You know you've done it. Saying you're fine when you aren't is something we all do. Projecting an air of success is a common trait in entrepreneurs and other highly confident, ambitious people. There's a reason "Fake it 'til you make it" is such a prevalent Silicon Valley maxim, after all.
However, it's not always the best solution. Certainly, it helps preserve an image of success, and there are times when that might take precedence. But a universal policy of "fine" responses when you're anything but fine can cut you off from valuable sources of help.
Here are five reasons to consider telling the truth when someone asks how you're doing, even if the answer is "not so great."
1. Being an entrepreneur means you may face challenges to peak performance.
One 2018 study found that entrepreneurs self-reported a high prevalence of mental health conditions. In fact, mental health struggles affected a full 72 percent of respondents to that survey, either directly or indirectly.
Recently, the media has reported on some visible demonstrations of this vulnerability from entrepreneurs and high-profile creative executives. This includes well-publicized suicides of chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade.
This increased risk might be due to the nature of entrepreneurship, or it may be correlated with the personality traits commonly found in entrepreneurs. The characteristics that make for success as a business owner may also mean you feel compelled to deal with things on your own without asking for help, for example.
Either way, it's important to be aware of the risks and be willing to address the situation.
2. Good mental health requires an honest self-assessment.
Claiming an exaggerated sense of well-being can make you start to believe your own inaccurate story. Saying you're fine, or constantly insisting everything is OK at work or in life leads to unrealistic, exaggerated views of how well things are actually going.
I've fallen victim to this. If I tell enough people I don't need any help whatsoever, I begin to believe it myself. This is fine if you're actually operating at 100 percent. Otherwise, you're just creating a superficial illusion that serves no one. You might be locking yourself out of any kind of solution.
I've found that the first step to correcting the problem is to admit you're not operating at 100 percent.
3. Stay open to the possibility of help from other sources.
Saying you're fine shuts down further conversation, and can deny you the benefit of serendipity. Often, we don't have a full grasp of the range of possible responses and solutions to specific problems right away.
Talking about our situations openly with friends and colleagues can lead to helpful information. Shutting that discussion down might cut you off from the magic of synchronicity, which presents solutions and opportunities you wouldn't have otherwise considered. I'm reminded of doctors and therapists, recommended by friends and colleagues, who made a big difference.
4. Stop adding to your already-impressive stress levels.
Pretending everything is perfect creates additional physical and emotional stress. Saying you're fine could even add another set of expectations you feel obligated to live up to. And, since you already may be struggling on that score, it often results in a heightened stress response.
Of course, being an entrepreneur comes with lots of stress already. But clinging to the illusion of well-being is often self-imposed and easily avoided.
5. Fight the stigma and shame that is too often attached to depression and other mental health struggles.
Shame and stigma too often operate as metaphorical gags, keeping people silent about struggles with mental health and well-being. Depression, anxiety and fear do not make you a deeply flawed individual or a bad entrepreneur. They simply make you human.
Why not open up? You don't have to dump all your woes on the other person's shoulders. Instead of saying you're fine, acknowledge things aren't perfect right now. "You know, I've been better. I'm struggling with some anxiety right now around my business. I'm looking for ways to better manage that. How about you?"
Caveat: Saying you're fine is just fine sometimes.
That's not to say everyone who asks the question deserves your full and frank disclosure, or your trust. Some folks simply aren't safe to share openly with, and much of that has to do with their customary reaction. If someone habitually tries to top your story with an even bigger one of their own, for example, or routinely dismisses your experience as invalid or exaggerated, you're better off sticking to social niceties.
I tend to share my story openly only with people whose responses don't make me feel worse. If you're concerned or unsure about reactions to an honest disclosure, try role playing various responses with a trusted friend or colleague to help you figure out what to say in advance.