The Case for Not Being Okay.
This week has been crushing.
This week, I was not - and remain - "not okay." Most of the people around me are not okay this week. Because I am doomed to repeat lessons until I finally learn them: I am once again reminded that it is okay to not be okay.
This newsletter is dedicated to providing pragmatic advice to professionals and leaders who want to be even more successful. Here is this month's advice:
In a world that celebrates the power of positivity, if you need someone to tell you that it is okay to not be okay, let me be that voice. If you need to retreat to take care of yourself, your loved ones and your community, that is okay too.
Nashville lost three nine-year-old children and three adults on Monday to a school shooting. We live about 1 mile from the school and know several of the parents and children who appeared in the photos in your newsfeed.
My children are ten and eleven. Sending them back to school on Tuesday felt Herculean. Because I make my living be present for others, I found myself pooling my energy to be present with clients and children ... and then retreating into silence. (And that is saying a lot for this extrovert).
Like many hard-working, achievement-focused folk used to driving forward all the time, after a few days, I started judging my malaise. Why could I not shake it off and focus? What was wrong with me - Why did I want to retreat and hide?
I heard the same self-judgment-rooted questions from Nashville-based clients and friends: "I need to be 'on'. Why can't I be 'on.'"or "What is wrong with me?"
So, let me remind you of the lesson I had to relearn: it is okay to not be okay.
Really smart people also think so:
"Not only is it okay to not feel ‘okay,’ it is essential. An abnormal emotional response to an abnormal situation IS normal." - Harvard Business Review, It's Ok to Not be Okay.
This is one of those "put-on-your-own-face-mask-before-helping-a-child-put-on-their-mask" time.
What does "being okay with not being okay" look like? Again, according to one of my favorite resources, the experts at Harvard Business Review:
"Allowing yourself not to feel ok involves accepting all feelings, thoughts, or sensations, and sitting with them until they pass. If you try to avoid, suppress, or ignore them, they will only grow stronger and leave you overwhelmed and believing that you cannot cope." - Harvard Business Review, It's Ok to Not be Okay.
Let's start now: Let's normalize that sometimes
it is okay to not be okay.
It is acceptable - and even recommended - that you take time to heal. This applies to horrific community events, but it also applies to the infinite number of hardships that professionals face each day: layoffs, illness, divorce, restructuring, uncertainty, moving, new leadership, and so much more.
As a leader, it is part of your role to take care of yourself and your people. This means checking in with other leaders, peers and direct reports during challenging times. Even if you are okay, others may not be. For many of my clients, this looked like starting a team meeting or one-on-one by asking a simply question: "How are you doing today?" Holding a safe space for complex emotions can be very challenging and very beneficial. (both can be true).
While you are taking time to not be okay, it is nice to return to the surface - hopefully a bit wiser from the experience.
If you work with me, you will likely hear me utter these pieces of advice that apply to moving through tough events and strong emotions:
Coaching is often simply disciplining yourself to sit with the hard feelings, questions, and thoughts longer than is comfortable. When you are not feeling okay, the same advice applies: Sit, listen and feel. Repeat without judgement.
The only way through is through. We can try to go up, around, behind, under or over the root issue, but the only way through those really tough time, emotions, mental blocks, whatever ... is to actually experience them. You have to go through.
If it feels hard, that is usually because it is hard. Often we judge ourselves for not "muscling through" an issue or challenge quickly or perfectly. We can judge our "lack" of ability to manage something when the fact is that the situation, person or issue is just really complex and hard. There are no easy answers.
"Look for the helpers" and lean on them. Take Mr. Rodger's sage advice: When there are tough times, look for the helpers. The helpers can show you the light that exists when you are standing in the dark. The helpers can often show you a way back.
I stand with The Covenant School of Nashville as they try to heal. If you wish to make a donation to support the survivors at The Covenant School, you can do so here.