the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Not Upworthy


A few weeks ago, I told you a story about this woman who swept the floors in my local McDonalds, and how she hated the staff there, calling them “animals.” I told you how I befriended her and encouraged her to apply for this other job at a supermarket. I told you how she got the job and how we said good-bye one morning, with me giving her a vague promise to visit her someday at her new job.

What I didn’t tell you was that three days later, she was back at McDonald’s, cleaning out the trash receptacle. She couldn’t handle the job. She said the owners were crooked and sold rancid potato salad. The owner’s son yelled at her and called her stupid. So she left the job (or was fired) and was forced to beg the manager of the McDonald’s, a woman she completely despised, to give her the job back, even offering to work longer hours.

In three days, she aged ten years. Disappointment and failure were etched on her face.

It’s taken me two weeks to tell this story — because I was afraid. This story reeks of failure, of a woman accepting her limitations, of weakness, of bitterness. I do not see this story ending well.

I didn’t tell the story because I didn’t want it rubbing off on me, to have YOU associate with me with failure. After all, on the internet, all failure must be banished, like lepers to a solitary island of diseased misfits. The Army of Positiveness has won, not through any violent blitzkrieg, but by steady infiltration.

At first there were those kindly quotes on Twitter, misquoting Eleanor Roosevelt, urging us to never give up on our dreams.  Soon, these messages appeared on colorful graphics on Pinterest and Instagram.  Blame was placed on the individual’s own brain, with the difference between success and failure based on how you THINK.  Much of this advice was true. Scientists have shown that even smiling more often can enhance your mental health.  But as the positivist movement entered the video stage, the extremes went pushed into obsession, much like those Venezuelan female mannequins that presented “idea” womanhood as having enormous breasts that shoot out like the peaks of Machu Picchu.

Look at you. Sitting there with that dour face. How can you be so lazy when this paraplegic has not “given up” on life, participating in an iron man competition? Sure, you might be having a double mastectomy, but is that an excuse to not dance to a disco song with your medical staff right before surgery in a viral video? And what loser proposes to his girlfriend WITHOUT a flash mob?

It broke my heart to see this woman back in McDonald’s, at the job she hated, with the staff she felt were “animals.” I said, “I’m sorry,” and then finished my coffee. I then wondered if I should even write about this in my blog, fearing that it would affect my reputation.   After all, you are only as good as the upworthy ones who you keep in your life, not the wrong ones heading for disaster.


  1. Charles Knight

    Great article – I am an academic and there is more and more of a push for us to be on twitter, doing blogs and the like. However… talking to early career researchers, I am seeing a pattern where instead of twitter being a great place to network and talk about their work, the highlighting of the atypical is actually knocking their self-belief and confidence because how come they haven’t run an international conference and written five books at 23? They find this stuff tough – goddam losers, buckle down and think positive !

  2. Annie @ PhD in Parenting

    I don’t see the inability to succeed in an awful environment as a failure. I think it means there are limits to how much bullshit she’ll put up with. I think more people need that. I do feel bad that she feels McDonald’s is the only option though. I wish she had others. She seems like the type of person who deserves better.

  3. Kim

    I think you have to use failure like a trampoline sometimes. When you fall, wallow around on it for a bit, then bounce back up.

  4. Michele

    I wouldn’t worry about it rubbing off on you, and I am glad you shared it. It is important to share these down on your luck moments as well as the uplifting ones. Because that is what life is, hills and valleys, yin and yang. I am so sorry for her too. I hope for a better ending for her down the road.

  5. pia

    This is brilliant Neil.

    As you know I have an invisible disability. I didn’t know about it until seven years ago but always knew there was something wrong.

    Years ago I was at a writing conference. Unfortunately one that had no “ability to write and/or think” requirements. We were assigned partners. I said to him: I have climbed to the top of my own highest mountains.” He said: What did you do climb Mt Everest?”
    I had to explain this disability I didn’t really know about. I know I explained it well as I had explained it to many other people.

    Our assignment, given at the end of the class, was to write each others stories. The next morning we were told we had to give our own story to the class. He used everything I had written about him (was being nice)–word for word.

    I had to tell my story off the cuff as there was absolutely nothing usable in his story about me. He thought if you didn’t do something spectacular you were nothing and wrote my story as if I were intellectually challenged.

    When I left the instructor (a semi-famous author) asked me to stay, gave me her card and said: I hope you’re writing a memoir.

    I only went to the seminar as I was vacationing in the area and looking for something to do. So I kept adding anecdotes to my “nothing” story in every seminar. Every instructor pulled me aside and said the same thing.

    I immediately applied to Charles Salzberg’s writing class as it was near my apartment and The Devil Wears Prada was a best seller. I didn’t really learn much that year though I made many friends.

    I learned to write through my blog and a great friend who was my editor at a newspaper . The memoir? It’s been ten years and it’s gone through many changes. Much of the time I feel “who am I to think I have a special story?” “I’m so damn boring.” “I was such a hippie–I’m not a good role model.” “I was so screwed up….”

    So your story rang very true to me.

    I’m sick of writing about disability. That’s only one small side of me.

    I think I finally have a handle on the story. I’m writing it for one person and one person only now–me. And hope that people find some universality in it.

    Thanks for writing your post. I feel so horrible for the woman. And yet think she was brave in leaving McDonalds and even braver in coming back.

    I loved so much your “putting down” all the phony positivity in the Internet. It’s played too large a role in me doubting myself and thinking “I can’t write. I can no longer write.” “And I’m the shittiest role model in the world.” I’m not. I’m just not superwoman.”

  6. Kitty Hannah @Transatlantid

    Hello Neil! Your post is a cure to endemic internet positivity and that’s why I love it so very much.

    Because humans are fallible, but if social media is to be believed, we’re all oozing success and achievement from our every pore. And if we’re not, we’re doing human wrong and therefore not worthy.

    That’s not real life, that’s redacted life.

    I don’t want out of context inspirational bullshit being shoved down my throat by opportunistic click-baiters, I don’t want to read content dripping with pathos and phoney praise… I just want to understand how other humans hack this thing called life, failures and all.

    To me, honesty – aka relatable content – is far more appealing than fictionalized personal PR.

    Lastly, if you haven’t already, check out the Twitter parody account @UpWorthIt.

  7. agirlandaboy

    I don’t know quite how to put this without it sounding utterly depressing, but: Sometimes “failure” is just another term for “reality.” The world can be a tough, tough place. :/

  8. Tanis Miller

    Damn you Neil and your awesome writing. You make me want to keep writing.


  9. Chrisor

    Neil, I admire you for being so encouraging and a friend to this woman. You shouldn’t take on this woman’s failure as your own. She needed to do something since she was miserable where she was. This is all too common in jobs today that it doesn’t matter the work, everyone hates what they are doing! If I was this woman and had quit, I would stay at this new job long enough to find something else without having to go back to McDonald’s and ask for my old job back. It would be a matter of pride for me. It isn’t a failure that she didn’t make it at the supermarket, it’s a failure that she gave up and went back to what she knew (& hated) versus trying until she found something else (better). I’m not convinced that this woman would be happy anywhere. There’s some people like that. Thank you for sharing this.

  10. Marcy

    I think you’re spot-on about the “positivity” crap that’s everywhere these days… I think some call is Inspiration Porn. It places all the blame on “failure” upon the shoulders of individuals, when sometimes it’s the world that has failed them.

    I don’t see how this woman is a “failure” for not having lasted at a job that sounded even worse and more abusive than the McDonalds one. That was not her failure, it was a shitty job. Nor do I see how being associated with her or helping her, even if the failure were her fault, would reflect badly on you. To be honest, I would feel more disappointed in you for trying to distance yourself from her for that reason. She sounds like a good worker and a good person, and I hope she’s able to find a path that suits her better.

  11. hello haha harf

    incredible post on so many levels, neil.
    i do have to disagree with the part of this post that refers to the woman’s failure. personally, i don’t consider it a failure that she tried & found out the grocery store wasn’t for her. HUGE success. in my eyes, what would be a failure is if she stopped trying to find something better for her than the place filled with employees she hated.
    and i am baffled as to how any of part of this story is a failure on your part.

  12. teamgloria



    sometimes life sucks.

    and then there are other days when it really doesn’t.

    like today.

    love the way you write. and witness. and then write about it.

    it’s completely beautiful.

    even the painful bits.



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