Fifteen years ago, I started a new job. On the second day, I met the man who would become my second husband.
It’s eerie to think of the kismet involved. I had signed up at a temp agency just the week before, something I had sworn never to do again, only now my life had been turned upside down and it was my best, fastest option. While I was still filling out application forms at the agency, the rep brought in a client from across the hall and introduced us. They were going to place me over there, at a real estate agency, but at the last minute they changed their mind and offered me an assignment at an engineering firm up the road.
What would have happened if I had started at the real estate place instead, back in 2005? Maybe I would have pushed forward and become an agent and/or a broker, just in time for the crash?
If that random moment hadn’t gone the way it had, I probably would never have met my hubby or anyone else who worked with him. Different cities, different hobbies, two worlds that were unlikely to collide.
We met and clicked right away. It was not a meet-cute. I distinctly remember that we had a conversation about how dust is mostly composed of human skin. I mean, eww. But at least he knew who he was dealing with.
Looking back, I understand that my new work buddy was just doing what he always does, which is to befriend new hires and show kindness to support staff. This is why he is entrusted with mentoring interns and budding engineers, because he goes out of his way to make people feel welcome.
This is also part of why the two of us get special treatment anywhere where we are regulars. We used to get table service at our local Starbucks before the world got crazy. We both see “customer service” as a game of generating rapport. It was something we recognized and amplified in each other.
When we met, we got into a certain amount of trouble. We kept hanging around each other, became lunch buddies, and drove a great deal of gossip. Apparently everyone assumed we were having an affair. People made bold comments to my face. It was super awkward and embarrassing. Eventually, though, we had to wonder whether everyone might be onto something.
Hmm. Why DO people keep thinking we’re together?
Every friendship makes its own little world. Whatever connection or spark there is between you, you both feed it. It doesn’t take long before you have your own points of reference, your own shared outlook, maybe even a private language. You can both crack up laughing without even looking at each other. You see or hear something and immediately know exactly how your friend would react. You get each other’s style and sense of humor.
For whatever reason, most people see romance in a completely different way, even though friend-romance is fun and easy where traditional ‘romance’ is exhausting and stressful.
What is he thinking? What did she mean by that? Do they like me or don’t they? - Are all things that friends basically never ask about each other.
My hubby and I were able to be friends, platonic friends and professional colleagues, because we both are good at friendship. He has lots of female friends, I have lots of male friends. I have, hmm, maybe a dozen male friends I’ve been close to for 25 years or more, none of whom I’ve dated.
In fact the transition from lunch buddies to “boyfriend and girlfriend” was fraught. We argued about it for weeks. If you think that was bad, it took us more like a year to eventually decide to get married.
A lot of people in our position never move forward because one or the other is afraid to “ruin the friendship.” To me this is a disaster. Almost every image of “romance” or a “love story” in our culture is based on the pursuer-distancer model, where one person chases the other and there’s supposedly some kind of magical physical chemistry. One kiss and *swoon*!
I used to be caught up in that fantasy, too. I finally got so sick of the inevitably painful results that I got down on my knees and prayed never to feel that way again. Can’t I please just be with someone I like, respect, and trust, who makes me laugh, and feel affection instead of misery?
He makes my knees weak *now* - but he didn’t when we met. I wouldn’t say either of us was particularly attracted to the other at first. It is pretty funny to think that we have in middle age what we might have wished for as teenagers.
This is what I would tell anyone who has a crush on their friend. Go for it. Companionate marriage is the best and most stable. We have so much fun. We’ve traveled the world together, saved tons of money, gotten fit, become better cooks, and basically live much better and happier lives because we belong to our own two-member mutual admiration society.
The kind of friendship we have, one that is supportive yet challenging, silly yet serious, enmeshed and yet independent, is very much like our other friendships in many ways. It’s simply that we’ve known each other longer, pushed each other’s limits more, and built up more trust. None of that comes from a lighting bolt of instant attraction or pheromones. Instead it is layered over time, like lacquer.
Now that we’re getting older together, what we have is irreplaceable. You don’t snap your fingers and suddenly pop a 15-year relationship into existence. He never knew that I would one day be leading him by the hand through the emergency room because he was temporarily blind, just as I never knew he would keep me alive through a month of coronavirus. All we knew was that we liked each other and we couldn’t seem to quit talking to each other. Through all these years, those things haven’t changed.
Still my favorite, best friend, Husband Level III, luckiest introduction of all time, love you sweetie.
Though we’ve been referring to it with the acronym WFH, telecommuting is not the same thing as working from home. Technically I’ve been working from home for over a decade. This telecommuting thing is entirely different.
I did a variety of things in my past work life, often switching between different projects and different styles in the same day. I booked client calls, wrote on freelance and on spec, traveled, worked on planes and in my lap and in coffee shops and on a hotel bathroom floor in the middle of the night.
In all those ways, my freelance life was (is?) both more versatile and less comfortable than what I’m doing now.
Telecommuting is like being in an ordinary office, only at home instead of inside a cubicle.
During my first week, I’ve spent more than half my time in meetings and webinars. Not only do we start on time, it’s necessary to start a bit early to make sure there is time for both the hardware and the software to connect.
Unlike normal meetings in conference rooms, most people are on mute for most of the call, so it’s common for someone to be talking to themselves in an empty room for several seconds before everyone realizes their mic isn’t on. Picture this happening with people sitting around a table and it’s actually quite funny.
Everyone is using different equipment, some company-issued and some more ad hoc. Most people have worked for the company for years - or decades - and others were actually hired after the shutdown. Like me, there are people who don’t have a physical desk, chair, computer, phone, or anything else. Our physical existence is hypothetical.
I have the good fortune to have visited the building several times. I’ve met a few of my new colleagues in person, some through my husband and others through Toastmasters. I know where I will probably sit, if we start going back to the corporate campus soon. A few of the new hires can only look at pictures of the building and guess.
One of the odd things about telecommuting is getting used to VPN. It’s like the movie Inception, a computer within a computer, or sometimes more. A desktop within a desktop, with its own wallpaper and its own software. “I’m opening a browser from inside a browser!” This is really important for security reasons, of course. It works well enough once you’re over the “nesting Russian doll” feeling.
This process has been fun. The days are going by so fast, and there are so many things to learn and so many people to meet.
It’s also been weird, because the interruptions are so different from the kind that are typical in an office. I joined a call with my boss first thing in the morning, and there happened to be an entire flock of crows freaking out for several minutes on the roof across from us. (“Us” meaning my household, not me and the person to whom I was speaking). Today it was a dog barking frantically in the alley on my end; last time, it was someone else’s neighbor’s dog barking in the yard next door. So many dogs.
Cats are another one. Someone will be talking, chatter chatter chatter, and then suddenly a plaintive MEOW. Must be cat lunchtime.
My parrot has her good days and her bad days. Sometimes she will play quietly in her box fort for hours. Other times she wants to be on the call and has a way of letting out a shrill whistle the moment I turn off mute. It’s like she knows. (She might).
We’ve been joking about making her a little headset of her own. She is a biped who speaks English, and at 21 she’s certainly old enough to start contributing to the household. Maybe they’re hiring a paper shredder, who knows.
Telecommuting has changed a lot in our household. My hubby and I sit at our own desks, together but apart, on opposite ends of our couch. We’re often on calls at the same time. We have the same schedule and the same days off. We work in the same department. This is how we met, fifteen years ago, though of course in those days we couldn’t have guessed we would marry and share a whiteboard together.
This style of working from home is much more interesting, now that the world has shut down for who knows how long. The time passes very quickly. I like to imagine what I’ll be working on three years from now, and how much of what is new to me today will be routine then. What will a regular workday look like in 2023?
One of the changes we’re making, as we prepare to ride out the next few weird years, is to find a sustainable way to avoid as many outside trips as possible. By ‘sustainable,’ we mean something a little different than what we used to mean, although farm delivery meets those criteria too.
Something we can afford
That fits our default lifestyle
Without a huge drain on mental bandwidth
Or massive time commitments
That we can do without fighting our mutual tendency to pack on weight
That doesn’t create extra trash
Yet also allows other people to earn a decent livelihood
In safe conditions
Including social distancing.
By my calculations, we can continue to get fresh produce delivered to our building every week, indefinitely.
We have been signed up with this service, Farm Fresh to You, a few times over the years. I canceled when we moved out of our newlywed house, not realizing that they keep expanding their service area. It hadn’t crossed my mind that we could sign up again in our new city, hundreds of miles away, until they sent me an email inviting us back.
That’s the sound of an AHA happening in my squirrelly brain.
I had been trying to figure out how to get groceries delivered, while feeling guilty and trying to calculate which risk was greater, my going out and possibly spreading infection myself, or hiring someone else who might have inadequate PPE. In my mind, one obvious solution to this issue is to quit allowing the public to enter the store, and have the grocers pick everything out, which used to be the norm well into the 20th century.
(If you’ve seen any episodes of Little House on the Prairie, that’s what stores were like. You pointed and someone else measured and wrapped everything up for you, in reusable packaging).
I actually think this is a direction that the grocery business will go, because it lowers liability and shrinkage, and a lot of people will be willing to pay for the convenience of not having to shop. The cashless, digital surveillance type will probably also become more common, and of course there’s always room for a more gentrified, boutique experience.
In the meantime, the miracle of the internet allows us to order produce directly from the farm and have it brought to us without the middleman.
There are a lot of CSAs out there. (Community-Supported Agriculture). It’s a way for the farm to guarantee a certain predictable level of income. Every year, an opportunity pops up with our farm to invest money directly for a discount on produce that year. It’s a real lifeline for new farms that might otherwise fail in the first few years.
Most CSAs will pack a bag or box, and you get what you get. That’s the commitment. If the only stuff that really grows well one year is rutabagas, then I hope you like rutabagas ‘cause guess what’s coming for dinner. The produce box comes whether you’re home or not, meaning you’re expected to pay even if you’re away. You’re also usually expected to pick up your produce yourself.
FFTY has been around long enough, as a multi-generational family business, that they’re able to offer a more customized experience. You can cancel weeks, you can cancel certain fruits or vegetables that you know you’ll never eat, and you can order extra of anything you like.
This place was the making of me as a healthy cook.
When I remarried, I took it pretty seriously. “You’re a wife and a mother now,” said this mammalian part of my brain, “so you’d better quit eating cereal for dinner and learn to cook.” I figured I’d get this vegetable subscription and figure out what to do from there.
The first time I got kale, collard greens, and chard in the same box, I had no idea which was which. I had to do an image search so I could tell them apart.
I tried so many vegetable recipes that first year, some that were kinda dreadful and some that were great. It took a long time to find a recipe with collard greens that we actually liked. That was around the time that I figured out how to cook chard stems properly and not just compost them. (Tear off the leaves, chop up the stems like celery, sauté them for an extra 2-3 minutes with garlic and Bragg’s aminos or soy sauce, then add the leaves and give it another couple minutes until emerald green).
Some of the motivation here is our little parrot Noelle, who starts wigging out when she sees the produce box. She lifts her foot in the air and waves: Who has eight thumbs and really really likes greens? She can eat a leaf as big as her entire body.
This whole experience is bringing back such a lot of happy memories from our first years of marriage!
I like the thought that a huge chunk of our groceries is coming directly from a family farm. I pray that everyone is able to stay safe and isolated. The drivers deliver everything overnight, to beat the heat, so they’re able to drop boxes off on people’s porches with no contact. Our spot along the route is around 1:00 AM. As far as I know, this is how they’ve always done it, a win on all sides.
This wouldn’t be a proper spiel without putting in my referral code ($15 coupon for you!). If you live somewhere in California, put in your zip code and see if you’re in the service area. It’s cheaper than you think and it’s a great way to support small-scale local farmers. And, of course, spend less time getting exposed at the grocery store.
“Many of us are done with this,” said one of my neighbors on Nextdoor, following a demand to “stop policing people.” Okay, fine, cool, thanks for making this decision easier on me and my household.
I’m staying inside until 2023 and getting a head start on the new supernormal.
Possibility thinking is not the same thing as optimism. For it to work as a strategic planning tool, possibility thinking has to include *all* possibilities.
At least in my region, there seems to be a pretty broad consensus that there is nothing to worry about. I read that 1 in 5 Brits believe that COVID-19 is a hoax, and it’s probably not too different here in Southern California. This makes me feel some kind of way, as you can probably imagine.
“I ate there and got food poisoning” NO YOU DIDN’T
“I got a speeding ticket along that stretch of highway” YOU LIE
“Attempted break-in on our street” NEVER HAPPENED
*shrug* okay, so I guess we’re done with the concept of social proof. I would really prefer that nobody else in our galaxy go through what I went through the entire month of April, but have it your way. My experience isn’t real to you, all right. Noted.
I feel no desire, need, or motivation to associate with people who feel that way... especially not in their physical proximity.
How am I going to deal with this emotionally, mentally, socially?
Reset my expectations.
Cases are rising in at least 18 states? My county has roughly half of the cases in my entire state, and more than half the deaths? Coronavirus is active on six continents? There may be a separate strain now that takes longer to show symptoms?
I don’t see this thing going anywhere any time soon.
Therefore, I don’t see myself doing what I used to do for fun, anytime in the near future:
Going to the airport, getting on airplanes, staying in hotels, going to live shows
Hanging out in restaurants, cafes, or movie theaters
Wilderness expeditions - will I ever be well or strong enough to do that again??
Everything else about my family, social, and commercial life can be done online, in some cases with more fun and greater efficiency.
Do I miss my family and friends? Yes, of course. Would I ever forgive myself for picking up COVID again and exposing them to it? No. Especially if any of them ran up massive debt in the hospital, or died.
We will meet again and we can hug it out when it feels obviously, finally, conclusively safe.
In the meantime, what are we going to do with ourselves?
We’ve doubled down with our quaranteam buddy. We’re helping her move to a new apartment this week, where we’re already planning a small shared garden. We’re teaching her how to pack a go bag and working on a team evacuation strategy for wildfire season. She’s our literal ride-or-die friend now.
I cut my husband’s hair for the first time. It actually turned out fine! He can’t stop raving about it and running his fingers through it. I give it... an 80%. I’m doing my own split ends and feeling glad I wear mine long. QT and I agreed to color each other’s hair, and maybe we’ll tentatively try a trim, in the back where it doesn’t show on webcam. With videos and practice... maybe it just becomes a thing and we all save hundreds of dollars a year.
We learn a few new artisanal skills, our cooking and baking improve, we expand the ways we support and care for each other, we develop a new group video call etiquette.
It’s up to us to decide - first as individuals, second as households, last as a society.
Or several adjacent societies?
I fear for those who are struggling to live in the reality-based community. It seems like an awful lot of people have lost the plot as far as what sources to trust, what is objectively testable or verifiable, and how to make decisions. Most people aren’t all that great at long-term planning or strategic positioning in the best of times, and when a crisis hits, we often begin to act less rationally than we did before. Clearly there are some issues.
One of the first things I’m personally working on is a quick vetting process. When I meet people (virtually) or see them (physically) how do I size them up? Who gets a shot at being in my social bubble and who would probably find it annoying and unsatisfying anyway?
Another thing we’re working on, as a quaranteam, is speculating on business and investment trends. Not in the “let’s gouge people for PPE” way but in the “what will the world look like in 2025” way.
Even *I* think this pandemic will be over by 2025! Though I have already made permanent policy changes, especially for travel, that I will carry forward. Reason: there are no rules about pandemics! We could have several new ones every year, which is one of the reasons why a COVID vaccine is, for my purposes, a moot point.
I got a new job while I was sick with COVID-19, as I mentioned. They’re WFH-mandatory right now, and it’s possible that most positions will remain that way because they’re already seeing higher productivity. My Plan A is to absolutely crush it at this job. Rather than mope around wishing I didn’t have to isolate, I’m going to pretend the outside world doesn’t even exist, and I work in an alternative arrangement.
Antarctica? A fire watch tower? Spacecraft to Mars or elsewhere? Emily Dickinson’s trance medium? Could vary from day to day or month to month?
As part of my job, I’m determined to get a few software certifications. There is a modest tuition reimbursement. I’d like to get a master’s degree, maybe an MBA too. I’ll have nothing but time and no particular reason to delay. It’s not like we’re going anywhere...
It would be easy to spend the next few weeks or months exactly as tense and anxious as the last few. It would also be easy to go out ONCE, like I did back before the shutdown orders, and get sick, and not even know for two weeks. Those are the default options. As a general rule, whatever is the default is uninteresting to me.
I prefer to move forward, through this intense time when we are all in the Place of Uncertainty, in a direction of my own choosing. To the best of my abilities, I’d rather come out of this in better shape than I went in. I have the power, as do we all, of determining my own attitude and my own behavior. I’d like to emerge in three years better than I am today: like myself, only supernormal.
This is Marie Kondo’s best book. I read it with a certain amount of trepidation, because I found several ideas in her previous books to be impractical or actively dangerous. It also amazes me that her clutter work is so broadly popular, because I have yet to see a hoarder like one of my clients actually complete the KonMari method. Joy at Work, on the other hand, should work for anyone.
Where this book shines is in its focus on time, rather than stuff. The reason for organizing papers or office supplies is to free up time, which can both improve one’s professional reputation and allow for an earlier end to the workday.
Joy at Work also highlights relationships and communication more than Kondo’s earlier books. Most of what constitutes “work clutter” is probably more about people irritating each other than about the arrangement of physical objects. This approach would be great for another household management book, if she ever chooses to write one.
There is a section on meeting management which obviously comes from someone with a full calendar. Here is an area where even one reader who is willing to share this material can delight everyone else in the office. Yes, let’s all have fewer and shorter meetings and excuse anyone who doesn’t need to be there.
The only thing that Joy at Work is missing, in retrospect, is a section on telecommuting. That could really be a book of its own, with chapters on how to balance homeschooling, electronic device sharing, and varied schedules. Maybe it could be called Joy in Spite of It All.
Someone asked me, You said you hadn’t had a job in over ten years. How did you address that in your interview?
This is what I said on the phone:
“I’m a radical candor person, so I’ll just tell you. I haven’t had a regular day job in over ten years.”
They already had my resume, which was of course an accurate reflection of how I have spent my time over the past twenty years. If I got an offer, they were going to do a full background check. They’d “find me out” one way or another, if they hadn’t already. I figured, if they’re talking to me, they’re interested. I have their attention.
Might as well be myself.
What I never realized when I was younger is that employers don’t care what you did in the past. They don’t even care what you’re doing today.
They want to know what you’re going to do for them going forward.
(And can you convince them that you will?)
It’s really hard to be future-facing when you have doubts, guilt, shame, or mixed feelings about your past performance. This is just as true in the workplace as it is in academia, family relationships, or even clearing out your closets. If you want to move forward, you have to figure out a way to integrate your experiences with your identity.
A fixed mindset will say, Failure is permanent, absolute perfection is mandatory every single microsecond, the way we have been is the way we always will be.
This never made sense to me because it’s unclear where that fixed set of attributes starts. After high school? Because surely we all remember a point when we did not know something that we know today. We were all completely incompetent at something, from tying our shoelaces to driving a car to filing a tax return.
If you learned one thing, you can learn another thing.
That right there is your growth mindset.
Not only CAN you constantly learn new things, but... why wouldn’t you? Why would you ever stop?
Another thing that I said during my interview is that “I’m challenge-driven. I’m motivated by curiosity.” I can’t let it rest with not knowing how to do something. As soon as I realize there is something more to know, I’m going to dive deeper.
This was actually a significant liability in some of the lower-level jobs I had as a young person. What those employers wanted was someone obedient who could be tasked and would cover shift changes or skip breaks with no notice.
This type of organization usually starts out interviews from an adversarial position. They are trying to hide their dirty secrets, usually including high turnover, low or no opportunities for advancement, unappealing benefits, uninspiring corporate culture, demands for unpaid overtime, and at least one supervisor who drives people out the door. Because they have to lie about what they are offering, they naturally assume that new hires are hiding things too.
What are you hiding??
I’ve been asked on interviews:
What is my worst flaw (almost every time)
How I would describe myself in one word (??)
Why I left my last position (almost every time)
Where I see myself in five years
These are ‘gotcha’ questions, as is the sneak-attack “Do you have any questions for me?” Nobody is expected to tell the truth about these lame questions; they’re expected to wear a good social mask and give the expected answers in the acceptable way.
My worst flaw? I’m excessively punctual! I’m such a perfectionist!
How would I describe myself in one word? Dedicated!
Why did I leave my last position? I’m looking for new challenges.
Where do I see myself in five years? Working here, I hope!
It doesn’t really matter how you answer the “do you have any questions for me” thing, as long as you actually have a question. This time, my question was, “How supported did you feel during the transition to telecommuting?”
What did I do over the ten years that I stepped out of the traditional workplace? I realized that no employer defined who I was or what I could do. I had “F.U. money” and the incredible luxury of never having to take a job that I didn’t want. I started to learn how to think like a professional (someone with a profession) rather than an employee or, worse, a servant.
(What does someone in customer service do? Serve. And what do you call someone who serves? Right).
To be transparent, I am emotionally attuned toward service no matter what I am doing. I don’t really mind doing scutwork or waiting on people. I don’t even care if I have to wait on Rude People because I think it’s funny to return their behavior with gracious courtesy.
Two things change everything about your outlook and your appeal as a prospect:
Whether you internalize the organization’s goals as your own, and
Whether you are very clear about what you bring to the table.
I’m not *asking* for a job from anyone. I am *offering* the option to bring me on board. Nobody wins if it’s a poor fit, if either of us on either side pretend to be something that we are not.
I was an obvious choice for my new job for a bunch of reasons. One was that I had taken the initiative to do a long-term project on spec, and after nearly two years, it demonstrated a great deal about my work ethic, creativity, and ability to adhere to a production schedule. There is simply nobody like me, and nobody else who can do exactly what I can do.
NB: That’s true of you, too (I’m certain of it), but it’s up to you to demonstrate whatever that is.
Another reason I was an obvious top candidate is that I spent my ten years off doing things that did not fit in my prior job descriptions. I built my resume around a list of untraditional, non-clerical skills, including event planning, ideation, and literature search. I had years’ worth of volunteer positions of increasing responsibility, including leading a team, and I had won a bunch of awards. I had felt stymied in my earlier work life, and I had found a ladder up and out.
Your boss and your job do not tell you who you are, what you can and can’t do, or what you have to offer. You do that. If you feel limited in any way, you’re already prepared to launch straight through the roof. You’ve already outgrown what you were doing. Now it’s up to you to decide what you’d rather be doing, and start figuring out how to get there.
Six weeks ago I was pretty sure I was going to die.
“What shall I do?” I thought. “I know, I’ll apply for a job.”
It was slightly more complicated than that. I had been lying in bed, feeling extremely sorry for myself because I didn’t think I was going to live to see my 45th birthday this summer. For days I went over all the things on my to-do list that weren’t going to get done, books I’d never finish reading, and letters I would never write. I had to make peace with the reality that the world was already moving on without me, that whatever grand projects I might have had within me would never come to exist.
Then I went on to the might-have-beens. I started to wonder how things would have been different if I had known I would die at 44, if I could put a number on my days. What would I have done differently?
It wasn’t a big leap to wonder, if I actually defied the odds and survived COVID-19, what would I do? What does someone do with a second chance?
Once I was driving with an old family friend on an elevated section of freeway along the Willamette River, on the east side just after you pass through downtown Portland. We were in a Volkswagen Bus. Suddenly she spun out and we did a complete 360. We ended facing the same direction we had started. We both kinda went AAAAAAAAAHHH and then looked at each other, shook it off, and continued on our way.
This was not that. Intellectually I understood, Oh dear, we could easily have plummeted over the side and into the river. Dang. I didn’t actually feel like death was near that day. COVID physically made me feel like I would probably die within a day or two. The veil was thin.
I felt such sorrow that I had squandered the time I had been given. I felt that my potential was dying with me. What a stupid, pointless waste. I could have done something with myself.
My thoughts turned to what I would or could do if I recovered. What did I want? What prize would I give myself?
I want a job, I thought, I want a regular day job again. Nothing too challenging, because I have no idea what I’ll be able to handle. Just something where I can talk to people and contribute to something bigger than myself. I want to be where the action is. I want to be a part of making something cool. I want to keep busy indoors for the next three years.
I also thought, you know what? I want to earn a master’s degree.
Something uncanny and ironic happened.
I would occasionally tease my husband that he should pitch [specific person] to hire me. I would also tease him about this project I’ve been doing for the past couple of years, my tech newsletter, which I knew [specific person] read every day.
Suddenly, THE JOB POSTED.
Like, the same job with the same person.
My hubby read me the listing. Wait, what? I actually qualify for that! I felt pretty dejected that it would happen now, NOW, now when I was so desperately ill. I absolutely did not have it within me to attach my resume to an email and send it.
So I made him do it.
We both figured there was at least a slim chance I would get better. We both also knew it normally takes four months to go through the hiring process at his organization. All right. I could theoretically get better by then! It did not seem unethical to apply for a job and then die, because that could happen to anyone at any time. I was sure they would forgive me and simply move on to the next lucky candidate.
Ah, but if I lived?
With great effort, I poked around on my phone and found my resume, which I had cleverly updated about six months ago. There was even a cover letter for a fairly similar position somewhere else. Yet more, I had set up an applicant profile with the company last year and I still had an active login. I sent these to my hubby, who took dictation and did all the editing. It took about an hour, which was utterly exhausting and left me limp as a dishrag. He sent it off.
A week later, I got an email asking to set up a phone screen.
I was still very ill, into the third week with COVID, but that particular week I didn’t feel like I was actively dying any more. I responded right away and we set up a time. Ten minutes to read and respond to an email, that was actually still quite tiring, but I did it.
The phone screen lasted 30 minutes. I was so excited that I managed to summon enough enthusiasm to get me through. Then I flopped backward into the couch and basically dissolved for the next two days.
A week later I had another phone screen. This one was to be on camera. I set it for the afternoon, because I knew how long it would take me to actually shower, wash and dry my hair, and put on proper clothing. (I still had to rest between stages of bathing and dressing for weeks after this point). I started getting ready two hours early.
The interview went well. Well enough that we set up a panel interview for later the same week.
By the time that interview rolled around, I had a lung infection and had been feeling like I might die again. Fortunately we weren’t on camera due to a technical issue. I kept it together for 90 minutes, but I will say that sitting upright in a dining chair for that long left me whipped and shaky afterward.
From start to finish, the screening, interviewing, and background check process took six weeks. I got better. I start the day after Memorial Day.
This truly is my dream job in my dream field. I am thrilled. I had no idea when I applied, but they offer tuition reimbursement up to a certain amount per year. Guess who’s going to grad school??
These are trying times, and tens of millions of Americans are out of work, and most people are rightfully freaking out. It’s going to be hard, you don’t need me to tell you that. You don’t need 34 million jobs, though; you only need one. Please believe that you probably have more to offer than your last employer asked of you. A lot of companies in a lot of industries are actively hiring as fast as they can, including every big aerospace engineering company I know of. Don’t give up.
I haven’t had a regular day job in over ten years. I applied for a job while I had COVID-19 and I passed the panel interview with a raging bacterial infection in my lungs. If this was possible for me, what is possible for others?
What is possible for you?
Three weeks after being ill with COVID-19 for a month, I can finally say that I think I’m better. I’d say I’m back to 80%.
There are still a couple of remnants of this scary period that will hopefully soon be nothing more than a bad memory:
I still have brief moments of vertigo, usually when I roll over in bed.
I had heart palpitations again Saturday morning, and literally all I was doing was lounging in bed reading on my phone (probably something about robots). It was strong enough that I froze and thought, Am I going to have an actual heart attack?
These are the moments when you pause and tune in and check off all the things that are *not* currently going wrong. Okay, no pain, good. No clammy sweat, good. No nausea, good.
Then the moment passes and everything seems fine.
It’s possible that things happened while the coronavirus was romping around in my body. It was in my eyes. It was in my lungs. It was in my heart. It was in my stomach. It was definitely in my nose. Apparently it crossed the blood-brain barrier and spent a few weeks in my brain as well. Chomping around on my cells like an evil Pac-Man.
This at least helps me to explain why I am still so tired and washed out.
All I did for six weeks was languish on the couch, swallow handfuls of pharmaceuticals, lose track of conversations, and think about dying. This isn’t really a great fitness plan. I should probably give myself more credit for simply being able to bathe unassisted, but... I’d much rather there were a greater distance in behavior and abilities between Today Me and 95-Year-Old Me.
Over the past week, I’ve been testing my limits by getting up and around a little more each day. I started with making Fancy Breakfast on the weekend, which felt like about the same level of exertion as my first 5K. Then I started taking my turn to cook dinner. There was a big improvement when I was able to stand for the whole process and not sit down between steps.
I tried sorting the laundry, and my plan was to actually carry it down to the laundry room on the second floor all by myself. But I wound up getting exhausted and overwhelmed to the point that I flopped over sideways and started crying on the couch. (Probably a lot of you can relate).
Waaaah, I’ll never get better!!!
Then I pulled my socks up, and I felt better the next day, and I kept pushing to get a little stronger, a little stronger.
A couple minutes more each day.
One of the toughest physical challenges of the past week has actually been sitting vertical on a hard chair for more of each day. I had been doing a world-class jellyfish imitation on the couch for so long that sitting up straight felt like “fifties.” That’s the exercise we used to do in Krav Maga: fifty jump squats, fifty sit-ups, and fifty push-ups. Sometimes followed by two minutes of jump rope.
I remember myself routinely doing these stunts and it feels like a completely different person, like I’m watching a faithful CGI rendering of myself in an action movie.
Remember that time you hiked past a sub-glacial volcano in Iceland for three days, while wearing a 40-lb backpack? Yeah, I think I saw that one.
Remember that time you ran the marathon? Eh, I fell asleep before the end. 2.5 stars.
When I think of these past exploits, I try to draw forth the grit and determination that served me at the time. That is still there, buried somewhere inside me. There’s a part of me that refuses to quit, hates being told “no, that isn’t for people like you,” and resents being written off as weak or unserious.
There’s another part of me that loves to prove doctors wrong.
If I’m going to be a statistic, I’m going to be an anomaly.
Now I’m going to tell a dirty little secret. While I was still ill enough to be in my pajamas all day, I ordered a low-end elliptical machine. I figured it would take weeks or months to arrive, and it might sit in the box for a while, but that at some point during the next three years, I would want it. I also figured I might not be able to get one even 6 months from now.
(We expect to be staying indoors almost exclusively until maybe mid-2023; it’s psychologically easier to deal with this situation by assuming it will be more or less permanent).
Well, the darn thing showed up two weeks ahead of schedule. My hubby spent three hours putting it together for me, and we moved a few things around so it would fit between my side of the bed and the closet.
I tried it out yesterday.
It was great!
My legs wobbled when I climbed down, but I felt fantastic. That was my first exercise-induced sweat in nearly two months.
I slept an extra hour that night, and then went back to bed for another hour.
No DOMS, no weird heart stuff, as far as I can tell no negative repercussions at all.
During my first marriage, I had some weird heart symptoms. I was collapsing and having dizzy spells. I got an echocardiogram and an ultrasound of my heart. They put me on beta blockers. I was 23 and someone probably should have told me that it’s hard to work full-time, take 17 credit hours, maintain a place on the Dean’s List, and sleep 32 hours a week. What I remember from that time is that riding my bike was reliably the only time and place that I never felt dizzy.
I believe that increasing the circulation of the blood (as long as one is not actively fighting an infection) is the best thing for overall health. I believe that exercise-induced endorphins are a good sign that the body likes what is going on. I believe in my innate capacity to heal. I trust my body. I believe that I will get past this and regain my baseline fitness level.
It happened again. I was just publicly recognized for a goal that took me four years to reach. Immediately I spun into the emotional state that I call the goal hangover.
Goals suck, by the way.
We’re supposed to “find our passion” and make a “bucket list” and a “vision board” and then celebrate when we make all this stuff happen. For the record, the first three parts of that process definitely work as advertised. The trouble is the celebration part.
How can I celebrate when I now have NO GOALS??
Right now, I’m on a goal cycle in the 3-4 year range. I’ve been in this situation several times with wildly different types of goals, and I’m starting to learn to expect it.
I went back to college after my divorce, got my bachelor’s... and then spent months recovering from a respiratory infection
I got my driver’s license at age 29... and then had to commute on the freeway an hour a day
I ran a marathon, got the race medal... and then borked my ankle and spent months in physical therapy
I tackled my paralyzing fear of public speaking, earned my Distinguished Toastmaster award, and then...
This is something that tends to be an open secret for newlyweds. There is an entire industry built around Your Special Day, holding wildly expensive and impractical wedding ceremonies. But then - ta da - you’re married. The premise of marriage is that no day is special; you’re just living a new and different default mode.
(I super-love being married and I think our wedding ceremony was pretty modest - we mainly wanted an excuse to go on a honeymoon).
Marriage includes a bunch of stuff that a wedding typically does not: clearing hair out of the drain, loading the dishwasher, filing taxes, and debating whether to talk to the neighbors about one of their weird loud habits. Marriage is only one example among many of how what was once a lovely fantasy becomes the new baseline, the pretty ring on the vision board now just an ordinary fashion accessory.
Every goal is like that. You strive and strain for it, and then you reach it, and then it simply becomes a thing you can do. It’s a skill, a memory, or something you have worked into the shape of your body.
The trouble with goals is that for those of us who thrive on challenge, reaching the goal means the end of the challenge. It’s a bit of a letdown. What am I supposed to do with my spare time now? Sort laundry and watch TV? So you’re telling me that my reward for reaching my goal is... nothing??
Well, the medal or the trophy or the diploma or the...
Ordinary state of goalless being
Probably most people are more comfortable not having the stress of an impending goal. Most goals are very practical, like paying rent or getting the car fixed. I realize that lacking a goal is a strange problem to have, a problem of privilege -
And indeed, I use some of that privilege to try to help others acquire some privilege of their own -
And yet I find the prospect of having no goals to be disappointing, dull, and boring.
When I was several days into my case of COVID-19, I felt that I might die. I might die quite soon. It felt like such a pitiful waste. I lay there for days, thinking about my stupid day planners and my stupid goal lists and my stupid resolutions. It occurred to me that there would be no lasting legacy, that when someone else went through my stuff, they’d throw it into a bag and get rid of it. Rightfully so. I had very little to show for my time on this planet. Even though I’m a whole body donor, they probably couldn’t even use my poor organs.
At that point, I decided to trash my existing goals.
I decided that the old me had officially died and that, if I ever managed to get up out of my sickbed, I would start fresh.
Being very ill is the most boring thing in the world. It’s hard to sleep and there is very little to attend to while awake. Too sick to read or watch a movie. Too sick to do much of anything but let your mind wander. That’s when I started pondering over the idea of what I would do.
What would you do if you actually had a fresh lease on life?
A real chance to start over?
One of the first decisions I made, after choosing to trash my previous goals, was to act on my intentions more quickly. If there was a book I wanted to read, I would start it right away, rather than add it to a list. If there was a movie I wanted to see, I’d watch it that night - and be grateful when I could track a plot for longer than five minutes without getting confused. If I was thinking about someone, I would reach out right away and write them a note.
This is a way of having “goals” without having a backlog, a paradoxical way of having few to zero goals. Just do everything in the current moment.
That, though, didn’t seem inherently challenging enough. Was that all I was going to do for possibly the next forty years of my life? Read, watch movies, and text people?
Sure, that was more than I could handle at the time, but I knew if I survived intact I would presumably want more than that one day.
Could it be a physical goal? I had no idea, but I did know I had it in me to do whatever it took to get my physical stamina back. If it takes five years, I’ll do it, because what the heck else would I do?
Could it be a mental goal? I didn’t know, but I did know I really, really wanted to be able to read again and I would never quit trying. (It worked).
I did choose something. In fact, I chose a few things. I decided that I wanted to get a normal job again, and go to grad school, and that I still wanted to try for the ultramarathon.
If I lived.
These were some of my deathbed realizations: that I’m a challenge-oriented person, that challenge is what keeps me happy and motivated, and that I want to be where the action is. I want to do the obvious things, the things that are of a large enough scale to be worth my attention for the next few years.
What are yours?
I’m still struggling and it’s been over two weeks since I got over COVID-19. My mood and energy level from day to day, or hour to hour, have everything to do with whether I am proud of my body, or frustrated with it.
Is my body a miraculous healing machine
Is it my adversary?
On good days, I think, Wow, my immune system is incredible! Great job! How fantastic is it that a brand-new virus got inside me and my body figured out what to do?
On bad days, I think, Why is this taking so long? Why can’t my tired old carcass keep up with my brain? Am I just... old now?
It would help if I had something familiar. Then I could hit the books and figure out what to do. This worked well when I was diagnosed with a thyroid nodule. I went directly from my appointment with the endocrinologist to the public library, where I checked out a couple of books on thyroid function. I’d already read a few chapters before my bus made it home.
(That was before Wikipedia and Google, if you can believe that! And smartphones of course)
My way of dealing with physical distress is to compartmentalize it. Try to ignore discomfort and distracting sensations. Get into a clean blank head space and try to figure out a plan.
The trouble with this method is that it can start to take over, until “the body” starts to feel like a separate entity. It can be like the head is a floating balloon, or like the mind is a driver riding around in a car. This is when we start to see “the body” as a stranger, or worse, an enemy.
Then again, the advantage is that it’s possible to ingest new ideas and new frameworks. We can take in new information that changes our perspective. We can also learn from other people and try out things they do.
One example of this is that my husband’s doctor told him not just to drink fluids, which everyone knows, but *why* it matters that we drink more fluids than normal when we’re ill. Mucus gets dry and stringy, and that makes coughing, sneezing, and stuffy noses much worse. Water, herbal tea, etc keep it moist and help keep it from building up. Now that I know that, I have been focusing much more on keeping a mug of tea next to me.
Another example would be a little more mystical, the sort of idea that takes more imagination and less practical effort. This approach tends to work more on the emotional aspects of illness, which is important because being sick can cause sadness and pessimism.
It’s one thing to intellectually grasp that you have a statistical chance of certain outcomes, such as being loaded into an ambulance, put on a ventilator, or going into a coma.
It’s another thing to physically feel your life force draining away, to have a continual stream of new sensations worsening day by day.
It’s yet another thing to confront the emotions brought up by this, almost all of which were dark and unhelpful, at least in my case. The combination of alarming research data and severe illness defaulted to a low mood and fatalistic thoughts.
Overcoming those black tides took considerable effort.
One of the ideas that came to me in the second week, when I thought I would be dead in another day or two, was the concept of “hiring” the virus. I kept getting warfare imagery, from the media and from personal advice, and it was awful for my morale. Advice in general was awful for my morale. It contributed to my overall sense of shame and failure for getting sick.
(Can’t people just send sweet photos or share memories of better times?? I mean, ARE YOU A DOCTOR??)
I liked the idea of hiring the virus much better. It made me feel like a founder or a CEO. Yes, I’ve hired this special consultant to teach me how to make antibodies for COVID-19, potentially one of the most precious commodities in the world in this year of grace 2020.
Then something else occurred to me, something I had been thinking back in December, when I had a terrifying drug-resistant bacterial infection that led to surgery. I had to take three courses of antibiotics, and I wasn’t thrilled about that, but I chose to reframe it.
MAGIC BLOOD, MAGIC BLOOD, I HAVE MAGIC BLOOD
I would just keep repeating this to myself as I went through the day, especially when I was swallowing the pills. I visualized the antibiotics flowing through my body and making me glow in golden light. Magic blood!
Not the same scenario, but in the context of potentially donating convalescent plasma, that same blood of mine suddenly became that much more magical!
Could it be?? Blood that I make inside my own body, without conscious effort, could save the lives of up to four people?? Doctors and nurses? Talk about magic!
The idea that I might be able to generate a life-saving elixir was sometimes the only thing that kept me going. I thought, if this works, it might even be worth it. (Not really, but...)
An irony of my illness is that I’m still tending the surgical scar, rubbing cream on it twice a day. I was able to watch it slowly, visibly healing. External proof of my body’s sorcery at work. The irony came in because I thought that infection and the surgery and the half-inch scar in my midsection were so scary and painful. Now they were barely noticeable. I could laugh at myself a little for being a coward, while at the same time appreciating that I had come such a long way and gained so much grit.
If you pray for strength be sure that’s what you really want.
I’ve resented so much of this process, felt so impatient and frustrated and disappointed in myself. I’ve watched my physical decline, from multi-sport athlete to dizzy, weak softbody, and it has made me dejected and miserable. I want my old body back and I want it immediately, not months or years from now!
At the same time, I recognize that hundreds of thousands of people confronted the same challenge that I did... and did not prevail. There is really no other response than to be awed, impressed, and grateful that my body did all this, alone, with no instruction manual. I’ve overcome other health challenges, and it’s when I feel I’ve won that I feel total unity with my body and what I consider to be my self.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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