I’m not OK

Two weeks ago, as another Friday afternoon of Google Meet calls began to wind down, I had the most unexpected and touching conversation that started with “I’m not OK”. 

I have a simple (effective) rule that whoever is late to a group call pays a fine by the minute. Since I’m a repeat offender, my “CEO fine” is double everyone else’s and so I’m usually rushing from one call to the next. This specific Friday call wrapped up 15 minutes early (love those!), and so I decided on a whim to linger, chuckling as some awkwardly waited for the “boss” to leave first. Eventually, all but two colleagues (we’ll call them Teleporter #1 and Teleporter #2) stayed behind. 

“Hey, good meeting right? How are you?”, volunteered one. 

“Yep, good meeting! I’m OK”, I automatically replied – as one does countless times a day. 

But then I instinctively corrected myself. “OK, new rule, we are going to ask each other that exact same question again and we are not allowed to answer with I’m OK or I’m good. Let me go again – I’m not OK”, proceeding to share how worn-out I felt after a tense week full of problems with no quick resolution, and how sometimes, I’d catch myself counting down the days to the weekend. 

As if by magic, both colleagues returned the favor, launching into full throttle open-hearted monologues about their recent, and far more monumental struggles than mine. 

  • Teleporter #1, a fast-talking, animated senior people leader shared she was still reeling after discovering someone she loosely encouraged to “have hope and keep the faith” had stopped contemplating suicide after hearing those words of encouragement. Those words were enough.
  • Teleporter #2, a bubbly glass-half-full young manager, shared his struggles to convince one particular teammate in her mid-20s that getting vaccinated was the best way to protect her, and her family against COVID19. As he began to engage deeper with her, he soon discovered the root of her hesitancy stemmed from a recent cancer diagnosis – a discovery she was holding painfully close to her chest, and had not shared with anyone else. I could almost feel her fear, disbelief and confusion through his voice.

I was stunned. Embarrassed by how small my struggles felt next to some others. Floored by the intimate sharing that happens the moment you put away that knee-jerk “I’m OK” response all of us use so regularly. While the days, weeks and months of this lockdown will blur together in a cocktail of routines, calendar invites, sunrises, sunsets, food deliveries and daily case numbers, the memory of this brief exchange on a forgettable Friday afternoon will linger.

The lesson is obvious, as I was reminded – everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. 

A lot has been said about the impact of the pandemic on mental health, loneliness and struggles with getting by. We even celebrated R U OK Day and World Suicide Prevention Day this month. We’ve been taught to be kind from the moment we learned to talk. 

But perhaps a practical way we can do better is to accept that “I’m not OK” just might be an OK way to start a conversation. Try it for size sometime?

Oh, and I still made it on time for my next call. Be kinder, everyone. 

Continuing a tradition, here are the top 3 things I came across this month:

  • What Patrick OShaughnessy learned from interviewing 300 of the best business guests for his podcast (spot #5?): twitter thread
  • What US open finalist Layla Fernandez (she’s 19! Half-Filipino) said on-court after losing: Youtube
  • How 9-cent Taxi Rides in Rural South Korea pay off: New York Times

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