There were a number of classes I took in college that stuck with me. Classes that enabled some form of revelation or another. Classes that provided insight and awareness. But there was one class that echoes across my mind with lessons that re-emerge when I need them most. It was part acting class, part self-awareness seminar. The professor was an actor and a legend within his field. He’d worked for the UN and travelled the world. He’d put on plays in Mexico City and filmed in Cuba long before the embargo was lifted. I really admired this teacher. He was what I wanted to be. He was an artist. His class emphasized the exploration of our own internal truth and he pushed us into realms of emotion and sincerity that I’d previously not desired access to. His lessons have been resurfacing in me as of late as I wind through another cycle of disappointment and hope, of trying and learning. However, it was something that he taught me long after the semester had ended that sticks with me the most.
It was a year after I had last seen him and despite the thought that we had formed a strong connection I hadn’t spoken to or reached out to him in the 365 days prior. One night I got a phone call. He was on the other line. Our conversation was brief on his accord and all he really said was “I’m calling from Mexico but I’ll be in Colorado next week. Would you like to grab coffee?” I replied, “Of Course,” and waited for next week’s arrival. I mean I really considered this guy to be a mentor of mine, whether he knew that or not, and I was at the tail end of my senior year terrified of what I was going to become or what the hell I was going to do. I needed guidance. I needed someone to tell me that it was all going to be great. I needed to be reassured that my plight in life wasn’t foolish.
When we met for coffee he asked me how I was feeling and I simply replied, “I’m fine.” His response dictated the remaining hour of our conversation and has fundamentally altered the way I view and interact in the world. As is true for all lessons, I forget it from time to time and need to remind myself of this fundamental belief. I told him I was fine and he told me “Fine’s not a feeling. It’s a grain of sandpaper. How are you FEELING?”
Now that realization shook me, I was so convinced that when someone asks me how I am that they aren’t interested in the truth; They are interested in the pleasantry. Sometimes that’s the case, but I really believe that you need to answer that basic question with the God’s-Honest-Capital-T: Truth. There should be no shame in admitting that you’re tired or down or overwhelmed. And there should be no shame in explaining why you feel that way.
If a person asks that question and doesn’t want to hear that you’re tired because you were up all night trying to figure out what you were going to say to your boss in a meeting the next day or that you’re frustrated with yourself because you can’t quite find the right words, well that’s on them. Perhaps it’s a symptom of our increasingly detached society. Perhaps we go through the motions because that’s what we’re “Supposed to do.” But it’s so massively harmful in the development of true connection that it’s very easy to posit that perhaps doing what we think we’re supposed to do is only adding to that societal isolation.
Furthermore, by being honest about our emotional state (no matter how trivial it may seem) it grants us a better understanding of who we are internally. For example, I recently started journaling again. The first few weeks were lists of things I did basically. Reminders that those events actually occurred. However, as I’ve grown more comfortable in writing to myself I’ve found those entries have shifted from a breakdown of the day to day activities towards revelations about my own emotional state. I find myself discovering cause and effect. Seeing what triggers my frustration or what triggers my sadness or what triggers my happiness. I’ve developed an evolving manual for how to be me. It’s a powerful tool and although I’m in the early stages of reconnecting with the man I want to be, I feel as if I’ve summited peaks and can look back over my former self proudly. And that feels… good. It feels really good. The journey to decipher your inner-self can be harrowing but massively rewarding.
Now there are those that don’t care about how you’re feeling. They don’t care that you feel disappointed in yourself because you’re twenty-four years old and you think back to where your 16-year-old thought you’d be and you’re not quite there. But that’s their problem. It isn’t yours. Pleasantries be damned. When I ask people “How they’re feeling?” It’s because I really want to know. I won’t call you out for saying, “Fine” or “Okay,” but know that I wouldn’t mind hearing about something deeper and that desire rings true for most people. As I mentioned above, our emotional state dictates everything in life: How we interact with people, what food we want to eat, what music we listen to, etc. And those are just surface level effects. But if you’re feeling sad or lonely or through-the-cosmos excited about your significant other coming over for lunch, then you shouldn’t be afraid to tell people that when they ask.
You’ll start to understand what causes your happiness and you’ll be able to control it. You’ll be able to comprehend your sadness and work to resolve it. You’ll be able to be you. It’s not easy and it’s not a cure-all but it’s a start towards a better life and that means something. At the very least remind yourself daily that “Fine” is not a feeling, it’s a grain of sandpaper.