Sometimes Comments*

        “You have choices in how you perceive things.”


        I know that for some people this is outside of office norms which makes it “A Thing” for them. But I don’t think that is a good enough reason for someone who benefits from this to stop. You can choose how you see things and tell other people to see things that way, too.

        If we were all just a tiny bit kinder and a tiny bit less judgemental then the world would be a much better place.

        1. Grapey*

          If it was so easy to choose how to see things, nobody would have impostor syndrome in the first place. People are always going to have first impressions at work.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Agreed 100%.

      I would also add that some of the peppiest, most confident and outgoing women I know are also the ones who own the largest quantity of stationery, phone cases, tote bags, throw pillows, Post-it notes, decorative wine glasses and wall art covered in affirmational sayings. They are not confident because of these items, but rather they own these things because they appeal to their confident nature. They don’t wear sports bras with JUST DO IT on the straps because they feel insecure and need Nike to help them cope, they wear it because the sentiment appeals to them because hell yeah, they’re gonna do it! People like this are hardly rare, and for all we know this intern is one of them.

  64. Cheluzal*

    All the letters and crazy stuff we read and this innocuous thing gets so many in a dither? It’s shocking. An eyeroll internally but really nothing I would even mention to anyone.

    I’m a teacher who uses pink font. I had an assistant principal tell me once that it might not be perceived as professional. Her font was green and many other people used blue so I decided I don’t subscribe to color discrimination. I still use pink, and no one has questioned my professionalism.

  65. Corporate Goth*

    I love obscure foreign languages for things like this. I know what the message means, and it keeps it (mostly) personal.

  66. L.S. Cooper*

    Now I’m worried what the heck people think of my sparse cube decorations. I’ve got one personal photo, a couple of comics, and a coloring book page that was clearly done by a small child. I’m the youngest person in the office by far, so I have to hope nobody is making assumptions about who the child is that colored the picture for me… (The child, btw, is my boss’ daughter, who was in the office one quiet Friday; I asked the kid if she’d be willing to make me a picture to post on the wall of my cube, because I like children and I believe in encouraging them when I can. So at least my boss knows what’s up.)
    But still…. Don’t people have work to do?
    I mean, two coworkers have a Dilbert comic posted on the *outside* of their cube. They’re along a minor thoroughfare in the office, and both women have the exact same comic, which is joking about never getting any work done. It seems ridiculous to assume that that actually means anything about their work ethic, it’s just funny.

  67. Christmas*

    This letter actually makes me *angry*.

    OP, before you “roll your eyes,” try to consider that you don’t know what someone may be going through.

    I have some of those same “affirmations” at my desk and at home, including “I am enough!” and other meaningful quotes similar to the examples you cited.

    I hope nobody would see those and eyeroll that I’m struggling with self esteem, or imply that I’m corny or whatever. These are not just for depressed or weak people that lack “confidence” as you imply.
    You never know what someone is going through. My youngest sister was a victim of a brutal crime, and we are still waiting for charges to be filed after a yearlong investigation. One of my affirmations is vaguely written to help me remember patience and inner peace so I’m not constantly agonizing over that sicko, where he is at any given moment, and why justice hasn’t been served yet. **I have plenty of confidence, but to others I probably look like a glittery human self-help book.** Think about that before you “roll your eyes” over someone seemingly lacking confidence.

    “Affirmations” like these aren’t just for cheering yourself up due to depression or lack of confidence. They also help people overcome obstacles, or or find the horizon in times of confusion, anger, or just being overwhelmed.

    OP, try to think about this more deeply rather than get irritated by it. Third time: You never know what someone’s going through.

    1. Jennifer*

      I’m sorry that happened to your family. I hope the person responsible is found and punished soon.

    2. R.*

      I’m so sorry for what you’re going through, and I hope your family gets justice <3 I also agree completely with this sentiment. I don't have confidence issues or a mental illness, but I'm on my second round of IVF (and my third year of fighting infertility) and it's fucking hard. I wouldn't post affirmations at my desk, but I do use them privately, and I would never judge anyone who does put them up.

      1. Christmas*

        Huge thanks to you all for your kind thoughts.
        R. – You are in my heart. I hope that everything goes okay, and some answers or options are found for you. I’m having to use a donor, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s definitely hard. And strange.

        The way my workspace is set-up, it’s weird… some of my affirmations are visible to others, some are not. But this letter nearly gave me a complex about it! Have you ever watched one of Brené Brown’s TEDtalks? She’s amazing. She talks a lot about vulnerability, guilt, and shame. (And obviously the strength that comes from all of these.) PLEASE check her out! Her talks are incredible! She puts things in a way that I’ve never thought of before.

  68. Melissa*

    I dont understand why this is this persons business how the intern stays motivated. You dont know if this person suffers from low self esteem or depression.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      Lots of people with low self esteem and depression have handwritten affirmations at work, but in private places where people can’t see them. They’re still good motivators!

  69. Oh So Anon*

    Self-care is important and should be supported, but it gets a bit complicated when it starts to look performative. An affirmational poster probably just looks like a benign aesthetic choice, a private notebook with quotes is a thing you do for you, but a cubicle full of handwritten notes may give the appearance of “doing self-care”. It’s public in a way that sends a message to others, whether the intern means to or not.

    Yes, I know that’s subjective and a difficult line to draw, but it’s the kind of thing that is sometimes a good idea to coach interns about. Take care of yourself, have a life and interests outside of work, but be sure that the way you present those things at work is unlikely to overshadow, you know, your work. It’s along the same lines as someone talking way too much about their diet or Crossfit at work – they’re important to you as a person, but you need to not bring them to the foreground of how you present to others at work.

    1. coffee cup*

      I think this has neatly summed up how I feel about it, too. And it’s not because I don’t feel empathy towards people who lack confidence or have mental health issues: me too, on both!

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Thanks! I’m glad this resonated with someone.

        Yeah, I’ve struggled with similar issues myself. It’s something I’m fairly open about at work because I feel it’s important to be an advocate for mental health care and to normalize that yes, otherwise functional adults can have stuff going on. That openness is something I’m careful to model around younger employees if I’m concerned that they assume that everyone who’s demonstrably successful at their job is also unflappably self-confident. But there’s a way of going about that that doesn’t shine an unnatural spotlight on my challenges. That’s not merely for optics or pandering to judgmental people, but it’s because I’m a lot more than my anxiety and I don’t want me or anyone else to forget that.

        It’s not a great comparison, but we’re all supportive of our colleagues wearing deodorant or antiperspirant as a way of taking care of their hygiene, but that doesn’t mean we’re down with them re-applying it in front of us, at work, in their fairly public cubicles.

    2. staceyizme*

      “Performative” connotes that your input is solicited. But in an age where people can livestream, tweet and Slack their way through endless minutiae, a few stickies or posters in a cubicle hardly rises to the level of noteworthy, never mind offputting.

  70. all about eevee*

    The comments on this letter are representative of everything wrong on this website. Letter Writer, this is none of your business. Do your work and leave this intern alone.

  71. agnes*

    oh boy does this letter sound familiar. We have someone working who not only has a zillion of these affirmations up, they also say things like “you are so beautiful” and “no one is as smart as you.” and “you are a princess.” She sits in a public area, so I cringe every time I go by. I don’t supervise her and her own supervisor isn’t addressing it. Not my business I know, but she greets the public and they can see all this mess around her desk!

    1. Jen2*

      Wow, those are awful. At least the ones in the original letter sound like they could be helping with work related insecurities, but no one needs to be beautiful or a princess to do your job better. And it seems really mean to post that you think you’re smarter than all of your coworkers and the general public!

      1. Auntie Social*

        And the sheer number tells me she’s anxiety-ridden or obsessive. The “princess” messages need to go in a drawer–you can’t have a better-than-you ‘tude

    2. staceyizme*

      And here we have crossed over the meridian that delineates “my cubicle, my preference” and “the world is mine to shape”. This I’d push back on, at least to the extent that it was directed at me. Rather than cringing, this category of remark is made for either some dry wit or a literal retort setting the record straight. Evil me would be tempted to step into her space, gaze deeply into her eyes and employ some hyperbole complimenting her…

  72. The Letter Writer*

    Hi all – Letter Writer here. I’m not going to answer some of the questions asked in the comments, because I don’t want to get so specific as to be identifiable. Despite what some think, I’m not a mean person who wants to point and laugh at an intern.

    As the letter states, I’m not her supervisor and therefore never intended to talk to her about this. I posed the question because I thought it was an interesting one and was wondering what others’ instincts are. There are a lot of letters like this on AAM.

    But the amount of discussion this has generated, and the speculation about whether she has a therapist, or mental health issues, is exactly why I would consider having the conversation with her IF I was her supervisor. Do you want someone’s first impression of you to be these questions? The fact that it may be generational is interesting, but all the more reason to make her aware if I were in charge of teaching her such things.

    Lastly, somehow the comments evolved into talking about post-its. These are not post-its. These are large posters that are readable from halfway across the office.

    1. pegster*

      You are brave to venture into the comments, but I for one found the range and intensity of the responses really interesting so thank you for your question! Apparently people have very strongly held views about publicly viewable affirmation notes, office decoration, and any conclusions others may derive/jump-to from them. Who knew?

    2. Washed Out Data Analyst*

      As someone who leans on the socially awkward side of the spectrum…some people don’t always understand social cues and are not adept at anticipating how their words/actions are perceived by others. These tendencies tend to be exacerbated in formal work settings, where you are expected to have a very distilled and stoic “work persona”. I wouldn’t be inclined to do exactly what the intern does, but I can see where it comes from. Something that I had to learn about my current corporate job is that you absolutely CANNOT show any weaknesses, even if it comes from a place of genuinity or curiosity. In my office, people who say stupid things in a confident tone are taken more seriously than people who say smart things in an unsure tone.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      “the amount of discussion this has generated, and the speculation about whether she has a therapist, or mental health issues, is exactly why I would consider having the conversation”

      I understand where you are coming from, but personally I feel that this community’s prevailing views on a number of subjects are quite idiosyncratic. Specifically, what minor behaviours are and are not indicative of mental or physical health issues. I would not take the fact that this question has generated this level of discussion as indicative that your colleagues feel the same way.

      That said, the fact that these are large posters does change my view a little (I wish that had been mentioned in the letter!) – that’s definitely A Lot to be decorating your cubicle with. Thank you for coming into the comments!

    4. HannahS*

      Thanks for providing more detail! Personally, I tend to agree with the people saying that office decor is sort of an extension of office dress–there’s room for self-expression, but within a set of industry norms. Knowing norms is important, even if you ultimately decide you’re not going to comply.

    5. Sleve McDichael*

      LW, are they actually handwritten, or are they done in a sort of arty, almost calligraphic style? Because that’s an aesthetic that is definitely big in certain social media circles, especially amongst gen Z. I won’t attach a link but typing handwritten affirmations into a google search brings up several of the kind of thing I’m thinking of. It’s an art style (I know because my sister is heavily into it). The intern might not realise that it’s any different to Star-Wars posters or the like. They may consider it to be pretty art and not be aware there are so many people making judgments about their self confidence etc based on their art choices. If I’m right about it not being actually handwritten, it might be worth having a casual conversation with the intern to see if this is the case.

    6. a1*

      If they are large posters, it wouldn’t take many to fill a wall, especially a cube wall. Based on the comments it seemed people were thinking there must be dozens of these. A few posters up on a cube wall is no big deal, imo.

    7. anon today and tomorrow*

      To be honest, most commenters tend to bring up mental health issues over the smallest details, so I would take all of that with a grain of salt. Affirmation posters are so commonplace that I don’t think many people outside this commentariat are going to look at them an immediately wonder if the intern has a therapist or has mental health issues. I think it’s more concerning if that IS what their first thought is, but that doesn’t mean the intern shouldn’t have those posters up on the off chance there’s busybody coworkers who think the slightest thing is a sign of mental health issues.

    8. all about eevee*

      Actually, I wouldn’t take any advice from the commenters on this website. From Allison, yes, but not the commenters.

    9. Anonymous Educator*

      Lastly, somehow the comments evolved into talking about post-its. These are not post-its. These are large posters that are readable from halfway across the office.

      It’s not really that mysterious. You said they were handwritten. You didn’t say they were large posters. It’s a reasonable assumption that something handwritten is going to be rather small. The exceptional case is for something handwritten to be a giant scrawl on a poster.

  73. Tea Fish*

    The number of comments from people who are upset about OP’s ‘judgy’ attitude are really baffling to me. There are a LOT of workspaces and situations in which this kind of decor wouldn’t be appropriate. There are a LOT of situations where optics matter hugely. Not all, and we don’t know if the intern/OP works in a location where this is an issue, but certainly not enough for it to be surprising? I work in a pretty run of the mill sort of office, where most of us are client facing and client meetings are often conducted in our offices/cubicle spaces. Having handwritten post-its covering a wall would definitely be an issue– if this was my coworker, I’d be giving them the side-eye too, because it’s not appropriate where I work.

    Whether or not the positive affirmations/post-its are beneficial to the intern really needs to be balanced with the context of the office. Sure, wearing yoga pants and flip-flops to my work would be hugely beneficial to me and my work product. Covering my cubical in plants, beautiful anime characters, and video game paraphernalia would make me feel truly at home here too. But that wouldn’t fly in my job and a lot of other workplaces (and it would be fine in others), no matter how much of an impact I think it has on my personal or mental well being. That’s the reality of many jobs.

    1. Fiona*

      THANK YOU.

      I was also baffled, especially since the tone of the OP was pretty measured.

  74. Quake Johnson*

    I’m a bit stunned at all these comments about the “optics” of these notes. For 1) “Optically” it looks like she has a good grip on her mental health.

    2) Why are her cubicle’s “optics” anyone’s concern at all? Maybe y’all should turn your ‘optic nerves’ towards things that actually concern you.

    I hope if her manager did say something like “Your notes of self-affirmation make others think less of you” she would respond with “I don’t care,” or “that’s nice,” and resume living her positive life. Or better yet handwrite them a note saying that.

    1. Tea Fish*

      The…. same reason optics matter in any capacity, in any role? If an attorney comes into the courtroom wearing chino shorts and stripper heels, does it substantially impact his ability to represent a client? No, but there’s no telling the judge to ‘just turn their optic nerves inward.’ If I walk into a doctor’s office and find that the doctor has handwritten all over the walls “MISTAKES DON’T MATTER!! BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!! YOU CAN DO BETTER TODAY!!!” am I off base in finding it an ominous sign that I might need a new doctor? Probably not. If I walk into my coworker’s office and see that her decorations of choice are two dozen stuffed and mounted house cats, are the optics totally irrelevant? I should hope not.

      Sure, there are some jobs where all of the above will be just a-okay and optics don’t matter even a little bit. But definitely not all or even most of them.

      1. Quake Johnson*

        Okay but she isn’t anyone’s doctor, and her notes aren’t saying things like “mistakes don’t matter.” What a strange leap.

        The “optics” of this situation are “Jane has a healthy mental coping strategy.” That’s it. The whole letter (and the response and half the comments) are way too judgmental.

        1. Tea Fish*

          There’s no indication for what kind of role she’s in. We don’t know what she’s writing on her notes other than they’re self affirmative & sometimes quotes. We also don’t know if this is a coping strategy on the part of the intern or something else. It sounds like you’re making a lot of unfounded assumptions– positive assumptions, but assumptions all the same– about the intern and whether or not this is appropriate for her role.

        2. pancakes*

          None of us know whether she does indeed have healthy coping strategies or not. Hanging posters that refer to healthy coping strategies isn’t evidence of being an adept practitioner of those strategies! It isn’t evidence of being bad at coping either. There are a lot of comments here decrying being judgmental and simultaneously judging the situation in a way that requires intimate knowledge of this intern none of us possess. Her mental health and coping skills really don’t or shouldn’t have any bearing on the question of whether the decor is office-appropriate.

      2. anon1*

        A doctor typically doesn’t see patients in their office – they use exam rooms which they cannot personally decorate since it’s generally used by multiple people. A courtroom, again, isn’t someone’s personal office space and there is an widely accepted dress code for that setting- chinos and ‘stripper’ heels are objectively not ok. The only one remotely related to the actual letter at hand is:

        > If I walk into my coworker’s office and see that her decorations of choice are two dozen stuffed and mounted house cats, are the optics totally irrelevant? I should hope not.

        They don’t matter. She was hired to do a job and so were you. If she is your coworker, then it’s not your job to manage her or her ‘professionalism.’ If she can’t do her job, then that’s another issue distinct from her office decor, which does not matter. If she is seeing clients there then yes but if it’s just coworker-coworker interactions? Then it literally doesn’t matter. Focus of your work.

        1. Tea Fish*

          My response was purely regarding “optics”, which are highly important in many, many roles. I then gave some examples of issues that have no impact on a person’s performance– who cares what the courtroom dress code is, if everyone performs their part appropriately? who cares how or what the examination room looks like, if the doctor does a great job diagnosing and working with the patient? Yet, the optics have an impact– sometimes a huge one.

          As for the last example… there is absolutely an overlap between ‘coworker judging on professionalism’ and ‘is this appropriate for clients’? I understand what you’re trying to say, and why you’re saying it– focusing on your own work should be the top priority, not policing other people’s personal quirks or decor. I truly agree with that. But as someone who is client facing and whose job also entails ‘making sure everything is client appropriate in this company’, it does mean having conversations about professionalism with my fellow coworkers sometimes. I don’t care if my coworkers want to paper their surroundings in pages ripped from Lord of the Rings, wear tube tops, typo every other word, or print only on neon pink paper and write with only neon pink highlighters in their personal lives. But I do (and as part of my job, I MUST) care if that’s how they choose to interact with clients, our management, or other professionals. That’s optics.

  75. Carbovore*

    I’m kind of surprised by the advice here as some of the other commenters are–but perhaps that is because at my last job I had lots of affirmations!

    The truth is, I never felt I wasn’t good enough but I had a department head who was dead set on making me feel that way and given how persistent she was with it, there were days I really questioned myself so I began typing little discreet affirmations to myself and hiding them places on my desk where only I could really see them and not anyone else unless they got up close. They were reminders to not let this toxic, awful boss make me feel like crap and that the majority of people I worked with and for really appreciated me and my skills.

    I also had one wall of my cubicle wall for “thank yous.” So, any time someone emailed me a really nice note or sent a thank-you card, I’d pin it to this particular wall of my cubicle wall. In a terrible workplace where the department head NEVER celebrated successes, ALWAYS made it seem like you weren’t doing enough, and in general, diminished you at every turn, my thank-you wall would get me through really bad days and remind me that my work mattered. (It might also make a difference that my previous job was in stewardship and donor relations which is big on thank-you cards–so perhaps that’s why colleagues didn’t bat an eye at my wall. Or maybe it was because it was an open secret how awful my office was. Or maybe both!)

    At any rate–it was strange to read this letter because I’d say given my last experience, if I were to walk by someone’s cube and it was papered with affirmations, my first assumption would be that they are possibly in a toxic workplace or situation and are trying really hard to stay positive–not that they were in need of a “professionalism” chat. Honestly, my affirmations and working on controlling my own emotions and feelings were the ONLY things keeping me professional!!

  76. CatMintCat*

    I teach 6 year olds, so my classroom is covered in this type of thing (Growth Mindset is big in education at the moment) – my class motto is ‘We can do hard things’. But they’re six. In a professional office setting with adults, it should have been internalised and I’d be looking to minimise it. If your intern has just come out of an educational setting, she may not realise that this isn’t how the professional world works.

    I’m the person who, after several years of being relentlessly bullied by a toxic principal and workplace, got a small tattoo that says “I matter”, so my advice may be worthless!

  77. anon1*

    I am actually very surprised at all the comments that see this as a lack of self-esteem or competence or confidence issue. I don’t think much of this unless she also acted like she needed them. I admit, at the right amount (like red-string-conspiracy-theory-paper-wall amount) I would think, “Hm, the lady doth protest too much, methinks” but LW saying “it does kind of make me want to roll my eyes whenever I walk by the cube” makes me so skeptical this is as bad as it seems.

    Really thinking that this is just a case of someone thinking “lol that’s dumb” and finding fault where there really isn’t.

    1. Quake Johnson*

      Agreed completely. In fact I feel like I would have MORE trust in an employee I can visibly see is taking care of herself mentally.

      1. anon1*

        I am super neutral on the mental health aspect of this – I understand that it is but my thoughts aren’t influenced by that. Some of my coworkers have the literal scribbles of their children on tattered construction paper on their walls (no offense to these wee babes) and I have a feeling that LW wouldn’t think anything of this but in my eyes, these are the exact same thing. If looking neat and professional is the objective, then I would say these are not okay either. Some of them have stuffed animals, cut outs from magazines or comic strips. The thing is my coworkers are efficient and produce good work; if having a personalized office space does that for you then coming down on this for the sole sake of ‘professionalism’ is really odd.

        There are some offices that have a formal culture, of course, but the fact that intern has these up at all means that others also decorate their areas and this is ok in this office. If intern has clients they have to meet then I can see why they want her to spiffy her space up but I doubt she does. This all is just a non-issue from someone who can’t mind their own business, regardless of how even-toned/balanced LW sounds. It’s honestly busybody behavior – I come to work to do my job, not worry about how the guy next door has a Dilbert comic on his door.

  78. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

    Hateful? Maybe kind of harsh but hateful is pretty strong. I don’t think LW hates the intern.

  79. Parfait*

    I have just one post-it note in my cube and it says “PAWANYF.” That stands for “People at work are not your friends.” Perhaps not the most inspirational message, but I feel it’s worth remembering.

  80. Washed Out Data Analyst*

    This letter makes me even less inclined to decorate my cubicle. I currently don’t have any decorations because I have attention issues and need as clean a space as possible to concentrate. However, my ex-boss would rag on me for having such a “boring” cubicle. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I am tempted to passive-aggressively post a couple of print outs of The Office memes or Dilbert comics.

  81. Dinopigeon*

    I was in an extremely toxic work environment for a long time. I had notes like this tucked around my desk– hidden under things and in drawers, not many, and no obvious ones in plain view, because I was too scared to put them out. (And frankly it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that you work in an office where nobody has eaten her alive for needing a confidence boost, because not everywhere is like that.)

    The only one I put on public display wasn’t even a traditional note. It was a date. I was either going to have improved my situation by then, or I was going to quit on that date. I needed to see it whenever I glanced down, to have a tangible reminder that this would eventually end.

    I am not joking when I say that these notes were sometimes the only thing that kept me from driving into traffic on the way home.

    It’s just some fricking paper. Let her have it. You don’t know what she’s going through.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      Spoiler request: Please tell us how you worked step by step to get to a better workplace. I mean, I trust you are in one now. (insert hopeful smile)

  82. Potatoes*

    I think the fact that they are affirmations is leading to a bit of a mental health red-herring here.

    I think really the issue is more worry about this intern having not learnt yet that work-you needs to be “you-light”. There is no problem with having affirmations, but covering an entire cubicle wall with giant ones is a bit excessive, it projects too much “you” into the surroundings. To me, the issue is the same as an intern who plasters the wall with My Little Pony posters – nothing wrong with liking the show and having a few, but they need to learn the office norms about decorating your space and how it can make you come across – in some ways your cube is about presenting yourself as much as your choice of office clothing. Whilst it may be a reflection of them and even match they decorate their bedroom, hopefully they do not come to work dressed in what they wear in their bedroom…

    Decorating is about the balance presenting a professional self to your coworkers (and clients if they walk through the cube farm) but doesn’t mean you cannot have anything personal or related to your interests, you just need to keep it to a professional level, which is not something that the intern may innately realise. (I would say the exception to this is the gradual accumulation of stuff that happens over time – the tenure reduces the proportion of professional-self that decorations make up. When you are new, people don’t know you are a superstar worker, just what they have from first impressions, which can (rightly or wrongly) be affected by, for example being scruffily dressed).

    As I do not have a professional bone in my body though, I do not care how anyone decorates their space as long as it is not offensive.

  83. Potatoes*

    Just to add – there is nothing wrong with having affirmations (or MLP posters!) public, it is the volume involved being broadcast – if you need affirmations you can have more in your cube without publicly broadcasting all of them.

  84. Betty Scott*

    I think that this is something that is much more popular with young people. My teen and her friends are likely to write themselves inspiring messages in their lockers, on their mirrors, etc. It’s often more an expression of confidence than the lack thereof. I’d chalk it up to a generational difference and let it be.

  85. Database Developer Dude*

    This reminds me of this one former Marine who got kicked out because she had religious sayings taped to her monitor, and refused to remove them when ordered to. Granted, the situations aren’t the same, but they’re similar.

    I don’t like it, but at work, people will judge you, even though it’s your cube and should be none of their business, absent egregious things like naked pictures and stuff…. you have to be mindful of that.

  86. Commentor*

    I work in higher ed and this would totally not be weird. In fact, I am the outlier because I am a terrible cynic and hate quotes or anything remotely motivating. However, having post its with affirmations or quotes would not even make someone think twice around here- especially considering how common these types of things are in college courses or among young people now. I would say (even though I find it eye rolling) to let it go.

  87. Nomde Plumage*

    I wish people would be more understanding of those affected by depression and anxiety. We need jobs too! And if providing ourselves with affirmations is what keeps us confident, then so be it.

    1. Potatoes*

      I don’t think this is a case of “Nobody can have affirmations at work”, though. It is more a case of plastering giant affirmations (or any other personal posters) on an entire cubical wall might not portray yourself how you would want. There are a lot of degrees in-between that which nobody sensible would bat a eye at.

      A bit like, for people needing music to help them concentrate, there are the differences between having no music, having it on headphones, having it on headphones cranked up so loud the neighbouring cubes can hear it and playing it out of your computer speakers. In a cubical farm only the first half of the spectrum is appropriate.

      Thinking about it, though, my views may be being tinged by the fact that (even though I do have anxiety problems) I really dislike affirmations.

  88. RFan*

    The only person I ever saw post many affirmations was in a job where our housing was part of it. So in her own room, not cubicle, but it was remote so really only coworkers would see them.
    Unfortunately, this young woman went on to commit suicide. I was glad I was one of the few who took the time to be friendly if not a friend. She was not well liked. I think of those affirmations now 20 years later.

  89. Robbenmel*

    Years ago, I got a tip on handling these type of affirmations when you need them but don’t need to share them. Color code them! If “You can do this!” = blue, then just put up a plain blue post it (or whatever.) The color triggers the same motivation without revealing what it actually means to anyone but yourself.

  90. Luna*

    The messages are not hurting anyone, they are not keeping you or anyone else from doing their work, so why make this into a big deal? The only thing these posts do is, apparently, personally bug you a little. Get over it, is what I would say.
    If this is a way for her to motivate herself, and she’s doing good work, let her.

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