“Everything Will Be Okay.” What Does That Really Mean?
Will everything be okay? It’s common for us to want to hear that everything is going to be okay. My three sons turn to me or their dad seeking those words. Perhaps, right before a fall or two. We’ll say it and then cuddle. Yet, telling me that everything is going to be okay in my past did not make me feel any better. A very memorable moment for me was when I was a law school student studying in a now-defunct (i.e. B&N’s fate didn’t turn out to be okay?!?)Barnes & Noble store when a stranger told me: “Everything is going to be okay.”
At the time, “okay” would have meant that I would have graduated law school with high honors and become a kickass advertising lawyer making a quarter-of-a-million dollars at least. Is that the “okay” he was referring to? Turns out: no. The okay that manifested in my real life included me quitting law school and wandering around NYC trying to figure out what the heck was going to be my most authentic career. The wandering was actually really okay but that one-semester tuition bill was not okay amigo.
Looking back at that moment, I would have enjoyed yelling at the guy. I would have said: Look man, what the heck do you know about what is okay to me? Seriously, is my “okay” neatly defined on my forehead? Who do you think you are some freakin sage mindreader in Lincoln Center? All of that was running through my mind then but I only said: “thank you.” So that was one “okay” that didn’t turn out to be my original definition of “okay.” I likely have several others but here’s just one more for good measure.
Ultimately with this piece, my intention is that you see that saying to someone that things are going to be “okay” may not be enough. We might all have to think a little harder when we seek to break that fourth wall with strangers who look like they are stressing out (or hurting).
Later on, as a graduate student at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, I recall the summer before year-one (i.e. this is Australian for my first-year). I was on a flight from Newark to Cincinnati (epic flight, I know yet with this pandemic it doesn’t sound so bad anymore? It might actually be “okay”). I was studying like my life depended on it for a series of job interviews for an internship with P&G. My foldable snack table on that flight was filled with papers of my pre-interview homework. I was down with P&G’s values, business priorities, and clearly every single job interview question I could imagine them asking me. All of this was on my snack table. Chances are not even a bag of salty nuts (side note: bare with me as I explore cheeky language where it doesn’t need to appear) could fit on that table. And then it happened again…
A random on-looker tells me: “wow, it’s all going to be okay.” I think that stranger even went as far as asking me what I was prepping for. Now that I think about it, given Cincy’s contingency, he probably worked for P&G. Of course, I was very nervous in that moment. My mind ran wildly. In my adorable warm and fuzzy NY way, my mind cynically wanted me to say: Really, sir? What’s makes you think I’m going to nail this Marketing Bootcamp weekend? How do you know I’ll ace every single interview, case study, and past all sniff tests. Clearly, I said none of this. What if this dude worked for P&G? All I did was smile, say: “thank you” and then put my nose back in my notes. Turns out, “okay” in that scenario was very temporary. Yes, I got the marketing internship job offer to work on the Charmin brand! It was historic because it is a multi-billion dollar brand. However, what a summer to forget. Let’s just say that it culminated when I had bed bugs in my summer leased apt in Cincinnati. My legs were ravaged by bed bug bites and my brain was stretched to the limits by toilet paper success metrics. Let’s just say that these ultimate outcomes were NOT my definition of “okay.” Fun fact: the #1 reason why Latinos pick Scott TP over Charmin is because of the out of pocket price…we can buy one roll of Scotts TP and would need more cash to participate in the Charmin family. There my TP IQ has been validated 4eva!
So what can I say about the word: “okay”? Nothing. No one can truly understand what an “okay” outcome is for you (nor me). It’s up to us to define what’s “okay.” If I were to tell you “everything is going to okay,” the reality is that I may be defining “okay” differently than you. My “okay” is not always your okay and vica versa. To add complications to this entire “okay” soliloquy as individuals even our own definition of what is “okay” evolves. Most people and even strangers may say okay to semi-offer their condolences. They are commenting because they can see a strung out person consumed by a test or job interview prep or life moment. Personally, I’d suggest taking those “okays” at face value. Just accept their “okay” in the moment. However, be okay with things turning out a different definition of “okay” than your original intention or plan. Meanwhile, if you ever feel compelled to say: everything is going to be okay why not just ask: if everything is okay? You may get more mileage out of that question. I sure would have appreciated a question rather than a declarative all-knowing statement back then.
I’m a podcaster who interviews guests who are obsessed with their 1000% percent more than “okay” careers. Each one decided that “okay” was not enough for them. I’d invite you to tune in to any of their stories and you tell me if you think their life turned out okay or pretty spectacular?