In my second podcast episode, I interviewed the Painter Tonja, and in our wide-ranging conversation, I came across a concept that she called “being ok with not being ok“.

If you want to listen to the full episode, click here to check it out.

The initiator was that we discussed a question about our future self.

The question was “If your 60-year-old self could travel back in time, what kind of advice would they give yourself?

And one of the things that we would tell us would be, that our future self would give it to ourselves straight, no bullshit or lies attached.

Most people have this idealistic perception of their future life, where they will arrive at a place, where all of their problems will be taken care of, where there is no pain, no hardship, and no suffering.  The idea that you will get everything you ever dreamed of and that you will burst with happiness each and every day is, in our opinion, bullshit.

Of course, you need to have a dream that is so compelling that it gets you motivated enough to do hard things, but expecting that in your future, that pain will be an unfamiliar condition is unrealistic.

Nobody gets out of this human thing unscarred, physically or emotionally.  Being ok with not being ok is a skill that describes you coming to terms that being human means to go through some shit from time to time, and to be cool with it.

Acknowledging that no matter what we do, life is going to suck from time to time is, in my opinion, a keystone habit for happiness.

To not have the idea that we have to be happy 24/7, that it is ok to feel pain, to feel sad, to be unmotivated sometimes, to fail and to have shitty days is essential in my opinion.

Finding beauty, a muse, and meaning in hardship and suffering is one of the skills that are most essential when it comes to overcoming difficult situations.  If you have not already, please click here to check out my book review on Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Because this book will teach you how to find meaning in suffering and hardship.

Give Your Emotions Space

When I interviewed people in psychiatric facilities, I spotted a pattern in dealing with pain and discomfort: Avoidance.

People who seem to fall into despair when confronted with hardships either want their painful emotions to stop, or are actively doing everything they can to hide from their feelings.

When I worked with them, they often asked: “Please take these emotions away, I can’t take it anymore”.

And every time they asked me if things were going to get better, I said yes, they would.  In retrospect, I think this was a lie on my part.

Things are not going to get less painful; it is that we get stronger.

No matter what you do, how much money you have, where you come from, life is going to hit your in your fucking face from time to time.

You will feel tired, and things are going to be hard, people you love will stop loving you, family members you cherish will die, you will lose a job that you care about, you will eventually lose your health and your life.  Sorry to break this to you, but there no need for you having a pity party because everybody deals with stuff.

A big part of accepting that things are going to suck is to internalise that it will not stop us from moving forward from growing, from overcoming things.  Resilience is like a muscle; in my opinion, the more we use it, the tougher we get.

But aiming to be a mechanical person that is free from pain is so not going to work folks.  All emotions have their place.  When you lose a person who was dear to you, it is normal to grieve, even necessary.

It does not mean that you are weak.  It shows that you have an enormous capacity to love and to feel connections.  Neglecting and avoiding undesired emotions will only lead to undesired behaviours.  Being ok with not being ok means that you make peace with suffering from time to time.

Being ok with not being ok means that you are moving forward no matter what, even if you have to take a small time out, you will get your ass back in the game and grow through everything that life is throwing in your direction.

An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Being Ok With Not Being Ok

So what happens if you are not ok with being not ok?  If you do not want to have certain emotions?

I believe that the ability to stay in aversive states, to deal with pain and not run from it is a very good predictor to see if someone is going to live a happy life eventually.

Everybody can have a happy day if the sun is shining, money is coming in, and life is just floating in the right direction.  But acting despite circumstances is what helps you to overcome stuff.  To say yes, this is hard, and I do not want to do it, but I do it anyway is what enables us to change the narrative and puts us in our power place.

And this changes everything.

I believe that if you are reading this, whoever you are, you are going through something right now because we all are.  We all have an internal fight that nobody knows about.

For me, I have a hard time right now dealing with the idea that I am going to lose my father soon.  For you, it might be that you have to deal with a breakup, or that you have a job that you hate.

Being ok with not being ok enables you to act even when the conditions are not right.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

It means that you if you want to work out and it is raining outside, and you are tired, that you do not get back in bed, but that you grab your rain jacket and go any way.

In our society, we are conditioned to stop at the first sign of discomfort.  I recently investigated the habits of Josh Waitzkin, and I wrote a book review about his bestseller The Art Of Learning, click here to check it out, and he made a beautiful point in an interview with Tim Ferris about parenting.

We are conditioned to teach our kids that when it is raining, it is bad weather, and we should not go out.  Josh made it a habit with his son to celebrate every storm.  Every time there is a snow or rain storm, he goes out with his son and dances.  In order to teach his son that success is not dependent on perfect outside conditions.

This, to me, has a deep application for life.  Everybody can be happy when our needs are being met; when everybody is healthy; when we have enough money and peace around us.

Being happy despite things happening around us is a completely different challenge.

Being ok with not being ok means to thrive even in chaos or discomfort.

Final Words

If you are reading this, and you are going through a rough stretch, it is key to understand that you are going to feel like this for a time.  If something sucks, it is ok to go to your room and cry.  But being ok with not being ok means that you give even your undesired emotions, like grief a space to be.

If you do not do that, you will have not only undesired emotions but also undesired behaviours.

If you read this, I challenge you to look for patterns in your behaviour that are born out of avoidance and not out of inspiration.

For me, this is often overworking, distracting myself, or numbing my soul with addictive habits.

If you find those patterns, ask yourself “What am I avoidingWhat am I running away from?  And most importantly, is it working?

I believe we all have things we want to run away from.  Facing the very things that you fear often reveals that at the end of your emotions, there is nothing.  That the thing that you were avoiding is not that bad.

And even if you need a break from the pain, you are in charge of choosing what coping mechanism you choose.  You can get a break from your problems by getting completely smashed on a Friday, and sacrifice your health for a break from your problems.  But you also have the choice to get a break from your problems by doing sports, meditation, writing, and talking about what burdens you with other people.  The choice is up to you.

Being ok with not being ok means that if you are faced with unchangeable difficulties, that you focus on what you can control.  And you can always control your perspective.

Thank you for reading.

You are not alone.


Call to Action

Here is some homework for you. It's your turn now!
  1. Write down for 5 minutes everything that burdens you.
  2. Write three behaviours that you have that are bad coping mechanisms
  3. Write three behaviours that you have that are healthy coping mechanisms
  4. Write down three of your past failures, that later turned out to be a resource.
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