Be Caring & Reach Out

21 Dec 2016 Gregory J. Stein
Tags Editorial

There’s something about the end of the year that, in my experience, gives rise to a sort of sullen feeling. At least where I’m from in the northeastern United States, this time of year is characterized by shortening daylight hours, increasingly hostile temperatures and (frequently) gentle reminders of the passage of time and of all the things one set out to accomplish this year yet never quite got around to. The question you may ask is then:

What can be done to avoid this feeling?

Ultimately, I doubt that avoidance is the answer. Some people make an effort to ignore their feelings. More will drown themselves in their work. Others may hint at discomfort, but not reach out in the way they should. However, there is an upshot; despite the somber atmosphere (or perhaps because of it), people are increasingly willing to help one another out when called upon.

I have a friend who’s always in “startup-founder mode”. He’s about to graduate with his PhD and he’s starting a company, which in his eyes is already a unicorn. It is inspiring to see, and we have a weekly lunch in which he will fill me in on the company status and we bounce ideas off of one another on how to make his technology more robust or user friendly. A couple of weeks ago, I was particularly distracted and stressed. He quickly recognized that I wasn’t doing very well and transitioned conversation to ensuring that I would be okay. Here was a guy who frequently cannot sleep because of his passion for his technology and spends every waking minute thinking about the future of his company, yet he made it clear that, no matter how much that mattered to him, my well-being would always come first.

What’s most amazing to me is that this is a relative rarity, especially since most people I know would gladly help out a friend who asked for their help. We’ve all been there: the meetings pile up, exams interfere, or deadlines loom and it becomes easy to narrow our focus to our work or studies and to ignore the signs of colleagues and friends who may need someone to talk to. However, it is still our responsibility (and your responsibility, dear reader) to ensure that no one we know falls through the cracks. This short post is a call to action:

Be caring, and reach out to those around you.

I’m a pretty outgoing person, so I have no problem bringing up these issues or asking someone “Are you okay?”. I have a number of friends who have not been faring too well lately. Graduate school can be tough, and I’m in a high-stress program. I try to remind them their well-being is more important than their work, and that the latter frequently requires the former. Further still, something we view as a failure is frequently an opportunity in disguise. I can only help so much, but reminding them that there’s someone they can talk to and relate to can make a real difference.

If this message has resonated with you, I implore you to reach out to a friend, coworker or family member. Start with one person, and then help out more if you can. Invite them out for coffee or call them on the phone. Even an email can be a nice gesture, though there’s nothing like a face-to-face conversation. Most importantly, listen more than you talk and don’t make the conversation about you unless they ask; I’m sure they’ll value your concern.

No excuses either: you can always think of someone who could use support.

Happy Helping, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. Be well.