COVID-19, George Floyd, the election cycle, virtual learning, social distancing, unemployment, unknowns, and uncertainty… When I introduced the 2020 Depth Check-Up and asked people to share how they’re handling all of this, it was rooted in a deep curiosity about how we’re coping with all of this. It was my way of asking the world, “How are you doing today?”

If you’re interested in the answer to that question, keep reading…

I asked seven simple questions. The first question was a multiple-choice, and the rest were designed to be very open-ended so that I could capture people’s voices as they shared their insights. To be transparent, I’m not a researcher. I did know, however, that I was more interested in qualitative data that would be descriptive rather than quantitative, numbers-based data. That’s as far as my researching skills stretched. Like I said, I was just curious and wanted a simple way to check in with people.

Here are the seven questions I asked:

  1. Today, I am feeling… (This question was the only multiple-choice, the rest were fill-in-the-blank questions)
  2. What three words describe how you’re feeling today?
  3. What are you the most excited about or optimistic about today?
  4. What is causing you the most stress or anxiety today?
  5. I would describe experiencing “depth” in my life as:
  6. The one thing that is preventing me from creating more depth in my life professionally right now is:
  7. The one thing that is preventing me from creating more depth in my life personally right now is:


Initially, these questions went out to my Depth Not Width blog subscribers. I shared links to the survey on my social profiles, and the marketing firm I am a partner in allowed me to reach out to our customers. To ensure that the responses would represent the broadest picture possible, I also used Reddit as a tool for engaging individuals from coast to coast – California and New York, Montana and Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii – and people responded from across the United States.

In this blog, I’m going to share the feedback I got from the first two questions. There was just too much to unpack to address the responses to all of the questions in one block of writing.

Simply put, when America spoke, they had a lot to say.

I want to begin by addressing a common thread that is woven through all the responses to all the questions… Right now, more than anything, we need to hold tight to the concept of empathy. As much as we’re each reacting to today’s challenges in one way or another, the reality is that everyone is managing these times in their own unique way. Empathy – our ability to step into another’s shoes and understand and share one’s feelings holds immense power right now. Empathy comes with no requirement that we agree with one another… We don’t need to embrace the same feelings or approach this upside-down world with the same perspectives. We simply need to hear each other and acknowledge that our feelings and perspectives exist. Right now, we need to bring empathy to every conversation, every interaction, every connection. It takes being intentional, and that’s what I’m asking you to do right now. Bring empathy to what you are about to read. 

With that in mind, let’s dive into the first question I asked. “Today, I am feeling…” The answers to this question provided an initial, thousand-foot view into the range of emotions we’re all experiencing right now.

32% – Upbeat and Optimistic

50% – Uncertain and Unsure

18% – Anxious and Fearful


This was a reality check for me and forced me to dig deep into my own feelings right now. I am naturally an upbeat optimist, with a naturally positive bent in life. Pre-COVID, I would have chosen upbeat and optimistic without a second thought. In the spirit of complete transparency, this pandemic, the election cycle, racial unrest, and a lack of social interaction have left me feeling pulled. That natural bent toward positivity has been tested… over and over again. When 50% of the people who responded chose uncertain and unsure, I could resonate with that. And the 18% who chose anxious and fearful… I’ve been there as well. 

When they say hindsight is 20/20, they’re right. If I were going to rerun this survey, I wouldn’t make people pick one of the three options. I’d find another way to ask it or rank it because the truth is this… We’re all feeling all of these on one level or another. There is no “either/or” answer to this question. In all likelihood, there should have been an “All of the Above” option.

This started to get really clear for me when I dug into the answers for question two: What three words describe how you’re feeling today?

I’m not going to share all of the replies here, instead, I’m going to share some insights that I pulled from people’s responses. If you want to see the full list of responses, you’ll find the unfiltered replies to this question here. Of all the responses I received, I pulled only a couple out of the list as they were more inappropriate than I was comfortable with. The rest are there for you to see, walkthrough, and draw your own conclusions from. 

So, what three words describe how you’re feeling today? Again, the replies were split. Some people’s responses were upbeat and optimistic. Some were uncertain and unsure. Some were anxious and fearful. I expected that. Certain people, in my mind, are glass-half-fullers or glass-half-emptiers. They would see the world through that lens and fall neatly into categories. 

That was the case, but something else came up that was interesting. As people shared their three words, the most curious responses were the ones that combined optimism with fear, or even all three together… a blend of positivity, uncertainty, and anxiety. As I poured through the responses, I was struck by the fact that many of us are feeling so many things at once. 

“Uncertain, fearful, optimistic”

“Concerned, angry, hopeful”

“Excited, nervous, cautious”

“Calm, focused, frustrated”


At first, I asked myself how one person could be carrying all these conflicting feelings at once. Calm and frustrated seemed to fight one another. Uncertain and optimistic seemed like they were battling. Then, as I shared earlier, I had a moment where I realized I was “one of those” people. In a single day, sometimes in a single hour, my mind wanders, and I’m experiencing all three of those feelings myself. Congrats to me… I am human!

Digging in a bit deeper, here are some common themes that showed up in this first question, asking people to share their three words. I’m going to begin with some of the challenges that are gripping us, and then move into some of the things that are making me feel optimistic from this survey. Collectively, we are feeling…


“Uncertain and unsure.” There was no surprise here. These are two words I expected to see when I asked this question. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on them, but instead, let’s explore some of the other experiences that uncertainty is causing…

Stressed Out

“Stressed out, stressed, anxious, antsy, overwhelmed, out-of-control, and scattered.” People openly shared their current state of stress. They’re dealing with things that are making them feel new levels of turmoil and pandemonium. For those who are not experiencing this, it’s our responsibility to be there for one another and be a source of peace and calm.

Burned Out

“Burned out, tired, mentally exhausted, weary, super f’in tired, and beaten.” There was an overall expression of weariness in some of the responses. People are experiencing a new level of fatigue as they’re navigating all the pressures of today’s world. This feeling of being near-collapse was a reminder that we sometimes need to help carry each other’s burdens.


“Isolated, depressed, alone, and avoidant.” Social distancing and working from home have created something that scares me. This current state of loneliness is terrible. I personally forget about this from time to time, as I am home with family and occasionally grab a social-distanced lunch with friends, but being lonely has become common. My mom, who lives about an hour away from me, is one of these isolated people, and I am reminded that we can help fight that feeling of being alone for others.


“Depressed, despair, lost, confused, impotent, numb, sad, and bored.” The statistics bear this one out… According to the CDC, in June of 2020, 31% of Americans reported experiencing anxiety/depression symptoms. Take that in for a moment. One in three Americans is dealing with feelings related to depression. This may not be you, but you likely know someone this is impacting. 


“Apathetic, purposeless, stuck, hopeless, discouraged, limited, resigned, and unhopeful.” There’s a point we can all hit when we feel so stuck that there looks to be no way out. Many have hit that point, asking themselves if any of this really matters. They are discouraged and feeling walled-in on all sides. We all know one or two people who have landed here. My challenge to you is this… Have you done anything to help them get unstuck, rekindle their purpose, or find hope?


“Disposable, useless, unknown, withdrawn, suicidal, and despondent.” When I saw responses like these show up, specifically seeing the word “suicidal” included in the answers, I was crushed inside. I expected that the results would shock me on some level… but this particular set of words and the experience they describe took me to an emotional place. Specifically, since the survey was anonymous, not being able to reach out to someone who was feeling like they were on the brink made me feel helpless. It also reminded me to keep an eye on the people I love and care about more closely. The CDC says that this June, 11% of Americans reported seriously considering suicide. I want to tell myself that number is inflated, but I am also realistic enough to know that there are real faces behind that statistic.


“Questioning, doubtful, conflicted, suspicious, paranoid, misinformed, dismayed, disillusioned, disenfranchised, our parents lied, and our teachers lied.” Trust is such an essential piece of a healthy life. And, when that trust starts to erode, disillusionment starts to grow. Today, from our government to the media, to our churches and big business, the institutions we used to look to for confidence and wisdom are seemingly failing us. Now knowing where to turn for answers creates another layer of struggle.


“Angry, mad, irritable, stupid-ass-survey, furious, frustrated, outraged, and pissed.” I’m not going to lie… seeing someone say “stupid-ass-survey” was one of many responses that made me laugh out loud. There was an air of outrage and irritability in some of the responses I received, not surprisingly. When we take all the challenges we’re facing right now and combine them together, that mix fuels feelings of fury, resentment, and exasperation. Those feelings aren’t bad… they’re normal. We just can’t rest on them too long, or they take the form of hate and division.


“Buzzed, drunk, high, and hungover.” In our ongoing effort to cope and survive, there’s no shock in hearing people say that they’re turning to substances to cut the edge. Going back to that CDC report, 13% of Americans either started or increased their abuse of substances. This likely doesn’t even begin to capture the number of people who have one more glass of wine to end their day or a few more beers on the weekend to help themselves endure and get by. 


“Pessimistic, concerned, concernedaboutthewaythingsareheading, worried, and helpless.” It can be hard to see everything going on right now with a glass-half-full perspective. As I shared earlier, I am tilted in an overly positive direction, but even I have had moments where I wonder about the path we’re on. Feelings of worry and helplessness were common throughout the survey, as expected.


“Restless, impatient, stir-crazy, apprehensive, and irritable.” Sleepless nights, and unsettled days. Today, that on-edge feeling that can come and go is commonplace. We’re impatient for an end to this pandemic, and some of us are finding ourselves restless at work, asking ourselves if this is all there is. Questions about purpose and meaning are coming up time and again, as we’re trying to figure out why we’re here and how this will all shake out.


“Scared, unsafe, tense, worried, nervous, uncomfortable, cautious, protective, and fearful.” Fear has been a constant companion over these last few months. We’re scared over the unrest in our communities, tense about our job situations, nervous about the coming election, and overall uncomfortable. We’re questioning the world we’re raising our kids in, and fearful over what their lives will look like as they become adults. As we’re engaging with others, we need to be aware of their fears and recognize our own ability to feed those fears or help starve them.

And now, we’ll make a bit of a shift…



“Thankful, content, cautiously secure, content at home, present, and grateful.” Gratitude came up time and again throughout this survey. I was personally thankful to see that contentment still exists amid all these challenges we’re facing and that we’re holding onto a spirit of gratitude. As well, the idea of being present wherever we find ourselves right now was a good reminder for me personally. It’s something I’ve been working hard to bring to our home with Cristina and our kids. 


“Excited, energetic, optimistic, improving, persistent, and anticipation.” In the middle of these overlapping challenges we’re facing, maintaining our energy is key. It was good to hear that in an ocean of unknowns, people still expressed a level of persistence and excitement. Like every season ends and leads to the next season, this current season of testing will eventually lead us to something new. Having an optimistic outlook about what the future holds may just be the fuel we need to get through this. 


“Confident, ready, capable, determined, and pioneering.” When uncertainty rises, confidence can start to slide. Responses about our determination shed a positive light on where we’re heading. The pioneering spirit that has brought us this far and created revolutions and innovation is what will carry us into the future. Being able to look around and know with certainty that we will overcome is the key to stepping forward each day, even when it’s hard.


“Nostalgic.” This word only came up once, but it was worth taking notice of. When I read it, I immediately cycled back to memories of life pre-COVID, before social distancing and mask-wearing were realities. I recalled sitting with friends in restaurants, seeing their smiles, and sharing meals. I stepped back into kids’ theatre performances and time on the sidelines at lacrosse games. Like the individual who shared this word, I felt a little homesick for yesterday – and sentimental about what life had felt like “before.”


“Happy, joyful, good, safe, and full.” There is still joy in the world! I cannot tell you the number of people who have shared experiences with me that involve extra time with their spouse and kids, time spent with their pets, and adventures outdoors. College kids have momentarily found their way back home, and there have been forced opportunities to slow down and reconnect. In the middle of all of this, we’ve found some chances to rekindle some of our joy. There is always a silver lining.


“Neutral, doing just fine, realistic, alright, chill, satisfied, and laidback.” There is a segment of the population that is floating through these challenges undeterred. They are doing all right, not feeling much of an impact, and for the most part, experiencing life as usual. Part of me lands in this category, and I have to share one warning to that end. When we feel unaffected by all of this, even for just a moment, it can be easy to wonder what all the fuss is about. We’re fine, why isn’t everyone else? This is where empathy comes into play, understanding that just because we’re good, that doesn’t mean everyone else is as well. 


“Hopeful” As in, full of hope! I saved this one for last. If you read this far, here’s your reward. We are hopeful! The word “hopeful” showed up exactly seventeen times in response to this question. To be fair, the word “hopeless” also showed up, as we shared above… But don’t miss this. There is still hope! The piece of me that is optimistic lit up when I saw this word keep appearing, completely unprompted. It occurred naturally, and that my friends, is a positive sign.


The Takeaway

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for hanging with me as I unpack all of this! This is where we’re at, a snapshot in time of how we’re collectively coping right now. I’m no researcher or psychologist, but I can see some clear signals in here that we should all be paying attention to. Here are three takeaways that I grasped onto as I walked through all these responses to the first two questions…

First, we’re all experiencing these times so differently. Some of us have been able to maintain a positive outlook, but others are really struggling. We need to flex our empathy muscle to make sure we’re meeting people wherever they’re at.

Second, many of us are experiencing a flood of different emotions, depending on the day or time. We need to give ourselves and others permission to feel right now, whatever that looks like. 

Third, we need to look out for one another right now. When we see someone hurting, we have a responsibility to step in and live life with them, not just sidestep them and their struggles. This includes our spouses, our kids, our extended families, our friends, and from time to time, complete strangers.

Finally, let me end with this. The only real way for us to know how someone else is doing is to ask them. Like I did with this survey, we need to check in on the people around us and ask them, “How are you doing today?” Empathy starts there…

Thank you for investing the time to explore this with me. I’ll be back in a few days with the responses to question number three in the 2020 Depth Check-Up, “What are you the most excited or optimistic about today?” Subscribe here to follow me down this path.

– John

P.S. Curious to see the full list of replies to the question, “What three words describe how you’re feeling today?” Click here.