Today’s one thing: Obsessing over where someone is.
That one thing, better: Imagining where else they might be.
You are waiting on someone.
It’s driving you crazy. Where are they??? Maybe they need to approve your pitch. Or to reply to your email. Or just say yes to hanging out — but they’re suddenly hard to reach.
In their absence, you make up stories. Maybe they hate you now. Or they’re preparing to reject you. Or lost interest in you.
You desperately want to know what they’re thinking — so today, I will tell you. I can end the suspense! And I will help you stop worrying.
You know the old breakup cliché, “It’s not you — it’s me?”
We’re going to flip it. In this story, it’s not you. It’s them.
Here’s what I mean.
What’s their problem?
I first learned this lesson in a non-work context.
I moved to New York at age 28. I knew only a few people here, which meant every friend felt like a lifeline — my sanity and my social life.
One friend in particular became really close. We hung out a lot — regular dinner or drinks, a lot of texting through the week.
Then she started to disappear. She’d cancel on me last-minute or take longer to reply. Soon we’d gone from hanging every week to every month. Then longer.
What was happening? Oh, I had theories. She found me annoying? Exhausting? Needy? Whatever it was, I believed she was pushing me away. I didn’t want to ask why, because that would only make things worse, right?
Time passed. We finally hung out. “I’m sorry I’ve been so flaky,” she told me. And then she explained.
It was a lot. Work was overwhelming her. Her anxiety was high. She was fighting with her sister. Most nights, she didn’t have the energy to do anything — so she’d been holed up at home, doing nothing.
As I listened to this, I realized: This whole time, I’d made the situation about me. I assumed I drove her decisions.
But that meant I never thought about her — because her life was bigger than just me! Of course it was! And the problems were in her life, not mine.
The next time someone disappears on me, I vowed to remember: I don’t actually know what’s going on in someone else’s life.
Now I want you to think about the person you’re waiting for.
Do you know what’s going on in their life? No?
You should take a guess.
Really! It’s a helpful exercise.
You’re waiting for someone right now. They’re not getting back to you.
If you’re worried about this, it’s probably because you’re making up a story where you’re the main character. YOU are the person they’re avoiding. YOU are the person they’re rejecting.
Now step back and ask:
What else could be happening in their lives?
For real. Come up with some stories. Any stories! Anything that sounds plausible, but that does not include you.
I’ll give you an example. I’ve been consulting with an entrepreneur I’ll call Amanda. She pitched a big project in June, and the proposal made its way through multiple layers of review — and then languished on the CEO’s desk, waiting to be approved or rejected.
This project is a big deal. Amanda woke up every morning thinking: Where is this CEO? Why won’t he reply?
Soon she had a story. The CEO had said no, and everyone else already knew. They were trying to figure out how to tell Amanda.
“They just don’t know how to tell me,” Amanda said.
“That’s crazy,” I replied. “If it was a no, they’d just tell you.”
Then I asked Amanda, just as I asked you: What else could be happening in the CEO’s life?
We came up with a list. Again, the only qualifications were: The story must be plausible, and Amanda cannot be part of the story. Here were some of our ideas:
He’s on vacation. (It was summer, after all.)
He’s been preparing for a board meeting.
He’s getting a divorce.
He’s restructuring the company.
He’s a procrastinator and Amanda’s proposal is #87 on his list.
I mean, this could go on forever. Maybe his dog died. I don’t know!
Eventually, we got our answer… sorta. The project was approved! Amanda was thrilled! We have no idea what took so long, but we do know this: Clearly, whatever the problem was, it was NOT Amanda.
Amanda was Amanda’s top priority. But she was not the CEO’s top priority. And that’s life.
So, the next time you’re feeling this way…
Take yourself out of the story.
The story is: You reached out to someone. You sent them something or asked for something. They haven’t replied.
But the story is also: That person has a lot going on. You’re one of many things they must think about or respond to.
Hopefully they’ll say yes. But right now they’re doing something else. And although they have other priorities, that doesn’t mean you’re unimportant.
You are simply not part of their story. Not right now.
And that’s OK.
Because while you wait for them, you can do other things. Because they’re not the only person with other things to do! You have other things to do too! And one day, as you’re doing these other things, they will finally make a damn decision — at which point, they will re-enter your story.
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