It was twelfth-grade literature class when I first realized what a gift the element of surprise is.
We were reading Their Eyes Were Watching God and discussing the symbolism of the pear tree. Now, for some, the pear tree in the book represents Janie's sexuality, but there was also another interpretation--the flowers on the tree represented her dreams, her opportunities, her possibilities. Because youth was on her side, Janie's pear tree was blossoming with so many flowers to be picked. Really, to me at least, it was a symbol of how when you are young, there are so many possibilities flowering. Life is just waiting for you to pluck it, for you to decide which paths you will go down and what surprises you will find along the way. Life in your late teens, even if you don't realize it at the time, feels hopeful in a way it never will again.
I was thinking about this pear tree the other day in the shower and came to a deeply sad conclusion: at 33, I couldn't help but feel like my pear tree is now a crumpled heap of sticks, broken into tiny twigs. In short, I realized with sadness that although at one point, my tree had many flowers on it like Janie's, mine now was plucked and barren (the dream symbol...not the sexuality one. That's a different post altogether).
I'm settled into a life now that I know I am blessed to have, yet I also know lacks a lot of the vivacity that my earlier years of adulthood did. I've settled into a routine where many of the days look the same, where the element of surprise is as unexpected as a freak snowstorm in spring. I've figured out the laundry schedule and my nighttime routine. I've settled into a career, a mortgage, a life of predictability. I've settled into a life where I no longer can see all of the forks in the path, where it feels like I'm endlessly plodding down the exact same one. It's not a bad path--it's just lacking possibility. Choices. Chances.
That lack of choice, of chance, of possibility is perhaps why I found myself staring at the shower wall as the water poured over me and I considered an old metaphor from a book I read long ago.
Before we go any farther, I know I am privileged to say that. I realize boredom is a blessing to many and sought after by those living difficult lives I cannot even imagine. I know I am lucky to be living the life I am. Still, as I let the suds rain down over my body and stared at the blank shower wall, I couldn't help but wonder what my younger self would think of this somewhat passionless existence.
Because that's the thing I think no one tells you about adulthood--that at some point, the magic sort of fades. That at some point, you trade magic for predictability and surprise for security. That you will spend so many years chasing after the elusive "right" path, trying to make choices that will set you up for success that society wants you to find. You will pluck flower after flower off your pear tree, not realizing that someday, all the flowers will be gone and you'll be left with a somewhat depressing, mundane set of branches in their place.
No one prepares you for the day that you realize the element of surprise regarding who you will become will be gone, and in its wake, you'll just be left with this shell of a person who goes through the motions sometimes.
For a while, I thought perhaps I was alone in this feeling. I thought perhaps I was just in a funk where the passion, the magic had died. Where I felt like I was just sort of surviving instead of excited to see what was next. But I've had many conversations with other women especially. I've seen the dulled sparkle in the eyes of those around me. I've seen the translucent moroseness that settles in once someone comes to the conclusion that so many of us eventually come to: This is it. This is what I am, who I will be.
I know that age is just a number. I know that it's never too late to change who we are, to reinvigorate that joy in our hearts and that passion. I know we can find ways to supercharge that spark again. Still, I can't help but let the realist speak up here that the older we get, that the more set in our routines we become, the harder it is to see those flowers again.
It is difficult to imagine a life where you again have choice and chance, where you're fighting to find that dream you once had. I think it's why if you talk to women in their thirties and forties, so many of them have this hidden little dream of waking up and being someone else--or waking up and having a different life altogether.
It's not that there's something broken or wrong with women who feel this. I think it's just no one prepared us for the fact that even if you pick the "right" path, there's a spark that's lost when you settle into a choice. When you let the other flowers fall away and are left with just one, suddenly, there is an emptiness that settles in. A dullness. A "something is missing" kind of feeling.
This is not an article to tell you how to find the spark again. This is not an article to tell you that your best days are over, that your flowers are all dead on your pear tree. This is simply an article to say this--adulthood isn't all the wonderful things we perhaps thought it would be. Adulthood is much harder, much duller, much more complex than they ever told us. And for many of us, women especially, it can be a bitter pill to swallow that the tree we once admired in front of us is slowly withering.
I don't have the answers. I don't have the reasoning. But I do have this--the promise that you are not alone if you are struggling with what this whole thing means and with the reality that hanging onto the wonder, the surprise, the possibility isn't as easy as it once seemed.
So no matter where you are in the pear tree metaphor, I hope you know that you are not alone and that there is nothing wrong with you. Call it faded magic or a mid-life crisis or whatever other fancy term you want, but just know that it's okay to wake up and realize adulthood isn't everything you ever wanted. Know that it's okay to feel a little lost, even if you have the path all figured out and set.
There is no rule book to this thing, no book on pear trees that can give us all the answers. I suppose that is part of the wonder that will always be left--the question of whether or not we're doing this thing right at all.
Recently, I shared a blog post about what my husband and I have been through since 2019 when he lost his career of nine years. It has been a long, winding road of anxiety, fear, and financial frustrations. Still, along the way, we have both grown and learned from the experience.
I wouldn't wish the loss of a job on anyone--especially during a pandemic. However, the statistics show that we were not alone in our struggles. According to PEW Research, "The rise in the number of unemployed workers due to COVID-19 is substantially greater than the increase due to the Great Recession." The site notes that the unemployment rate in May of 2020 was at 13%, while during the height of the Great Recession in 2010, the unemployment rate was only 10.6%. Thus, I've come to learn that so many struggled with what my husband and I went through--and so many are still struggling.
Every battle in life, though, is a learning experience. We've come out the other side stronger, smarter, and more budget conscious. We've also learned quite a few tips that assure me that if we ever went through this again, we would handle it much better.
Below, I'm listing out some of the practical advice I have if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. These are real, actionable steps you can do now to regain some control in your life, even when it feels like all your plans are unraveling.
1. Get that resume and cover letter in order.
That was how long my husband and I had been out of the resume, cover letter, interview world. Suddenly, though, we were thrust back into all overnight when my husband's company furloughed him.
Immediately, I dusted off his resume and cover letter and got to work.
If it's been a while since you're in the job market or even if you recently got your job, it's always a good idea to do some updating. Ask yourself:
Some other tips I have learned from helping my husband:
2. Get your budget in order.
This is not the time to stick your head in the sand about your finances. This is a time to know exactly what your expenses are and where your money is going.
It is going to take some work to adjust your budget to fit your new situation. My husband and I sat down and actually created a budget for the first time when he lost his job. Up until then, we really just spent whatever and didn't worry about what was coming in, going out, and going to savings. As long as there was money in our account, we didn't worry about it.
After he was furloughed, though, money was much, much tighter. Unemployment rarely replaces the whole income. Thus, we sat down and actually looked at our fixed expenses, sought to cut variable expenses, and tried to figure out how to spend as little as possible. We loved this online budget planner calculator to help us set targets and figure out exactly what to spend on different categories. It is also a great place to check in if you already have a budget and want to see if you are staying on track. We also found we could use this when he was considering jobs and we were seeing if we could make the salary work financially.
3. Sign-Up for a Job Board Online
Immediately after losing his job, my husband signed up for Indeed.com to keep his eye on prospects. This program emailed him any time a relevant job came open and allowed us to get his application in early and sometimes even first. It also helped us keep track of jobs we applied for and what qualifications employers were looking for.
They have a resume builder tool, too, if you are still struggling with step one. Definitely use all the features here to give yourself the best possible options.
4. Have patience.
When you or a spouse loses a job, you want to fix the problem as soon as possible. The anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the situation is so uncomfortable. Still, you need to have patience. This is not a situation that will resolve itself overnight. It has taken my husband over a year to get to a job he is passionate about and we know will be his forever job. In the meantime, he spent time working various jobs to help us get by and keep the budget going.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box in order to survive. There are several ways you can (legally!) make money and keep the household floating until you find the right opportunity. Keep throwing your hat in the ring, keep making smart choices, and keep looking for opportunities. But until then, be patient and know eventually, a door will open that will lead you to exactly where you belong--as long as you are prepared and have followed these steps.
Hang in there. I know it is so tough--but I promise it will get better. And as always, reach out if you need help!
Staying Hopeful When You Lose a Job
There is light ahead even if you can't see it because of all of the darkness.
I put that first because even if you can't read the rest, I wanted you to take that with you today, this week, this month, this year. Because sometimes, darkness and hard times last a long time. Sometimes, it feels like you'll be forever lost on a winding road in a horrific forest of grief or fear or anxiety or struggle.
But there IS light ahead even if you can't see it.
As I've talked about before, my husband lost his job in November of 2019. We were terrified, anxious, stressed. Suddenly, our carefree spending habits were put on a very tight budget. Suddenly, my husband, who had an identity wrapped up in his career of nine years, was lost and didn't know where he was going. Suddenly, everything that seemed certain sort of fell apart.
Back then, we naively thought the struggle would last a month or two. We kept assuring ourselves things would be better in a month, two months, by summer. And then COVID hit and the world fell apart completely. The struggle bus was here to stay.
It took nineteen months for us to really see the light, for things to get better, and for Chad to find his way. Last week, we finally took a breath of much welcomed, hopeful air. He has found where he belongs, and we are excited for the journey ahead.
Looking back on the past years, things weren't always pretty. Losing a job is scary. Losing a career path is scary. Losing a sense of financial security in the middle of a pandemic is scary.
Still, when I think about all of the struggles, I also can't believe how much we've grown in the past couple of years. We've learned, truly learned, what it means to need something versus to want something. We've learned, like "The Minimalists" talk about, that you really need to value people and moments, not things. We've learned that $100 moisturizers and fancy gadgets do not make a home--love, laughter, support, as cheesy as it sounds, are the foundations of true, fulfilling joy.
We've learned that it doesn't take a million dollars to make memories. Some of our all-time favorite moments and dates came from this past year--and barely cost anything. We've laughed and pulled together. We've found out that our marriage is even more solid than we thought. And even when things got stressful, we found that together, we could stand strong and come out the other side even stronger.
We've learned that the true value of life is not what's in your bank account--it's time. The time you spend laughing. The time you spend feeling true joy. The time you spend chasing your passions. That's the true measure of how well you are living.
We've learned that true friends, that supportive family, is a lifesaver. We've learned that people are truly kind and thoughtful. We've been so thankful for everyone who helped us along the way, by listening to our fears, by helping us navigate the job world, by offering help in all sorts of ways.
We were luckier than many who get thrown into our position. We are thankful that we came out the other side pretty much unscathed. I know there are many who losing a job for is even harder.
But I wanted to write this in case someone out there is dealing with this--because I know how scary it is. Truly. I want you to know that on the days when the foliage in the forest is so thick, it seems like there will never be a sunny day again...there will. It might not be in a week or a month. It might not be in a year. But if you can keep your eyes on the path and keep putting one foot in front of the other, eventually you'll come out the other side. You will.
There is light ahead even if you can't see it because of all of the darkness.
And there are lessons to be learned and growing to do even in the hardest moments of life.
It's been a rough year to say the least...and many of us are feeling more anxious, more stressed out, and more burnt out than ever before.
If you're like me, the pandemic took a toll on your mental health, your drive, and even your passion. I've been stuck in a rut over and over again these past few months. Still, I've done some digging online for ways to help me feel centered again that don't cost a lot of money. During my pandemic journey, I've found several sites and apps that are not only free or cheap to use, but really help me stay centered, find my joy again, and start working towards my future goals.
Here are the five sites and apps I highly recommend if you're struggling with stress. Together, these five will help you feel more centered and grow both in mind, body, and spirit.
1. An app for the body: Fit-On
I struggle with fitness in a normal year--but the pandemic has really taken the motivation out of me. Still, as I strive to get back on track with all things in my life, I know that moving my body not only has health benefits but also has stress-relieving benefits as well.
Fit-On is an app that has really changed my motivation. I love that there are hundreds of FREE exercise routines to do by dozens of instructors (including celebrities). You can choose to search by the impact level, time, intensity, instructor, and type. They have everything from easy stretching to yoga to weight lifting. I love that the app keeps track of it all for me, too. It's so motivating to set goals and then to see your progress as you complete classes. It's great for taking your exercise regiment on the go, too.
Even with gyms closed, you can stay on track, try something new, and get rid of some of your stress.
2. An app for the mind: Calm
I'm an anxious person to begin with, but the uncertainty of the past year has really taken a toll on my ability to stay Calm. That's why I love the Calm app. It's a way to automate your relaxation and meditation practice. If you are just starting out with a meditation practice, Calm takes the uncertainty out of it by gradually leading you through more intricate practices. I love that you can pick different goals and time ranges. There are also sleep stories that can help you drift off if anxiety is keeping you up.
Calm does have a fee associated with it, but you can try it for free for a limited time.
3. A site to bring you joy: Plays.org
One of the other ways I have learned to de-stress during the pandemic is to bring more joy and fun into my life. Before the pandemic hit, I was definitely a workaholic. I was going a million miles a minute, never slowing down or thinking about my mental health. With the forced slow down that the pandemic brought on, I realized very quickly that working all of the time leads to toxic levels of stress--sometimes you have to step back and rediscover joy, fun, and your childlike sense of wonder.
I've recently discovered a fun, free gaming site that has tons of options. The games are super addicting and a nice way to just escape from all of my worries. One of my favorites to play is Frogtastic because it's so easy to play but so easy to get hooked. I always make sure now to schedule some downtime to play just to help clear my mind and make sure I'm working fun into my routine.
4. A site for your spirit: Artist's Palette Durham Region
Another part of de-stressing is making sure your spirit and your passion is in sync. For me, this Youtube channel has been a life savior during the pandemic. I've always had a passion for painting and creativity. This channel offers FREE tutorials on painting for every level. It's been amazing to escape from the craziness of the world for a couple hours at a time and create something I'm proud of. When I'm painting, I'm not worrying about everything on my to-do list or the craziness of the world--I'm just sitting with myself and letting my thoughts come out through the brush.
I highly recommend reconnecting with your passion if you're struggling with stress right now. If it isn't painting, find something else that makes you feel centered and joyful.
What are your best tips for de-stressing? What apps and sites are you visiting to help yourself feel more joyful and centered? Let me know below.
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