“How are you?” How to honestly answer your colleagues
“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say”.
These are the words of Eleanor Oliphant, the title character in the bestselling fictional book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The book tells Eleanor’s story, which is anything but fine. And yet as the words above capture, Eleanor knows that is not the story that she’s meant to tell others when asked, “How are you?”. The story that she is meant to tell is that she is “completely fine”. And you know it’s the story that you are meant to tell too when asked, “How are you?”.
Particularly when it comes to the workplace, the story that we are meant to tell our colleagues is that we have got it all together, that we’re competent and in control. That we are completely fine. We aim to “look fantastic – to ourselves, and to the rest of the world”.* And yet the reality is that this is a mask all of us are wearing. We’re not completely fine.
Will Storr in his book Selfie: How we became so self-obsessed and what it’s doing to us laments the “perfectionist presentation” we feel obliged to put on in our current culture. Because as Storr goes on, it’s ruining us. "We're living in an age of perfectionism, and perfection is the idea that kills. People are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they're failing to become". In other words, it’s exhausting trying to present all the time as completely fine when you are anything but. And it’s a miserable way to live. We need a better way than this. And the Gospel provides one.
It’s a simple message, and yet it has fresh relevance in this selfie, perfectionist age. And that is, Jesus is perfect so that we don’t need to be. It’s as simple and as profound as that.
The perfection of Jesus is a repeated theme in Scripture (as are our imperfections). “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). “In Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is perfect so that we don’t need to be.
But more than that, not only is Jesus perfect, but those in Him are also made perfect. “[God] made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our perfection is found not in the perfect selfie, or any other way that we fall into the “perfectionist presentation” trap. Rather, true perfection, righteousness, is ours in Christ.
How does that help me in a workplace where everyone presents as “completely fine”? How might it change the way that I answer the question, “How are you”? Knowing our failings, and that only Jesus is perfect gives us the freedom to admit that we don’t have it all together. To present in a way that is not always completely perfect. To say, “Actually, I’m not doing so great today”. Because we don’t need to anymore, because Someone else is and does! We can also admit our weaknesses and failures because we know that in Christ we have the only perfection that truly matters, that which is bestowed upon us in Christ. Others might mock our imperfections, yet in the light of eternity it can’t ultimately harm us.
To live in the light of this truth is wonderfully liberating and freeing. And I might add, powerfully attractive to our colleagues who are trapped in a world which tells them they must say that they are “completely fine”. Because they’re not. And without Jesus, we’re not either. But in Him we are. And that’s good news.
Explore this more at the upcoming Life@Work Conference - "Unmasked: The strength of vulnerability in the workplace"
* Amanda Hooton, “Meet Instagram’s new ‘reality’ superstars”, The Good Weekend, May 5 2018.
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Andrew Laird works for City Bible Forum in Melbourne and directs Life@Work - an initiative aimed at connecting Christian faith with our daily work. He’s also the author of a book, Under Pressure: how the gospel helps us handle the pressures of daily work.