We're All Okay


When I was still waiting tables and hadn’t yet sold anything I dreaded that question adults ask one another at parties: “So what do you do?” If I said I was a writer they’d ask what I’d published, and I’d have to explain, which I honestly couldn’t. And if I told them I was a waiter I was frequently met with a look of confusion and pity. Fair or not, waiting tables was nearly synonymous with failure or a conspicuous lack of ambition.

The question always confounded me for two reasons. First there was my ego. My ego absolutely hated this question. This question was like sunlight to a vampire for my ego. I didn’t know how to hide my shame within its bright spotlight. So I would either deflect or puff myself up, talking about the book I was writing that was bound to sell though in truth I felt very little confidence in that direction.

But there was something else that confused me just as much. I sensed that whoever asked this question wanted the answer to reassure them that I was going to be okay, that I was leading a life I was interested in leading, that things were working out for me, that I could go to bed content each night. I felt I owed them such an answer because, in truth, I did feel like I was okay. I did go to bed content most nights, though that contentment had nothing whatsoever to do with any achievement. I didn’t understand the contentment when I felt it, but I couldn’t deny it either. Yet how frustrating that I couldn’t express it, that I still believed that you couldn’t say you were okay without some evidence why.

I can’t remember the last time someone asked me what I did. I suspect this is because I began to make peace with the unexplainable, unconditional contentment – began, in fact, to write from it, rather than hoping writing would bring me to it. It’s a good practice. It’s easy for me to look at someone, anyone, and think, “You’re okay exactly as you are.” Then they start talking, and they often suggest they aren’t okay, and I have to decide if I believe what I see or what they’re telling me. To answer that for anyone is to answer it for everyone, including me.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.