A year ago, I wrote an article titled “Why Can’t We Be Friends” after a friend severed ties with me simply because I had become a competitor with a new job. At the end of that article, I wrote “attend networking events whenever possible, reach out, say hello when presented the opportunity to meet someone new. If you meet someone you feel is a competitor, do not shy away – make the connection.” Who knew that less than 8 weeks after I wrote that, the world would be turned upside down and I would be without that very job my new former friend thought was a reason to permanently separate us?! But as it turns out, the connections I have spent my career making helped me immensely this past year.
Today – like so many – I am working in a completely different capacity than I was in January 2020. I spend my days trying to teach my 2 elementary school students and looking for a job – both equally exhausting tasks, and co-leading a networking group comprised of mostly hospitality suppliers and planners called Just Because Happy Hour (JBHH). All of it necessary, but not all of it enjoyable.
When we started planning our family, I had zero desire to stay at home. I did use the 12 weeks FMLA allowed at the time and savored it, but I was eager to return to work when my time was up. Other than a long vacation before my senior year in high school and a short medical leave I had in 2002, I had never taken any time off of full-time work since age 17. On Wednesday, March 11, 2020 my preschool and 1st grade children had [what has now become] their last day of in-person school. Public school was moved remote and we decided to keep our daughter home too. That same night, I quickly designed a daily school schedule and ordered educational materials to keep them busy – at the time there was no plan from the school. My world was turned inside out when I was laid off at 4:33pm the following Monday, March 16, 2020 – I remember looking at the clock during the phone call. I had just rewritten the Strategic Plan for 2020 the week before because we expected to be able to hang onto staff for at least another 60 – 90 days; I was caught completely off-guard. Just like that, I was only a full-time teacher and house manager.
For the first several weeks I felt strong. I had coordinated a homeschool schedule for both kids, penciled out a schedule for myself and immediately started looking for a new job. I felt solid. I felt normal. Roughly 2 months in – around early May – I could feel my mood shifting. [For reference, it is important to be familiar with the prevailing stages of grief: Shock, Denial, Anger, Depression, Acceptance)
I kept active outside with my children and spouse, taking long walks, working on projects around the house, reading so many books and listening to audiobooks (for free thanks to the local library app), keeping up a learning schedule for the kids, co-hosting JBHH and doing my usual check-in calls with colleagues and friends from all over the world. But despite all that activity, I was simply existing.
I have always enjoyed staying connected with clients and colleagues alike. Through 2020, I continued my efforts with daily phone calls, texts and emails. Those correspondences were a lifeline to me; they fed my soul in a way nothing else in my life was doing at the time. By mid-August, a longtime friend (who started as a coworker) forced me to leave the house overnight to try to clear my head. It was a quick trip, but – as she suspected – it helped shift my focus away from all my responsibilities and more toward me. Looking back now, I recognize the fog of depression had fully enveloped me and that trip helped a sliver of sunlight in. A few weeks later, my husband and I snuck away for an overnight in Seattle to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We explored the city, walked to and from dinner, and spent hours enjoying our city and water view from the same hotel we spent our wedding night. Dinner was spent at a waterfront favorite and we even walked by our wedding venue on our way. A friend (who I originally met through PCMA many years ago), surprised us with customized glasses and wine for our dinner – a very thoughtful gesture that meant the world to me. We wore our masks and social distanced everywhere we went, but it was truly cathartic to enjoy the city where we became an “Us”. This time my mood fully shifted. My outlook on the future refocused in the positive; I was immediately in the clear.
Just a few weeks later I received devastating news of the sudden loss of someone I met through work over a decade before who had become a friend. Our connection from more than a decade earlier had shaped my career and I always looked forward to catching up at industry events throughout the year. We had just spent a long phone call in January 2020 catching up and I will forever be grateful for that. The loss impacted me profoundly and I used the advice “check on your peeps” spoken at the service as a catalyst to increase my efforts in reaching out.
Some of you are still working at the same company you were in early 2020, but I am certain your job looks very different. Others have taken positions outside of our industry. And some – like me – are still searching for the next opportunity. No matter what you have experienced this past year, be grateful and know the future is bright. We have no idea where we will be in January 2022, but I wish you more connections then than you have today. Stay safe, try to stay sane, keep up with your connections and always take an opportunity to make a new one. And remember that the road ahead is best traveled together.