How to Pretend Everything’s Fine, When it’s Not
Every day, considerate bosses take the time to ask their staff, especially those that may seem a little broody, how things are going, not just at work, but at home, in life.
It’s their way of making sure your mental health is ok and gauge how much your stress at home is affecting your work.
I know they come from a place of genuine human concern and I would never insinuate that they don’t care, it’s usually apparent that they just really don’t want to know the entire truth. We inherently know that. We know that bearing our soul, telling the raw details is directly going to affect our employment status — anything we mention about our current state of affairs is going to pop in their minds whenever they consider us, our work, our promotions and potential in the future.
Minds highlight negatives over positives, it’s scientifically proven. So, when our boss asks, out of concern — “how ARE you?”, our spider-senses know it’s time to brighten the picture. Maybe open up a little to show authenticity, but sugar-coating the truth is usually the best practice.
My general consensus of this situation is to never treat your employer’s “open office” as a psychiatrists couch. This moment of truth can define your position, it can directly affect your success in the company and your future. As tempting as it is to be vulnerable (the trendy mechanism for self-growth these days) unless your boss has gone all the way in sharing their truth, and then, STILL then, carefully consider the environment and how you want this meeting to go.
I was asked this question on a particularly grueling week… it was probably showing in my face. Working in a small startup software company, I sat down in a meeting with my boss after my initial 3 months of working. The strains in my face were probably showing — here’s what my REAL world was facing that week.
My four kids were feeling deep loneliness and sadness as the realities set in after we had moved them away from their friends and life on the east coast of Canada, uprooted their lives and planted them in a new school, new home, and new everything and it wasn’t as glamorous as they imagined. It was raining (as per usual). My husband hadn’t gotten work yet and was extremely frustrated about that, our funds were drying up quickly, we got news of old business debts etc. that caused the inevitable requirement of claiming bankruptcy. Yes, that week we had realized bankruptcy was unavoidable. Our outrageous Vancouver rent was due in 5 days, my new position pay was not even covering our family groceries. I was researching how to get food from food banks. I had no clue on how we were going to get by, deeply concerned about asking family for help due to the deep childhood conditioning causing shame to admit about not earning or having enough money. And to top off all these concerns in my swirling mommy mind, working in a new career, new office, new life — LICE showed up. Lice in my own hair, my teenage girls, both with waist length beautiful locks, my son with his new sleepover friends. Lice bugs crawling all over us, drilling in the depths of feeling overwhelmed in this situation. The night before the meeting, I had been standing in Wal-Mart, figuring out how I could afford the $40 solution to treat all our hair. It had to be bought, we could survive on banana’s, rice and beans, we couldn’t survive with infestations ruling our heads and bodies.
That’s what I was feeling. That’s what was swimming around under my carefully straightened hair and small attempts to look slightly professional — makeup and ironed up second-hand clothes. As much as I was bravely showing up every morning with an optimistic attitude, a smile and genuine care for everyone in the office, I was one of the only women there as well, I had taken on the role of office pep talker to a tee even though deep inside I was craving a pep talker for me. Someone to share my inner burdens, pat my hand and tell me everything was going to be all right.
The wave that hit me, to sit there and have that question asked after the regular job update, “So, Mia, How ARE You doing? How’s it going at home?” And my truths flooded me… the full force of my overwhelm….and then fear.
Knowing I couldn’t share my truth. Knowing it would shock him, scared it would shade my reputation, chances for growth, his opinion of me. I’d only been there 3 months. I needed this job more than anything. I had to hold this ground.
That burn behind my eyes, that deep inhale, sharp pain in my throat, as I swallowed my truth. “I’m fine, I’ve been learning a lot…It’s been an interesting week… my kids are a little busy…”
And then a little tear escaped. Damn it damn it, why??!!
He prompted.. are you sure?
I paused, and then a little white lie slipped out… it seemed so much easier. “I had a really hard conversation this morning, my friend, she’s going through a hard time. She lost someone close”
That seemed to be enough. He relaxed, offered support, I was relieved of my truth-sharing duties. There wasn’t more he needed to take on. My shoulders tingled, my skin started to perspire, the heat in my chest started to spread. I needed to leave.
The tears hit full on when I closed the bathroom stall, free flowing as I felt all the stresses that had been sitting just under my surface. Thank goodness for seawalls, wind and walking breaks. Fresh air and deep breaths are therapy. I dried those tears, applied fresh makeup, sang an internal cheery tune and headed back to my desk.
Thankful for my recovery. Sad I couldn’t be honest and truthful but knew that I had preserved that moment a little. Maybe I could get through this.
I also knew I did need support. I needed someone to talk to — just not him. Not my boss, who even though I know he cared for my well being, he ultimately hired me for my for my productivity. He had an investment in me, and there was no way for him to be partial.
We bring our whole selves to work, our hours outside of the office do affect our performance, and mental health and well-being are incredibly important. I’m a huge advocate for professional support, for safe places to share, for raw honesty on what’s happening and every person deserves to be heard. Really heard and helped and supported in every situation.
Share your pearls, just sometimes you need to consider who you’re sharing them with.