I struggled last week. Not sure why. Yes, I’m under a lot of pressure, but that’s by choice, and not anything new. Maybe I was worn down from a month of travel. I don’t know.
Whatever the reason, it was a dark week personally. I had tried to keep a smile up at home, which failed miserably—my wife is incredibly insightful and nearly impossible to BS, and moreover, everyone in the house could tell I was hiding something. I could see it in their searching eyes and in the way the corners of their mouths seemed to hesitate when trying to smile.
So when my wife asked me to come clean, I made a decision to answer her honestly.
I tried to name the emotion that had been plaguing me.
I felt the knot in my stomach… let my concentration move up to the rings around my eyes… experienced the tiredness in my bones…
I waited a moment to see what emotion it was… self-doubt jumped to mind, but that clearly wasn’t it—I’ve never felt more confident about my business. I sat another few moments. Tried on different labels to see which would fit.
Anger… sadness… longing… melancholy… bitterness… jealousy…
None fit. Until…
Aw… crap. I’ve got my wife looking at me, wanting me to be her rock, to tell her everything with my fledgling business is going well. I’ve committed to telling her the truth about what’s causing my rotten week. And I’ve realized: I’m afraid.
Now what the hell do I do?!
I don’t know what I’m afraid of or why at this point. All I know is, I’m feeling fear, I’m in a conversation about my feelings, and the person I’m talking to is the last person I want knowing my feelings.
That moment helped me understand a lot of things. Why marriages fall apart, for one. Why people drink to excess, run away from their problems, have affairs, and do whatever they possibly can to hide from the truth. Because looking someone in the eye and saying I’m afraid is no picnic.
That moment also helped me understand why I married this woman, and why she married me. Because the other thing I understood in that moment is everything that would follow if I lied—what I’d have to shoulder, what she’d have to shoulder, the lies we’d have to tell to protect the first one, and the whole spiral from there—I saw it as clear as if I’d lived it. Which made the truth not the hardest thing to say, but the easiest.
I named my emotion. I feel fear.
She asked me what she could do.
She asked me what I wanted.
Security. A guarantee. Someone to tell me it all be all right. The ability to tell you it’ll be all right, so you can have security, without having you see through me.
That would be nice, she said.
Then something incredible happened. The fear unwound. As we talked, all the things that have been stressing me out—my unfinished to do list items—reappeared to me as steps toward certainty.
And I was already taking them.
The fear couldn’t stand up even to a conversation about it.
She was sitting on a cigar chair opposite mine, with her foot over the armrest. Though she didn’t say it, I could see that she had relaxed a little, too. We were on the same team. I gave her foot a little squeeze and smiled, the first honest smile I’d shown her in a week.
Everything’s gonna be all right.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.