Whatever you’re feeling is OK, and the work you do is important


sand-937387_960_720 (1)Hi everyone. It’s been a tough week, as you probably have experienced. I’ve been thinking of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, the police officers in Dallas, and all their friends and families. I’ve also been thinking of the hundreds of innocent people killed by bombings in Baghdad and Bangladesh and other places, and the desperate refugees drowned trying to escape war and poverty. Between the horrific videos, the fights on social media, and our own sense of sadness, anger, and helplessness, it just seems that all our strength and efforts just are not sufficient. The tide of injustice is too strong for us to swim in.

I’ve been dreading writing this week’s blog post. Mainly because I have no idea what to say that won’t sound trite. And also, I just wanted to spend some time with my family, feeling once again just how fragile everything is. So, I don’t have any analyses or potential solutions to offer this week; I am not even sure if the rest of this post is going to be coherent. I just want to reaffirm, to you but mainly to myself, that whatever you’re feeling is OK, that the world is not as awful as it seems, and that the work we do is important.

The events of the past few days are horrific, and many of us get into this line of work because we are empathetic by nature. That means that often we will feel things acutely and also absorb others’ emotions like a sponge. In light of all this, we should take a moment to acknowledge:

  • If you’ve been feeling angry, sad, or helpless, all your feelings are valid, and you’re not alone.
  • If you want to do something, but you have no clue what, and you feel like crap, you’re definitely not alone.
  • If you don’t even know what to feel, and you’re just numb or confused, that’s valid too, and you’re not alone.
  • If you’ve been watching the videos obsessively, losing hope in the world, your feelings are valid, and you’re not alone.
  • If you don’t want to watch the videos at all, maybe because you don’t think you can handle it, your feelings are valid, and you’re not alone.
  • If you’ve been frustrated by the lack of civility and thoughtfulness as people talk about these heavy and complex topics, you’re not alone
  • If you want to say something, but you’re afraid it may be taken the wrong way, you’re not alone
  • If you don’t know how to comfort your colleagues, it’s OK, all of us are trying to figure out how to best support eacch other
  • If you fear for the future, your feelings are valid, and you’re not alone
  • If you want to share your stories and thoughts with others, that’s appreciated
  • But if you don’t want to talk about it at work, or on social media, that’s OK too
  • If you’re emotionally exhausted and just want to take a break and maybe re-engage later, that’s OK too
  • If you’re a person of color, and you’re tired of explaining to and comforting allies, your feelings are valid, and you’re not alone.
  • If you’re a white ally, and you’re feeling guilt, confusion, and helplessness, your feelings are valid, and you’re not alone
  • If you made a mistake and said something you didn’t mean, or should have said or did something and you didn’t, it’s OK, you’re not a bad person. Learn and move on. 
  • If you need to take time to process everything, it’s OK to do that
  • If you just want to just focus on your work, that’s OK too
  • If you take comfort by being with others, that’s OK
  • If you cope best by being by yourself, that’s OK too

The world seems awful right now. It’s been hitting a lot of us pretty hard, because for so many of us, so much of our lives is tied to our work of making our community better. And lately it just seems like we’re getting nowhere.

But we can’t give up hope. Despite the suffering and death we witness each day, our work is making the world better. I see it all the time. I am motivated every day by learning about the amazing programs you make possible, and by getting to know the kind of people you are and the kind you inspire others to be: thoughtful and compassionate and hilarious, full of hope and love and joy and creativity and the belief in a world that is possible. Our community is becoming stronger and more beautiful because of you and all you bring to it, even during difficult days when none of us know the answers. We must keep trying, even when we don’t know all the right words or all the right actions, even when we make mistakes. 

Today, as you wake up to face another long week, made longer by the emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual, and existential toll of seeing injustice, remember that your work is lifting up families, creating connections between people, addressing the causes of inequity, preserving our environment, finding and nurturing the good in everyone, and so much more. Your work is making our world safer and happier. And while it often seems like the tides of injustice are too strong and will just wash away our feeble footprints, history can vouch for how the actions of individuals like us, working together, can push back against these forces time and time again. 

You are all awesome, and I am grateful for everything that you do in this complex field of ours. Take care of yourself as you take care of others.

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34 thoughts on “Whatever you’re feeling is OK, and the work you do is important

  1. Tina Cincotti

    Thank you Vu. As always. I most appreciated your honesty in how you felt about writing this. Your words are so important. Especially right now.

  2. Denice Rothman Hinden

    Beautiful caring words that offer love and perspective and remind us to keep going. Thank you!

  3. Ikem Opara

    Vu, thank you for this. Thank you. Thank you. I know I am one of many who needed to hear this today. If you don’t mind, I will share it with my team.

  4. Self Care Magazine

    Thank you for writing this. It was just what I needed to read this morning. It’s been a tough few weeks and a reminder that the work we’re doing is important and we need to keep moving forward was much needed.

  5. Carol Clarke

    Thank you, once again, Vu, for your words of wisdom and compassion. So glad I read this first thing in the office today, it has helped to give me perspective. I do have an issue I would like to address and get thoughts on from my colleagues here, but will leave it for a time when we are feeling stronger. Peace to you.

  6. Tricia Baker

    Please post this for general consumption… I’d like to share it with all my FB pals. You’re the best.

  7. Mary Cahalane

    We’re on the same page, Vu. I wrote a post saying much the same things, but have been holding it back, feeling a little awkward – because it started with just… life.

    Then Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Iraq, Sterling, Castile, Dallas…

    We risk becoming numb. Thank you for leading the way.

  8. Grace Fredrickson

    Thank you, Vu! Validating other people’s (and our own) experience is exactly where we need to start. Thanks so much.

  9. Michelle Newell

    This was absolutely on point this morning, and it almost brought me to tears. Just goes to show how much emotions are pinned up. As a Black woman, the constant barrage of violence in communities – some that I know, others unfamiliar, yet I know them, too, are emotionally draining. On top of that, what’s happening with (and to) the police. I didn’t realize how overwhelming it was until I broke out crying while driving home last Thursday. We have to do better. We must. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. Esther Landau

      I spent all of Friday almost crying. How are we supposed to just go about our business? I was able to take the weekend off out of town and swore off all headlines and social media – this helped a bit. But shit. What a heavy time.

  10. Nicole Balsdon

    This resonated strongly with me this morning. Along with the existential stress of the last few weeks, I’m struggling with personal challenges and it’s just been too much all together. Thanks for writing this – I really appreciate it.

  11. Barb Koumjian

    Thank you, Vu, and all the rest of us who had the energy to respond to Vu’s post this morning. There is hope in the world, created by the being and actions of many people. We are not alone, when we despair, we are lifted by others who hold us in their arms and hearts.

  12. JKoz

    Let’s not forget to support the spouses and children of police officers who now live with greater fear that their husband or mother won’t be coming home from the next shift.

  13. Brenda Hillhouse

    What an uplifting reminder that we are not all going to hell in a hand basket! Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to send this message into the world! You are fabulous!

  14. Patricia Garza

    Just wanted to say I see you Vu and the great work you are doing! Sending out this message was important and to read all the comments is also important. We are all coping and reeling and we should hold each other up!

  15. Amber Mazzei

    Thank you Vu! I think especially in these trying times that we continuously remember to support one another! Give each other words of encouragement. Give a random hug. Thank you for your words today! They are always appreciated!

  16. Dina Elenbaas

    Even from the other side of the world, we feel this, especially as our election drama is finishing up and we’ve voted in the same buttholes we had before. Thank you.

  17. Ron Richings

    When in doubt ‘ Idiot Optimism ‘, one of MAD Magazine’s greater contributions to the world.
    And it’s ok to lose hope-for a little while. Part of a cycle that some of us need to go through as part of refreshing, recommiting and re-engaging in the work that needs to be done.

  18. Dana Rickman

    As others here have already said so beautifully, a heartfelt thank you. All the words written here help so much.

  19. Margaux O'Malley

    Vu, this is beautiful, and I’m grateful to you for writing it. Thank you.

    In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. — “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” So many days we don’t see that our work is making a difference, and the real impact may not even happen in our lifetimes, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

    I think one of the critical things for us to do (now and always) is to stay in community, and like you said, to remember that we are not alone. I thank you for the community you’ve created here on your blog, and elsewhere in the world too.

    Peace and love to you.

  20. Lauren Young

    Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

    -Rabbi Tarfon

  21. Holly McGregor Anderson

    I keep going back to this one… written before Nice and Turkey… but
    healing words that remind us we can’t possibly solve all the world’s
    problems, hard as we try. I have shared excerpts from this column all
    week, Vu, with credit of course. I agree with the sentiments below. A
    paper copy of all of your columns would be a dream come true. Thank
    you. Thank you. Thank you.

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