'No, I'm Not Fine. Thanks For Asking.'
Written by Ali Slutsky
No, I’m not fine. Thanks for asking.
My story isn’t unique, or new. In fact, it might be the most common thing. It’s something we all go through at least once in our lives: heartbreak. When it comes to working while heartbroken it’s always been this thing we don’t talk about. It shows a weakness and you certainly don’t talk about in a professional setting. Can you imagine if someone asked you how you were and you said, "not good. I just miserably had my heart broken and I didn't even see it coming. But sure, let’s set up a call to discuss next steps on the campaign. I promise, my head is totally in the game. Nothing at all is distracting me.”
What is it about heartbreak that makes time slow to a snail's pace? After all the times I've needed more hours in a day, to finish something when your heart is broken seems like time can't go by quick enough.
This summer, and still today if I am being honest, I experienced a heartbreak of the gut‐wrenching variety. The one where you finally let go of all the skepticism, accept the love you’ve been given, give the love back and then in one fail swoop—the rug is pulled out from under you and it’s over. I was angry with myself for letting go of the skepticism. I felt like I should have known better. And then the devastation sunk in.
There are so many things to say about heartbreak (so many more blog entries), like how one part of society tells us women aren’t supposed to display devastating emotions (or emotions in general) in the workplace; you know because of hysteria. Another part tells me that my behavior should read ‘I am woman, hear me roar!’ As I blast Beyoncé on repeat and smash cars and shit. Neither of those versions really fit my narrative. While I began dealing with the loss, the world kept turning and my responsibilities weren’t fading from view. As I like to say, I wanted to “Rip Van Winkle myself” aka, sleep through the emotional pain.
But the world turned. I still had an office and employees to manage, clients to service and a responsibility to you know, get my shit together. Staying motivated to do all that plus grieve, felt like an impossible maze I needed to navigate. One surprising thing that helped me through this maze was completely accidental. Much of my work is spent networking at lunch/dinner/happy hour meetings; all in social, public settings. Many people I meet with regularly are professional friends. The type where you know some things about their personal lives, but for the most part you interact on a professional level. I’ve sat opposite people in the last few months and as they asked me how I was, I couldn’t tell the white lie, of “everything is great!” I literally couldn’t – the words would not come out of my mouth. Instead, I decided to be completely honest as I said, “not great ‐ a very important relationship to me just ended without notice and I’m devastated.” And then my eyes would inevitably well up with tears.
I felt embarrassed at first and vulnerable, not to mention unprofessional. Then a surprising thing happened, 100% of the time I was met with empathy and understanding from every single person.
I began leaning into my truth of the moment, even though it meant going against everything I was taught about how I was supposed to behave and act professionally. The truth gave people around me some context and forced me to be honest with myself simultaneously. It was freeing in a way that helped me realize that other things were still happening to me (hello meetings, conference calls, etc.) and that lying about everything was fine was really just to sidestep any awkwardness and how it would make the other person feel. I had to remind myself, and this is a lesson to anyone feeling emotionally bereft, that putting myself first was literally helping me move forward. It’s one of those things that seems so obvious but isn’t until someone else says so.
I found myself asking, ‘why?’ Why do we lie to others? Lie to ourselves whenever everything just isn’t right. In the turbulent times of the world right now, seeing people's reactions as I told them that everything was the opposite of fine for me personally, it gave me a renewed faith in humanity. The kindness and understanding I was met with fulfilled me in a way that my heart was missing. To no one’s surprise, kindness and compassion goes a long way!
Today I still vacillate between days when I feel normal and productive and days that feel like I’m just stuck. I then worry being stuck reflects in my output at work and I get into a cycle of worry. I wish I had a perfect formula on how to heal, or how to get back to that performance level that doesn’t leave you anxious at the office, but I don’t. Sometimes I compartmentalize to get through tougher parts and while that certainly doesn’t work for everyone, it does for me. What I do know is that it’s ok to not be fine. It’s ok to tell people that. While it’s important not to forget your priorities, it’s equally as important to give yourself a break. Be kind. Treat yourself to the empathy that others show you when telling the truth. You’re human, your heart breaks. It also heals.
Ali Slutsky is the partner and co-founder of Resplendent Hospitality, a PR, marketing and social media agency in Austin, TX. Ali is a Chicago native who came to Austin on a whim in 2007 by drawing the city out of a hat. A lover of the literary world, she studied Arthurian literature in college and has read “Le Morte d'Arthur” cover to cover multiple times. Currently on her nightstand is Michael Pollan’s “How To Change Your Mind,” Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” She loves to travel, drinks black coffee, owns a shiba inu named Quinn and was the lead Russian dancer in her ballet company’s production of The Nutcracker in high school. Guilty pleasures include true crime podcasts, binging on foreign crime dramas on Netflix and rainbow sprinkles. A self-proclaimed lover of love, funky wines and instrumental music, her current Spotify artist of the moment is Ludovico Einaudi. Follow her on Insta @alislutsky and her company @resplendagram