I finally got my jersey back

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, October 4, 2020 in The Gaston Gazette and five other newspapers throughout North and South Carolina.

I had heard whispers in the wind that layoffs were potentially coming. I saw it happen with the housing crisis of 2008, and with the pending coronavirus restrictions and potential shutdown, it didn’t seem like it was going to be any different this time. The revenue just wasn’t going to be coming in like it had been.

The money was getting tight and in order to keep the organization going, positions were going to have to be eliminated.

The weird thing is, I didn’t think I would be on the list. Nobody thinks they are going to be on the list.

But I was. In fact, I was one of 10 that received the bad news that last Friday in March. That’s when my “Life in Quarantine” effectively began.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but in reality, it has only been six months and eight days.

These things happen. And I certainly wasn’t alone. I may have been one of 10 that fateful day, but I am also one of the tens of millions of Americans that have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

And even though they say it’s not personal, it’s hard not to take it personal.

Jim Ross, the hall-of-fame wrestling broadcaster, was in a similar situation many years ago. There was a change in leadership at the company he was working for at the time, and as a result of political reasons, he was being taken off TV and was going to be moved into a behind-the-scenes role instead. He was obviously hurt and confused by what felt like a demotion.

He did all the right things – he worked hard, had strong product knowledge and was reliable and consistent in his work. Sometimes though, that’s not enough to save a job.

Enter “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, the bleached-blonde, curly-headed, larger-than-life professional wrestler that sold out arenas and stadiums all over the world.

He offered up some unforgettable career advice that Ross recalled recently on his podcast:

“Dusty Rhodes told me a long time ago, ‘don’t let ‘em take your jersey away. If you lose your jersey, you’re no longer in the game. Guys like me and you, we need to be in the game’. I wanted to get back in the game.”

Needless to say, Ross didn’t want to hand in his jersey. Neither did I, but in my case, I didn’t have a choice. It was a result of circumstances out of my control.

But that’s where this newspaper column comes in. This weekly space has been a critical piece in not only keeping my skills sharp, but has allowed me to keep my sanity as I await to get back in the game on a full-time basis.

This weekly column – “Life In Quarantine” as it was appropriately named – brought with it a rhythm and a structure that I desperately needed to be productive in my time off. Writing coach and award-winning journalist Chip Scanlon once said, “Nothing focuses the mind like a clock ticking toward deadline.”

Monday instantly became Idea Day. Tuesday turned into Writing Day. Wednesday became Submission Day. This weekly process and deadline was about the only real, consistent structure I had in my time off.

But I loved it. And it paved the way to where I would land next.

But Life In Quarantine can’t last forever. I still have more gas left in the tank. COVID is still here – it’s not going away anytime soon.

But I am proud to say that tomorrow, I get to go back to work. I finally got my jersey back.

Oh, it may look a little different, have a different color scheme with a different number on the back, but the word ‘DUNGAN” is still etched across the back, and more importantly, it fits just like the last one.

In the words of John Fogerty: “Put me in coach! I’m ready to play.”

Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. You can email him at [email protected] and read more from him at www.TheBenDungan.com.