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  • James McNeil

It's okay to not be okay, but why?

“It’s okay to not be okay.”

When I first heard those words, my reaction was to agree. “I can admit I’m not okay, and that’s the first step to healing.” And while these words are true, they demonstrated that I missed something in the quote. I wanted to focus on the “being okay” aspect of life. I thought that if I just admitted I was not okay, then I would be able to be okay.

Then life didn’t happen that way.

Take my current job. In addition to sharing uplifting messages through here and through Finding Your Personal Mission (available on Amazon and Audible!) I am also employed in a call center. I make calls to prospective I.T. students and connect them with admissions counselors. During a typical day, I make around two hundred calls. Much less than one fourth of those calls are answered, and around half of those end up with an appointment. As a result, I deal with rejection quite a bit.


While making calls, I’ve had people respond with cursing, say they weren’t interested, call my employer a scam, or just hang up the phone. If they hang up before they say anything, it’s referred to as a pick up/ hang up, which happens quite a bit.

One day recently, I had an extremely challenging day. Throughout the day, I had more people say “don’t contact me again” or respond by cursing than I’d dealt with in a week during my tenure before. I barely set any schedules, and the ones I did schedule did not lift my spirits as they normally did. I was down.

I mentioned this to my leadership, and their response was what they thought would help. “Chin up! This won’t last. You’ll be doing fine in no time!”

This sounds like excellent advice, but it conveyed a very different meaning to me. They wanted me to be "okay" so I could be effective on the job. There's nothing wrong with that, since I am there to do a job, but what I heard was that I needed to be okay "right now" and just get over it. The unintentional message that I received was that I needed to be okay to have any value to them or the business. Was this what they meant? I doubt it. But that's the way it came across.

That’s when I fully realized the meaning of the words, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I needed to take time. I needed to process. And most importantly, I needed to NOT rush the journey to being “okay” again.

Don’t get me wrong. Staying in the “not okay” state when you can move on is just as disastrous. Choosing to stay in your pain will do nothing but make things worse, but don’t rush the journey out. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not healed yet. It’s okay to not be okay. Grow and heal at your own pace.

As we face the epidemic of suicide, we deal with things like stress, anxiety, and depression. Veterans deal with survivor's guilt, PTSD and many other things as well. When we offer the empty words, "You'll be fine," we are not helping. Instead of rushing those suffering through the healing, we need to sit down with them and help them.

When I was dealing with the latest challenging day, what helped was not the words of the leadership, but the words of a coworker who said, "It's okay. Breathe. You can do this" before going on to (metaphorically at least) sit with me and let me process what was going on.

That's what we need to do. Do you know someone dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression? Don't show up acting as though you have all the answers. Show up and say, "I'm here. I'm not leaving. And it's okay not to be okay. Let me help you."

Rome wasn't built in a day, and healing doesn't happen in a day. While we heal, we still need to be loved and accepted for who we are. When we can do that, we can fully understand the phrase, "It's okay to not be okay."

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