What’s the first thing we say to each other, when something goes wrong? What’s the first thing we say when the world gets turned upside down, when all of the shit and the tough times and the breakdowns come?
We say, “it’s alright.”
And that’s a default reaction, it’s the first thing that comes out of our mouths, often. It’s the only assurance we can think of, and the only way we often know how to respond to awful things that seem so far out of our control or influence.
“It’s alright.” Or its alternative, “It’s going to be okay.”
But in the end, a great many things never turn out alright. A great many things just aren’t okay. And saying they are, trying to fool ourselves and the people who need us into believing that it’s all a blip on the radar, it’ll all be sorted out — that’s not helping.
Do you know why?
We know it’s just not true.
People don’t want to hear that everything is alright, when they know — deeply and painfully — that it isn’t. They don’t want to be lied to, even if it’s in the nicest way possible.
All they want is for us to be near. Be open. Be awake and willing to listen. Be patient. Be understanding. And most of all, to just be there. Because the greatest gift you can ever give to someone who is mourning a tragedy, a business disaster, anything — is to ensure that they aren’t alone.
That’s why people in a time of crisis often scream out for help or for companionship. It’s not because they want the rest of the world to solve their problems; they understand that nobody has a magic wand. It’s because they want the simple comfort of knowing that they do not walk in isolation, when they’re in need.
But it doesn’t work, because we don’t want our pain to be minimised.
Because that’s what happens, when we’re told it’s alright. We feel like we’re over reacting, because if everything really is alright — we ask, why are we feeling so much pain, and what is the root and the cause of it, and are we even entitled to our pain?
We want the enormity of our disasters to be recognised by the people around us, so that we know that what we feel isn’t a trick of our hearts and our minds — it’s a reality. And it sucks, and it’s acceptable to feel like it sucks.
The world really does go on. Even if it’s changed forever. Even if it’s broken us.
It does. And sooner or later, no matter what our struggle is, we start to understand that. And sooner or later, things do feel as alright as they ever can, without ever being the same. Life finds a way, in every nightmare, and life keeps on going. But the way we get there is long and hard, and we need other people to be patient and to walk with us, in silence if need be.
I remember in one of the roughest periods of my life, when it felt as though more things were ending than could ever begin again — I was floundering and struggling and I could barely keep my head above water.
Here’s one thing I can give to you as a promise.
“I’m not going to say it’s alright, because I know it’s not. And it might never be. But I’m always going to be here, whether you like it or not, to make the best of it, even if that’s not much. I promise.”
Yes, I’m scared right now. I’m honestly terrified. But just a few months ago, I was happier than I ever thought possible. And that’s what I’m going to hang onto. I have been through things that seemed insurmountable. I have been through things by recognising that they just weren’t alright. And they weren’t okay.
If your startup fails? It’s not alright. But I hope you can get through it.
If your freelance career bombs? It’s not alright. But I hope you can get through it.
If your relationship comes to an end? It’s not alright. But I hope you can get through it.
If you lose a loved one? It’s not alright.
But I hope you can get through it.
I hope we all do.
People’s lives fall apart in a splinter of a second, their dreams get destroyed, they discover that their bodies have been hiding a disease that’s only getting worse.
Businesses fail, and products crash, and people who love other people get their hearts broken, and people who would give anything to succeed wait for their ships to come in long after they’ve lost the strength or the energy to do anything about it.
But I hope we can get through it.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.