“Hands up if you’re perfect”, I ask the group. No hands go up. Given a moment to reflect, we may all sense we could be better colleagues, clients, associates.
But many of us suffer from what I call the “Myth of Okayness”. How’s work going?“It’s OK”. How are you doing? “I’m doing OK”, “Fine”, “Reasonable”, “So-so”. With a trusted friend you might be extreme and say “It’s terrible, I’m failing”, but you wouldn’t share that widely.
The thing about the Myth of Okayness is we often feel it’s not true. Inside there’s a struggle. When what-we-feel and what-we-say are misaligned, there’s tension. We may hope we’re doing better than OK, and say we’re doing OK, while fearing we’re doing less than OK.
We hope others won’t sense that fear, worrying that if they did we’d be excluded, even fired. Hiding can look like the only tenable strategy. Nervous in my early career, I held tightly to the view that I was doing OK, and when that didn’t feel true, would try to make it look as tho it was. Not-being-OK felt like it would be the end of everything. Occasionally I owned up. Having acted without authority in my second job, the client called and said “Who did this?” Nervously cradling the office phone I said “I did it”. His aggression dissipated. That was unusual.
But we don’t have to hide. We could admit mistakes. In my own case, I can be inconsiderate. In admitting my lack of consideration I could start to transcend it. Without an admission, even to myself, I’m likely to stay trapped, as what I deny remains mine.
Admitting weakness is more real. It helps to form more honest relationships. If I’m not pretending and you’re not pretending, we might actually connect. In a team context, being honest with one another is invaluable.
Something more may be needed: in my view, you are absolutely and completely OK, whether or not we’ve met. You are perfect in your imperfection, so there’s nothing you have to prove. And this remains true even if – like me – you sometimes make a hash of things. Like most myths, the Myth of Okayness turns out to have a kernel of truth. Here it is: we’re truly, deeply OK.
Some say I’m wise, I can be foolish. Either way, there’s no need to pretend. I’m, err, free.
Categories: Living and Leading