I’m Not Okay Stories

We tell ourselves stories every day. Furthermore, these stories are powerful determiners of how we feel and act in everyday life. And today I want to talk about a common story that many people repeat to themselves. I call it the “I’m not okay” story. Unfortunately, it is a story that undercuts the happiness and productivity of millions of people. And I want to address it head on.

Your Biggest Secret

A well-known psychologist by the name of Irv Yalom has written numerous books on psychotherapy and spoken extensively around the world. During some of his speeches he asks his audience to write down their biggest secret. The most common secret is a belief “I’m not okay.” He could be in front of a group of the most successful and prominent experts in their respective fields and some version of this belief would be their most common response.

I can tell you that I’ve found the same thing in so many workshops and seminars I have taught. We see our own flaws, failings, and weaknesses. Most of us have self doubts and a shadow or dark side which we want to hide from our fellow human beings. And because we feel we have to hide a big part of ourselves from others it is easy to forever feel inadequate, like I’m not okay or quite up to snuff.

So how about if you stop trying to prove you are enough and admit and embrace your flawed nature and tell yourself a different story. Maybe it’s okay that you’re imperfect. It is, after all, an inherent part of being human. Not that you can’t and won’t learn, grow, and improve. But guess what, you’ll still be flawed and imperfect.

If You Could Really Accept that You Weren’t Okay

I love a poem by Werner Erhardt which speaks to this. (Maybe I’ve shared it before.) It’s all about accepting yourself as an imperfect person. It goes like this.

“If you could really accept that you weren’t okay, you could stop proving that you were okay.

And if you could stop proving that you were okay, you could get it that it is okay to be not okay.

And if you could get it that it is okay to be not okay, you could get it that you’re okay just the way you are.

You’re okay, get it?”  

I have taught this truth a lot in public seminars through many years. In fact, I taught it, just a few years back, to a group of around a hundred and twenty youth on a backpacking trip. I told them that we try too hard to prove we’re okay. And yet it is so easy to feel like I’m not okay. I said the key is not to pretend but to accept that we are flawed and that is okay.

Then I had them do an exercise. They each stood and greeted a partner by declaring their name and then sharing one reason they told themselves that they weren’t okay. “I have big ears.” “I got a D in chemistry.” “I’m mean to my little brother.” “I’ve shop-lifted on several occasions.” And so on.  I asked the partner who heard their “I’m not okay” story to extend a big and warm congratulations to them and then share something, a secret reason they held onto shame about him or herself.

Together, they took a moment to celebrate their “not okayness” and then moved to another partner, another and another, to do the same thing. My instructions were to share something different with each person they approached.

A Celebration

After giving the instructions, the place absolutely erupted—kids mingling about and getting lots of stuff that they usually keep hidden out in the open and congratulating each other. Celebrating with one another all the reasons they have been ashamed and all the reasons they had told themselves they were not enough. The process was absolutely liberating for them. It allowed them to share their shame and inadequacy in a way that they could embrace and even let go of it.

As we debriefed the experience, one young man expressed that the youth would love to have this much openness with their parents. But he went on to say that they could not be not okay because their parents held high expectations of them and would have a difficult time accepting them in their vulnerability and imperfection. He explained that they lived in fear of disappointing them and letting them down.

As someone who teaches parenting, I wasn’t surprised by his comment. However, I was surprised that the place exploded in applause when this young man shared this perception. It reinforced to me how important it is that we be able to create a safe place for our children in which they can talk openly about their fears and inadequacies and problems without fearing judgment. They don’t have to prove themselves. They can be okay with who they are.  

Well, I’ve done a similar process like this with many groups and most people find it freeing and empowering. In truth, we are not perfect. We will always have our flaws. If we can know that this is okay, we will feel so much better about ourselves. 

Permission and Accountability

Of course, I always end this and similar processes by saying that this is not a permissive anything goes philosophy. Our choices and actions have consequences to ourselves and others and we are accountable for these consequences. We have the right to be imperfect but we also have a responsibility to learn and grow and use our freewill in positive and empowering ways.

But, in the process, let’s give each other permission to be imperfect. I am flawed, not okay. I’ll still be flawed a year from now, even ten years from now. Why pretend otherwise. How about if I make it okay for me as well as those around me to be imperfect, to be not okay? Afterall, we don’t grow from beating ourselves up. We open ourselves to growth as we show ourselves kindness, compassion, and love.  

Come as You Are

I love the words of a song by Laura Allen called Come As You Are. Here are a few of the lyrics:

“We make it so tough, we get ourselves all worked up.
When we start thinkin’ that we got somebody to impress.
Oh, and when I see how hard we try, sometimes it makes me wanna cry
Just be yourself and forget about the rest.

“Cause I want you to come as you are,
You don’t have to prove anything to me.
Just be yourself and come as you are to me.
Oh, you can come as you are,
You don’t have to prove anything to me
Just be yourself and come as you are to me.”

So it’s your turn. What stories have you made up about why you’re not okay? What are the consequences of holding onto those stories? Are you willing to offer yourself some compassion and make it okay that you’re imperfect? How would you talk differently to yourself? How would you show up differently with those around you?

And feel free to leave a comment below.



  1. Delawaiz Hashimi

    And when you accept the imperfectness in yourself, you do not care how challenging is to overcome. You move one saying “That’s Ok” but the world around you is not okay!

    • rogerkallen

      I appreciate you sharing a thought, Delawaiz. It is a big thing to accept your imperfections and I’m happy you’ve been able to do so. It also makes life easier even though the world around you is not okay.

  2. Bruce A King

    Roger, thanks for sharing this. I think it is 100% spot on. I don’t know if you remember me but I went through life quest and life strategies years and years ago. It was a fantastic program, I don’t know if you still do it, but it was awesome. However, I guess over time things like this wear off. I think we all get ourselves in the state of mind where we sort of beat down ourselves. I think social media contributes to it in a very heavy manner.

    I think of life strategies and life quest often, and remember you as a fantastic teacher and coach. I have quite a story. I was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2015. There are a lot of things around that that I’ve held on to, along other traumatic experiences. I have a story must come out of that that I often thought about driving out to Denver to tell you. I have an incredible story, I have a wonderful life, yet I still tell me these heavy, burdening self-destructive stories. I’m going through a phase now where I’m actively focusing on this topic after months of some depression. I think a big life transition in and of itself is retirement. I don’t think I’ve quite gotten used to it, but I got to keep reminding myself one day at a time and to keep moving forward. I’m hoping one day I get out that way and we’d have time for lunch or dinner or coffee. I wish you all the best

    • rogerkallen

      Hi Bruce. I certainly remember you well. One thing I recall are your poems. It seems like you wrote a poem about the moon over Waco.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your tragedy in 2015. That is when my wife and I left for India so I lost touch with a lot of people. But I’d love to connect up and hear more about what you’ve been through and how you’re doing today. My wife and I now live in Cedar City Utah, down near a number of national parks. You’ll have to let me know if you get out this way. In the meantime, let’s connect by phone.

  3. Justin Riggs

    The journey to “I’m okay” was one of the most difficult ones I made. During it I lost almost everything I thought was important to me. And yet, somehow, I came out on the other end happier, more peaceful, more centered, and more grounded than I ever have been. A miracle, one might say, if one were inclined to believe in such things.

    Thank you for another great article, Roger. I always look forward to reading your work.


    • rogerkallen

      Thanks for your comment, Justin. I’d love to learn more about your particular journey. What did you give up? What was the breakthrough? I know these are personal experiences and not something you share with everyone. So I’m happy for you.

      • Rachel

        Roger, I love your message here. It is so freeing to embrace our imperfections. As former perfectionist I have learned that I was hindering my growth thinking that I could ever even come close to something that resembled perfection. It was only after I deeply believed and realized that I was made with weakness by divine design—I was created weak on purpose. Embracing my weakness has helped me to turn to God and others in a way I couldn’t ever have done as a perfectionist. It has strengthened my relationships, helped me see and understand important things, and helped me grow in many ways. Thank you for continuing to write inspiring and applicable articles.
        You coached me a few years ago and I learned much from you. What I learned from you is still part of me and I am grateful to you for it!

        • rogerkallen

          Hi Rachel! Thanks for your thoughtful comment and sharing your personal insight about the nature of weakness. I hear what a blessing it has been, for you and no doubt those around you, to realize that your weakness is by divine design. It feels good, for me, to pause and breathe into that concept. It helps me slow down, and as you say, remember what is important. My best to you.

  4. Kosta Rozakis

    Brilliant article Mr.Allen!

    “I am not OK and that is OK” is the message behind “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

    Also, I would like some more emphasis on learning, growing and improving. “I am OK the way I am” should not be used as an excuse to not strive for a higher goal in life. Meaning and purpose are not optional.

    Thank you!

    • rogerkallen

      Thanks, Kosta. Your point is well taken. As I say in my article, accepting that it is okay to be not okay is not a permissive, anything goes philosophy. We are still accountable for our actions and have a responsibility to make the healthiest choices we are able to make. Life is filled with paradoxes. Acceptance and growth are but one example. But in my experience, love is a much more powerful motivator for growth than deficiency and beating myself up. I think that was a message of Jesus who recognized all of us as imperfect.


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