It’s ok not to be ok.
I can feel the Self-Improvement industry collectively roll its eyes as I write that sentence. But, I take great issue with the concept that people are essentially broken and need to be “fixed.” Sure, we can always practice and strengthen our skills, work to break habits we don’t want and train behaviors that we’d like to have. However, I think it can be dangerous to think that we should be trying to never feel sad or experience pain.
Somewhere along the way, we’re taught that if we’re not happy all the time, something is wrong with us. But, we are human beings on planet Earth, which means that we’re going to encounter a spectrum of emotions and experiences in our lifetimes. Not all of those will be good or feel comfortable, but they’re all there to serve us. To give us richer human experiences and all the complexities they bring.
That first warm day after a brutal winter is made that much more amazing because of the months of bitter cold that came before it. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know the first bite of chocolate tastes unlike anything you’ve ever had before. It’s the contrasts that make the colors brighter. Some of our greatest periods of growth happen in our darkest moments. So, while life can be painful, I think it’s beautiful that pain can serve a purpose.
How we deal with the challenges that life throws at us is a deeply personal process and is as unique as an individual’s fingerprints. We see this same concept in the way different people handle grief, loss and tragedy. While there are patterns in the way people handle these things, no two people go through the exact same process. Some people throw themselves in their work, some people disconnect and hide, some turn to substance abuse, and every variation in between.
I don’t believe there is a right way or a wrong way to process pain. There is only the process that works for you, and while there are many well-meaning people who will tell you that you “should” be doing this or that, the truth is the only thing that matters is what you need on your time table. Granted, there are some healthier options - work is healthier than substance abuse - but at the heart of this message is my encouragement to release any guilt for where you are in your process.
As social creatures, we’re typically uncomfortable when people are not “happy” or “doing well.” It can be awkward to be in the presence of someone who is hurting, and it can even remind us of our own pain. So we’re taught from an early age that we should always strive to be “ok.” We see it on a daily basis and even add it to our greeting. How many times have you passed someone in the hall and they say, “Hi, how are you?” and your response is almost always, “Hey, doing great. How are you?” (fully expecting them to say they’re great right back). Now how many times have you told someone you’re great, when you were actually just trying to make it to the next minute without falling to pieces?
We’ve all done it, because the expectation is to just say you’re great and move on. And after years of conditioning ourselves to act as if we’re fine, we start to believe that’s the only acceptable answer. Not only is it the only acceptable answer, but if you don’t feel fine all of the time, you’re wrong in some way. That’s how we start lying to ourselves. That’s how we start becoming numb to what we truly feel so we can believe we’re doing things “right.”
“What will she think of me if she knows I’m not ok?”
“Will she think I don’t have it all together?”
“Will she think something’s wrong with me?”
“Will they think I can’t handle life?”
“How will they judge me?”
The truth is there are so many of us who are doing our best to survive, process pain and navigate the challenges that face all of us. So, it’s ok not to be ok. It’s a natural, normal part of the process. Embrace those moments, allow yourself to feel however it is you feel, and honor your own feelings. There’s nothing wrong with you, and there’s no way that you HAVE to be.
When you honor your own feelings, you tell yourself that your experience matters. And there’s no voice that can give you more meaningful validation than your own voice.
We all want to be seen, but many of us are afraid of seeing ourselves first. We all want to be loved, but we rarely love all parts of ourselves first. It all starts with your own thoughts.
We will see many places on our journeys - both mountains and valleys. Don’t be afraid of the valleys of “not being ok.” Embrace the journey.