It’s getting to be peak autumn color in Minnesota this week, and everywhere you look, it’s gorgeous. The leaves in the back of my house are blazing yellow and orange, and they create an impressive reflection on the lake when the light is just so and the air is still. It’s kind of like the water is on fire with the vibrancy of the season. Of course, this time of intense beauty is fleeting, only lasting a few weeks each year, but then again, it does come back around every year. We just have to make a point to pay attention to it when it does show up. It’s always interesting to me that such intense beauty can co-exist so easily alongside the things that shake us to the core.
It’s been exactly one year since I got the news that I was being laid off from my job of ten years, almost to the hour. While this unexpected turn of events was certainly not a tragedy of the magnitude of trying to remake life in the aftermath of a hurricane or managing a chronic disease or seeing your home go up in flames or losing a child to violence, there have been some studies that show that when people lose a job, it leaves an impact as significant as losing a spouse. I’m not sure I totally buy that, but I can see the parallels. We assign so much meaning to our work, it can almost feel like our identity and self worth are stripped away when that job is lost. And, let’s be honest, having a corporate paycheck and the benefits package that comes with it makes a difference in how easy life feels.
So as this season of beauty comes around again, I am finding myself reflecting on the things I’ve learned as a result of what came to pass one year ago.
- I wouldn’t change what happened. Sounds odd, but I don’t know if I would have had the courage to leave on my own terms. I was burnt out and every day was stressful. I would have, of course, preferred to leave on my own terms with a heartfelt goodbye and the typical “thanks for all of your service, we wish you well” email that everyone gets when they resign by their own choice, (because who wouldn’t?) but I am owning up to the fact that I hadn’t figured out how to do that with out the extra push.
- Leaving somewhere, even if you needed to, on someone else’s time table makes life harder. Not having a corporate paycheck is less comfortable. This is probably obvious, but it makes me realize that I often took for granted the easy access to benefits that came as part of the package. I have a much greater understanding now about how important it is to have good, affordable healthcare available for all, no matter what your employment situation. Just because you work for a small company or a start up that can’t afford to provide good health care benefits (or you are self employed) doesn’t mean you should have to spend half of of your paycheck or monthly income to provide insurance for your family. Managing insurance shouldn’t be so hard, and this from someone who doesn’t have any health problems. I can only imagine the stress of having to choose between your diabetes medication and food.
- I don’t want to find all of my meaning in my work. I want to do work that matters, to be sure, and I want to impact people in a positive way and contribute to the healing of the world. But I don’t want to sacrifice my sanity to find a job that will do all of those things. Meaning has to come from somewhere deeper than what you do for a job.
- I like working from home. I was very worried that to keep paying the bills I’d have to find a job in an office park somewhere, and I even interviewed for one position that included a 60 mile one way commute. I am deeply grateful that I didn’t get that job, and that I found a work from home position (even if it’s more hours that I want to devote to just one job) that allows me to continue to spend my days at home in the woods.
- No life situation is permanent. Losing a job that felt really secure was unsettling, and it continually reminds me that there are no guarantees in life. Things can change in a blink of an eye, and we can’t ever know what might being coming next. But we can learn to pay attention to what serves us and prioritize those things, and we can use each hardship to build the resiliency we need for whatever challenges lie ahead. And the meaning that we find outside of our day jobs? That’s what sticks around. That has staying power, even while the circumstances of life change.
So, that’s that. Lessons from a layoff, you might call it. A strong autumn wind is blowing today, and I can see the yellow and orange leaves starting to fall to the ground. The beauty of the season will soon fade, but one year later, I’m reminded that beauty doesn’t always look how I think it should.
*Update: This post has become the backbone of a new book that came out from Homebound Publications in March 2019 – What Comes Next: Between Beauty and Destruction.