The journey after being laid off

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, May 31, 2020 in the Gaston Gazette.

No one asks to be laid off from a job. Usually, you’re the last person to see it coming. The stages of grief are all there, as you would expect. There’s the initial shock, anger, sadness and over some time, there’s acceptance.

As the acceptance begins to seep in, there’s also a weird sense of freedom that comes along with it. It kind of feels like the last day of school before summer vacation. No more homework. No more projects. No more quizzes or tests. The endless possibilities that summer promises is all yours.

My life in the last two months, in many ways, has felt like a summer vacation. But let’s not kid ourselves. I’m also free from a steady paycheck, and more importantly, free from being able to sink my teeth into something meaningful day after day.

While there is something exciting starting with a clean slate, it can also be overwhelming. You don’t know what’s next.

I’ve found myself in that place that Herminia Ibarra, an expert on professional and leadership development, calls the liminal period – the place where you are existing between the past that you once knew and a future you don’t know at all. I’m simply between the ‘Then’ and the ‘Next’. It’s a weird place to be.

At first it felt freeing to be out of a job. But that feeling isn’t sustainable. The excitement about what’s to come slowly fades into monotony. Let’s be clear, I’m not bored. Or depressed. There’s always something to do, but it’s not terribly exciting or inspiring as it felt just nine weeks ago.

Each weekday looks a lot like the same. In fact, I can pretty much tell you how today will go. And tomorrow. And the day after that.

I know this because it’s the way most days have gone down since I was laid off 65 days ago.

Just about everything I do is now done at home, the same place where I woke up and the same place where I’ll go to sleep. It’s sunrise and sunset and everything in between. Mundane as it can be at times, there’s a certain rhythm to it all.

But I have found it especially hard when the sun doesn’t come out. Even the dog seems to get a little depressed by the lack of sunlight, and his entire life has been built on one giant ‘stay-at-home’ quarantine.

We went four days in a row without the sun earlier in the month. That’s tough. Staying at home is tough, but when the sun chooses to stay away, that’s even tougher.

I guess I should be more grateful when the sun decides to come out, even on the days this summer when we break 90-degrees. Sun is better than no sun. It’s the little things that can brighten a dreary day.

Like when a hummingbird stops by to take a drink from the feeder that I hung up two months ago. Or when last year’s hibiscus finally decides to bloom for the first time this year.

It’s the little things.

Like when I’m playing basketball with my neighbor and during our game of Horse I hit a “granny-shot swish” from 25 feet out. Or when you stumble upon a sweet-tasting July cantaloupe in the middle of May.

This is what Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, calls the “math of gratitude, the act of taking a daily accounting of ordinary things”. Or as I call them, the little things.

Because according to Bowler, “they all add up, filling up the plus column. They matter, irregardless what the minus column looks like.”

Life isn’t bad. It just isn’t terribly exciting these days. It’s not what my Mom would call “a laugh a minute”. But in choosing to lean on the little things, it’s become a way to keep moving forward – to hopefully move out of the liminal period at some point down the road.

It’s all a process. Next is coming, but I’m not there yet. These little things are what will fuel me on the way to what’s Next.

Columnist Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 crisis. Look for another installment of his “Life In Quarantine” series soon.