Coping with uncertainty

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Photo by 天成 褚 on Unsplash

It has been over a month since I lost my job. And while hearing about the massive amount of job losses and businesses shutting down all over the world did cause some anxiety, I couldn’t relate. Not until the moment I realized I didn’t know where my next paycheck was coming from. You can empathize, pray that it doesn’t happen to you, or plan if it does but, there’s no way to predict your actions when you find yourself out of a job amid a pandemic. Everything I had swept under the rug to keep functioning as a regular adult is crawling back out. I have all the time to watch my thoughts stray from one vicious circle to another. How I hated my job, how I was unsure about my seven-year-long live-in relationship, or how with every single year, I was turning a little more into my mother. Like mosquitoes buzzing right when you are drifting off to sleep; only now they’re latched to your ear. Add to that the precariousness of landing a job while the rejection letters stack up. If only motivation came as easy as despair.

I have spent half a decade working for a paycheck and, even if it was not the most soul-sucking job like most corporate careers turn out to be, I wasn’t happy. It was a practical choice at the time. I went to college, got a degree in business to land a job in the city that would gradually equate to the amount of investment made in my education – things we do to in the hopes of securing a future. But as I hunt down every open position on the ten different job portals where I have my resume listed, I become more aware of the fact that if not for the money, I wouldn’t be doing this.

I’m one of those people who spend year after year in the daily grind due to the lack of a better opportunity or over-familiarity. People who weren’t brave enough to follow through with whatever it is they were passionate about. I lack ambition in equal proportion to foresight. I’d rather sit in a corner and contemplate the meaning behind it all than to come up with ways to make a sub-optimal process more efficient to gather some professional brownie points from the boss. Like the succulent you keep on your desk because it survives with the least amount of sunlight and water. The only thing that has made me happy in the past couple of months is the satisfaction of finishing a book or a piece of writing that I struggled with for days. And I don’t even consider myself a good writer.

At a time when uncertainty is synonymous with the normal, even a minor setback can feel impossible to overcome. The severity of a job loss or a lurking relationship issue is intensified by the “COVID situation” that under usual circumstances could have been dealt with little to an adequate amount of grace. The questions get louder, bouncing back and forth off the walls of your mind. Do I go back to live with my parents? Do I go back to school? Is it even possible to make a career change at 30? What about the last seven years? All those years of overthinking and procrastination felt amateurish in comparison to the emotional roller-coaster I’m on now.

It’s unbelievably easy to fall into endless cycles of self-loathing followed by even more endless cycles of self-loathing. And it takes a deliberate effort to stay positive. But if you want to get somewhere, anywhere, you have got to get out of thinking in repetitive patterns. Every day I wake up surprised by the increasing level of my anxiety. And I tell myself, it exists because I let it. Keeping your sanity is crucial. If you aren’t vigilant, negativity has a way of creeping in.

First, give yourself time to grieve. I’m not saying you should spend months overthinking every step that may have lead to the situation you’re in now. I did and, it’s no good. But give yourself time to acknowledge the facts. Whether it’s a job loss, financial troubles, a relationship issue, or just a rut, take time to understand where you stand and what you want. Do you want to keep looking for a job while learning a new skill? Is there a way to make money from something you enjoy doing like, writing or photography? (I still haven’t figured this one out but, it doesn’t take more than a couple of hours of online research to weigh your options against your skills) Do you want to invest the time in going back to school? Can you afford it? Do you want to work on your relationship or, are you ready to move on? Obsessing over my problems has slowed things down but, it has also made me very sure about what I want. When we live every day checking off items on a to-do list, sometimes we lose track of their significance.

Journal. We all have our form of journalling. Maybe a list works for you or, perhaps you prefer writing as the thoughts come to you. Whatever you chose to do, what’s important is to grab that pen and notebook (I like the old-fashioned way but, you do you) or maybe your phone or laptop and write down whatever it is that you’re feeling at a particularly anxious moment. Do this daily so you can keep track of any progress or lag in the way you’re feeling. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have done this in the past but making it a daily practice keeps you grounded. You can also practice noting down what you want to do for the day. It helps keep your focus on the present.

Exercise. You know it’s good for you so, stop making excuses and find 30 minutes to get moving. I watch free workout videos by FitnessBlender on YouTube and have been for years. If you haven’t heard of them, then definitely check them out https://www.youtube.com/user/FitnessBlender. They are the reason I still work out after years of having a toxic relationship with the gym. Physical activity of any kind helps de-clutter and organize your thoughts. The difference I noticed on days where I skip my workouts from the days I don’t are drastic. Instead of slopping around the house when I begin my day with as little as 10-15 minutes of stretching, I am a lot more prepared for the rest of it.

Meditate. This is a tricky one. Sometimes it has helped me relax while; at other times, it has made me more anxious. Especially if I was pretty stressed out already. You can either start with 10 minutes of mindfulness mediation where you simply focus on your breath or, you could use a guided meditation app. There are tonnes of them out there (I have tried Calm personally but, I prefer the traditional way). If you cannot keep your thoughts from lingering on your problems, skip meditating and watch a rerun of your favorite comedy sitcom. Anything that keeps you from overthinking helps detach from the ongoing issue. You will look at things more objectively when your brain is not on auto-pilot.

Read. One thing I’m thankful for with the pandemic and all is the TIME. Instead of spending long hours commuting to and from work, I have all that extra time to read. I’ve crossed my yearly target in less than six months, thanks to the book store that lets me exchange used books so; I don’t have to spend a fortune buying new ones now when money is tight. Reading opens up your mind and broadens your perspective. To me, it’s like meditating. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, reading even ten pages every day gives you a break from the routine at the comfort of your couch.

Have Goals. Make a plan and stick with it. It doesn’t matter whether your goals are big or small, short, or long term. It can be something as simple as choosing an apple over a bag of potato chips or something with clearly defined steps like working on your blog, a portfolio, or learning a new skill. The only thing that matters is showing up and doing it over and over again until it becomes second nature to you.

Play with your pets or take a walk. I was very lucky to find two adorable kitties from the local shelter. Even watching them just be kitties calms me down. Let your inner child out while productivity and efficiency take the back seat. If you don’t have pets, go out and take a walk. We have been indoors for close to a year now. Over time, that gets to you. Make sure to breathe in some fresh air every day, of course, with your masks on.

Get disciplined. It takes work, but it’s doable. Keep the promises you make to yourself. Every day. If you have decided to send out 10-job applications every day for 3-months, do it. If you would like to spend an hour learning every day a new skill, take out the time. It’s that simple. Here is one of my favorite quotes by Dostoevsky from Crime and Punishment, “Man gets used to everything, the scoundrel.” And you will too.

And finally, remember to take every day as it comes. This has always been difficult, even if I’m aware I control nothing. We are wired to make up stories in our heads when we look back; and when we look forward. If living in the moment were easy, there would be fewer cases of heart attacks in the world. I miss the financial freedom. I miss hiding behind the veil of my “fulfilling career” whenever my dad throws the “30 and single” card at me. But if I hadn’t lost the job, I wouldn’t have time to learn anything new, let alone write. There would be no plan B. I just finished another online course on a data management tool that is bound to become obsolete in a year or two. But, but, but… the next time an employer asks me whether I have used the latest version of some new visualization tool that’s hip at the moment, I can blatantly overstate the significance of my work and say I did. We are mere mortals and have no salvage value so let’s accept our very flawed, very imperfect selves and get cracking.

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