The Gift of Bad Times
My year of unemployment and the lessons it taught me
In the fourth decade of my life I have truly grasped the meaning of the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for, it just might come true’.
About two years ago, while sitting at my desk, editing, I would often yearn for an extended vacation, a break from office routine, just a few days of nothingness. And then, out of the blue, it happened. The reprieve I so longed for was suddenly thrust upon me: Cost-cutting in the news organization where I worked led to my abrupt exit.
For 14 months starting February 2017, time slowed down. Every day I would wake up hopeful, search the net manically for the right job, recognize my foolish optimism and stop. Yet, somehow, I never gave up groping for that sliver of hope, which would give me a reason to wake up the next morning.
If this sounds like the plot of a dark film, that’s exactly how it felt like for me. It was as if I was in an intense, grim plot. When the going got rough, I was the actor. When optimism returned, I was the spectator.
However, at some point it became evident that this role-playing wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Moping around the house, waiting for the few people I knew to come a-calling, talking to myself was just leading me to a wall of doom—a dark place, where my brain would shrink up and prove useless when I needed it. Self-pity---though quite convenient---was a luxury I neither had the time for nor the headspace to indulge in. Like Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park famously said “Life will find a way”, I was hell-bent on finding my life, my way, my way.
The First Steps ...
... were baby steps. Of a sort. Opting out of my self-imposed exile, I gathered the nerve---at times you need it for the simplest of acts---to go out. Whether for a brisk walk, a half-hearted jog or just a stroll to the cluster of shops around the corner, I ensured I was out of the house for some time, every day. It worked. Slowly, I entered the land of the living.
- There was a reason to wake up: Exercise.
- An outcome to look forward to: A natural high.
- A by-product of the sweat: A fitter me.
- A welcome revelation: A more confident self.
Not surprisingly, health professionals endorse exercise and physical activity as they help release feel-good endorphins, drowning anxiety and depression.
I also started meeting more people. Not too many, just a few. Close friends, caring relatives and spirit-boosting acquaintances, who would take my mind off the constant brooding and allow me to laugh. They also made me realize that the entire world had problems. Some massive, some not so much. But problems exist, for everyone.
Keeping at it ...
... was not easy. However, once I realized I didn’t have to win the war at one shot, that I could focus on smaller battles, life looked bearable. I created a timetable:
- Walk 20 minutes longer and make the daily routine 40 minutes long.
- Drink more warm water for hydration.
- Respond to friends who have been trying to call.
- Smile more while talking to my parents on the phone.
- Cook a dish and call a friend over.
- Practise gratitude for all that I have.
- Keep the faith---somehow. Whether it was yoga, meditation or any form of spirituality, I tried it. It can’t hurt, I told myself. In my case, it helped. A sense of calm enveloped me.
Still, there were days when I would feel my confidence ebb, my anxiety rise and my hope for a better future fade. But then, I’d sternly tell myself, You are privileged to live in a big city and be able to make ends meet, albeit with some help. There are people in your life who care. Appreciate that. With a mental slap to the self, I’d be up again. To get out looking for a job---meet people, apply for positions, even if it meant facing disinterest or rejections.
Letting The Sadness In ...
... is not as defeatist as it may sound. I had to accept the fact that I was unemployed and good job offers were not banging my door down. The question why is this happening to me? was normal. As were disbelief, depression, sadness … Trying to bury them under the rock of a stony smile was not ideal. Of course, it was okay to be miserable. So I allowed myself time to do that.
But not all my time. With each opportunity that didn’t work out, I felt dejected. I knew that a job wouldn’t just tap my bedroom window. I had to try---again and again and again. I kept telling myself This too shall pass. A close friend and my mother would always tell me, “Things have a habit of working out on their own.” Which doesn’t mean you can warm the couch. It just helps to know it because you can stop the self-blame, keep trying (which can be exhausting) and trust the universe to do right by you.
Being Mentally Active ...
… was a tough one. There are only so many grey cells one uses being online, watching television and occasionally Netflixing. Books became my friends once again, as did comics. I went back to Calvin and Hobbes and Asterix, my saviours at another not-so-happy time in my life. I was making myself smile … then laugh. And eventually guffaw.
I kept reminding myself life couldn’t come to a standstill. When interviews went well but didn’t translate into concrete offers, I gave myself a specific time frame to mope. And then dusted off the depression and strode out again.
Welcoming Good Times ...
… was the most elevating, validating and eventful time of my life. After many false promises and starts, I landed a job I had never dreamt of. A fresh start! My longish streak of unemployment finally came to an end. Happiness peaked, excitement grew and congratulatory messages from well-wishers poured in.
The past year has taught me that there will be obstacles, but they will appear much smaller with support, perseverance and the lessons from a tougher time gone by. I have learnt to hold on to the good things and strive to make the best of them. Problems don’t disappear on their own, you need to ensure you stay ahead. What disappears is the defeatist mindset. And what stays is the wisdom of turbulent times that leaves us with strength, confidence and gratitude.