There has been a lot of death in my life, lately.
Literal death, as well as emotional, “end of an era” death (sudden job loss, unexpected moving plans, break-ups, and so on).
What is the best thing to do when a friend is reeling from a deep loss?
It’s a tricky question to answer because there is no universal “correct” answer for everyone.
Here is a good place to begin:
Ask, “How can I be a good friend to you right now?”
A couple similar / alternate questions:
“How can I be a good husband / wife / partner / etc. to you right now?”
“How can I support you right now?”
“How would you like to be supported right now?”
“What would feel good right now?”
“What would make your life a bit easier right now?”
Gently encourage your friend to tell you exactly what they want and don’t want.
One person might say, “I would really appreciate handwritten letters, but please refrain from calling right now. I’m getting inundated with phone calls and I feel overwhelmed.”
Another person might say, “I’d love for you to come over and eat a meal with me. I would like some company. But I don’t want to talk about what happened yet.”
Another might say, “A sandwich. Delivered to my office. And a hug.”
If your friend says, “I don’t know,” then you can make a loving proposition.
“Could I drop off some books for you to read while you’re recuperating?” “I’d be happy to look over your résumé.” “Want to watch a funny movie?” “How about a massage?”
If they say, “No thanks” then gracefully back off — for now.
You can follow up by saying, “If you think of anything, later, I am one text away.”
Grief is deeply personal, so a one-size-fits-all flowers-and-a-Hallmark-card approach might not be what your friend needs.
So, if you’re not sure how to help? Just ask.
And once they tell you? Deliver. Rise up. Don’t flake. Don’t leave them hanging.
I let down a friend of mine, not too long ago, who was grieving and really needed support. I gave some support. Not enough. I got distracted with my own life, my own issues, my own “busy schedule,” blah blah whatever, stopped checking in. I failed to rise to the occasion. I still regret it.
I missed an opportunity to be a really good friend.
Try not to miss yours.
It doesn’t take much to show someone, through your words and actions:
“You are not alone. I am here. You are loved.”
PS. If you are heartbroken and need some support, here are a few resources to check out:
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron is a beautiful book for hard times.
Second Firsts, an online community and blog for people who are “starting over.”
Or, if you need professional counseling, I highly recommend my friend and colleague Dr. Suzanne Gelb. Go get some love.
“Whoa! Look at those shoulders! I bet you could destroy me in an arm-wrestling match! You’ve been working hard. I’m proud of you.”
It’s my local barista.
Over the past six months, he has watched me make my almost-daily trek to the gym, stopping in for an espresso along the way.
He has watched me transform from a woman who could barely do one push up into… well, whatever I am now. A woman who could dominate a grown man in an arm wrestling match, apparently.
Session by session. Little by little. He’s seen the progress.
And, I can’t help it — his words fill me with renewed pride.
Somebody is proud of me.
I’m proud of me, too.
The truth is that we all want to feel witnessed, appreciated, valued, noticed. Like we exist. Like we matter. Like our efforts count for something. Like we’re not tethered to this planetary rock all alone. We all want that feeling of being seen. We crave high fives, hugs, and simple words that mean so much.
“I see your effort. I’m proud of you.”
Doesn’t take much to deliver that kind of gift.
Just takes a few seconds. A few words. Words that could shift someone’s entire day.
“You’ve been posting such beautiful images on Instagram lately. I love that you’re keeping your commitment to share one self-portrait every day. I’m proud of you.”
“Is that your yoga mat I see tucked in your backpack? Yeah! Third time this week? Go get it. I’m proud of you.”
“You seem so rested and energized. Whatever you’re doing: don’t stop. I’m proud of you.”
If you notice someone working hard, upping the game, honoring a commitment, keeping a vow that might be easy to break, just say so.
“I’m proud of you.”
Fill someone’s cup.
Make someone’s day.
My fingers hover above the SIGN UP button.
Wanting to click. Not clicking. Still wanting. Not clicking.
Inside my mind, a whirling tornado of thoughts:
I really want to take that fitness class in half an hour. But I already went to the gym earlier today! Will they think I’m a weirdo for coming back twice in one day? But I really want to go. It will feel so good and my favorite instructor is teaching. But what will people think? Maybe I ought to use this time to do something else. Blah blah bloop etc.
And so on.
The mental-whirling continues for one, two, five minutes. Maybe longer.
Time’s running out. Am I lacing up my sneakers or not? What the heck is stopping me?
Then, like a sunburst of clarity, clouds parting, angels rejoicing in harmony, I remember:
Wait a minute… I am a grown up. I can do what I want.
I sign up. I dash out. I take the class. It’s amazing, challenging, intensely rewarding. Just like I knew it would be.
Do I regret going? No I do not.
Do I feel silly for wasting five precious life-minutes wavering, stammering and hovering over the SIGN UP button for no reason? Yep, I do.
The next time I catch myself — or somebody else — painfully wrestling with a decision that really doesn’t need to be wrestled with, I will gently shake them out of their stupor and offer this reminder:
Hey. You there. Yeah, you.
You are allowed to eat kale for breakfast and peanut butter for dinner.
You are allowed to do yoga for eight hours a day if you want to.
You are allowed to do things that “most people” don’t do.
You are allowed to do whatever delights you.
You are allowed to reach for the stars.
You are allowed to sit this one out.
This is your life.
You want something?
Go get it.
You love something?
Then have it.
Obviously, naturally, duh, of course, try not to hurt yourself or anybody else as you make your choices. (You know this already. Because you are kind and smart.)
You are a grown up.
Do what you want.
A couple years ago, a friend encouraged me to speak at an event. People responded to my story very strongly. Pretty soon, I was getting phone calls to speak at other venues.
Since then, I’ve delivered talks in three different countries. All free. I’ve never charged a fee for my speaking gigs. But I’m ready for that to change.
I know I’m a rockin’ motivational speaker. I know my words impact people. But how do I start charging for something I’ve always done for free?
How do you start charging?
You start charging.
I know. Easier said than done, right?
The key is to communicate with total confidence and clarity.
(This goes for all kinds of scenarios — not just charging for public speaking engagements.)
If you lay out a clean process for your client / customer / event producer — with a confident, uber-professional “This is how I roll” attitude — then they will roll right along with you.
If you communicate vaguely or display uncertainty or hesitation (“Oh, it’s OK! I can waive my speaking fee. No problem. Or we can negotiate. Or whatever. Whatever works for yoooou!”) then people won’t trust you, believe in you, or feel eager to pay you.
Blunt, but true.
Let’s talk logistics.
The next time someone reaches out to you to say, “Hey, would you speak at my event?” you could respond by saying:
Thanks for reaching out to me, [person’s name].
[Name of event] sounds amazing! Thanks for inquiring about booking me to deliver a talk.
Before I give a resounding “YES!” I’d love to learn a little more about you, your event, and your audience.
Here are three quick statements for you to fill out and send back to me.
Hit “reply” to this email with your responses, whenever you’re ready:
– “The people in the audience at my event want ______________, love ______________, and are struggling with ______________.”
– “I’d love to book you to share a story that will [motivate / inspire / urge / persuade] the people in my audience to ______________.”
– “My #1 goal for this event is to [create / bring about / change] ______________.”
Thanks, [person’s name]! Excited to see your responses. Have a terrific day!
[your name here]
Then, based on the responses you receive, you should be equipped to decide if this event is going to be a good match for you or not. If it’s a “YES,” send back an email to say something like this:
Hey again, [person’s name],
Whoa. I LOVED your responses. Thank you.
[Topic that they mentioned] resonates strongly with me and I would be honored to appear on your stage.
I’d love to move forward.
Here’s my process:
1. I will email you a list of potential topics for my talk. You tell me which topic feels like the best fit for your audience.
2. Then, we’ll both sign a one-page agreement to confirm my speaking appearance. (I’ll send this to you.)
3. After that, I will send you an invoice for my speaking fee, which is [dollar amount] plus reimbursement for travel / accommodation. (All the money details will be laid out in the agreement I just mentioned. No surprises.)
4. On the big day, I get onstage and rock the mic.
5. We celebrate afterwards with champagne, hugs, and huge smiles.
If all of that sounds good — and if my speaking fee is within your budget — then hit “reply” to this email to say “LET’S DO THIS!” and I will take it from there.
So thrilled to connect with you, [person’s name].
[your name here]
PS. If you haven’t already done so, you can click HERE to visit the ‘speaking gigs’ section of my website. On that page, you will find video clips of me onstage, audience testimonials, my official bio, and all that good stuff. Enjoy!
See what I just did there?
By laying out a process for your client (“Do this, hit reply, tell me this, etc”) you are taking charge of the situation.
You’re saying, “This is how I do business” not “Um, hi, how should we do business? I’m flexible! You can pay me or not, whatevs?”.
You’re also getting your client EVEN MORE EXCITED about booking you, because you’re inviting your client to think deeply about his or her intentions for the event and why they want YOU, specifically, to be there.
You’re getting your client emotionally invested in the idea of hiring YOU and only YOU.
You’re demonstrating, already, at this early stage in the relationship, that you’re a pro and you’re worth every penny.
Now, it’s possible that certain clients will write back to say, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t afford to pay you. Is there any way you could speak for free?”
At that point, it’s your call. You can say “yes.” You can say “no.” You can negotiate. You can barter. You can propose an alternative scenario.
Personally, I would recommend giving a clean, simple “no” — with no explanation, justification, rationalization or back-story behind it.
Just “nope, no can do” — plus a generous surprise to reinforce, yet again, that you are such a freaking PRO.
Something like this:
I’m sorry to hear that I’m not within your budget.
You asked if I’d be willing to speak my free. My answer is a respectful “no.” That’s not something I’m able to do.
If you’d like to share my story in a different format, at no cost, I’d be more than happy to donate [one hundred copies of my latest e-book, e-course, or some other awesome resource that’s easy and cost-free for you to give] to the people attending your event. It would be my pleasure to contribute in that way. Let me know if that sounds good.
[your name here]
No matter what happens next, you will have made a phenomenal first impression — and who knows?
This very same person might be circling back to you one week, month, or year from today with a paid speaking gig offer that delights BOTH of you. One thing’s for sure: they will respect and remember you.
Hope that helps, Fatima.
Rock the mic and change the world.
I know you will.
Good Question is an advice column about writing, communication, creativity, and how to be a decent human being in a complicated world. Looking for past columns? Go here.
A journalist asked if I’d be willing to offer my thoughts on email etiquette, ideal communication practices in the digital era, and whatnot, for a story she was putting together. I happily agreed.
But as I began typing my responses to her (very good, very thoughtful, very smart) questions, I felt a powerful urge to delete everything I’d written, replacing all of my “email advice” with just one sentence:
When you die you won’t care about emails.
This is the truth.
Yes, email is a remarkable tool.
Yes, it’s satisfying (for a few minutes, anyway) to clear your box and reach that precious state known as “inbox zero.”
Yes, it’s good to be timely with your responses, demonstrating care, professionalism, and respect for those who write to you.
Yes, it’s valuable to think about how to communicate more effectively.
All of that: yes.
But let’s get real.
At the end of your life, as you’re drifting away from this world, are you really going to think to yourself, “Gosh, I am so glad I managed to empty my inbox on a daily basis! Well done, me! I was really ‘the best’ at email. Now I can depart this world in peace.”
No. You are going to think to yourself, “I am so grateful for every kiss, for every orgasm, for every project that allowed me to contribute to society in a meaningful way, for every deep friendship, for all the corners of the earth that I managed to explore, for long sun-drenched days and luminous conversations, unfolding into the night…”
Or, sadly, you might think to yourself, “I wish I’d spent less time online, in my inbox, and more time doing… well, just about anything else.”
Thinking about the inevitable end can show us how we ought to live.
I used to be a “clear out the inbox every single night” kind of gal.
I took great pride in the fact that my inbox was always impressively de-cluttered and zen, and that nobody had to wait more than a few hours to receive a response from me.
Over the past couple of years, though, something has shifted in me.
Maybe it’s because I fell in love with an incredible man and staring into his deep brown eyes is more compelling than staring into a Gmail screen.
Maybe it’s because I broke my leg, but it just as easily could have been my neck.
Maybe it’s because I read a book called Die Empty and it changed me.
Maybe it’s because my last remaining grandparent passed away.
Maybe all of the above.
But when it comes to email, I just don’t care about being “the best” at it anymore.
I do not strive for “inbox zero.” I answer most emails in a timely fashion (current clients and customers always get a quick-ish reply, with very rare exceptions), but I let certain non-urgent notes sit for days, even (GASP, SHOCK, HORROR) weeks before I send a personal response, because clearing my inbox just for the sake of clearing it is… just not my top priority anymore.
My approach may not feel “right” for everyone but it sure feels right for me.
I often say to myself:
“I’m not ‘behind’ on my emails. I’m ‘ahead’ on my life.”
What kind of life do you wish to lead?
How do you want to feel when you die?
Here is what I know, now, for certain:
If my heart is full, grateful, and happy, and my inbox is brimming with unanswered missives, I can live — and die — with that.