Don’t be uncomfortable

When you are going through a major life crisis – like a layoff – people tend to walk on eggshells around you.

Because they are uncomfortable.

I stopped at Mr. Hustle’s office to say hello to him on one of my last assignments and as we talked I said hello to a colleague of his, who was polite, but there was a strange tension in the air. I knew why.

“Well,” I said in the lobby, “aren’t you going to offer some condolences?”

Silence. I sensed the fear. “Come on,” I said. “I’m killing the elephant in the room here.”

He came over and admitted it to me. “It’s uncomfortable. And I’m sorry that you lost your job.”

“I know it is. But it’s not your fault, and it’s not my fault. But I don’t want you to feel awkward around me because of something that neither of us can control.”

It broke a lot of the tension between the colleague – someone whom I consider a good person who is passionate about his work and will fight for his coworkers – and we had a good conversation about what was on the horizon for both of us.

A lot of newspapers have a staffer write an obituary each day in the form of a news story. It’s a commemoration of someone’s life, and the recording of some of the memories of the people whose lives they touched. You’d think it would be the hardest thing for a reporter to do, but I’ve met obit writers who are caring and compassionate and want to memorialize a person properly and objectively. Sometimes they are one of the few people whom a person can talk to when they are grieving.

So don’t cower in fear of the uncomfortableness that may come with someone in the midst of a life crisis – a divorce, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, losing a home. Ask them how they are. Ask them if you can help in any way, even just to talk over a beer or to take a walk.

You cannot save their house, help them get their job back or bring back their loved ones. But you can be empathetic and sympathetic. More often than not, people want to talk about it. They want to emote. They want to feel. And they want someone to listen to them.

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