Not Working During a Pandemic: What I Imagined vs. Reality

A glorious, sunshiney day on the Bay Bridge with a view of San Francisco.

Control is a funny thing. Before the pandemic, I felt like my life was somewhat under my control. I had options to travel, hang with friends, go to yoga, dine at my favorite restaurants. Life had a steady drumbeat, a calendar, a schedule that was always full.

With the pandemic causing a shift in what we can and can’t control in our lives, I’m now left shrugging my shoulders. Maybe I never really had any control to begin with, but didn’t realize it because I was so good at keeping busy. [I shrug.]

Even though the future is uncertain, I still hold on to my inner narratives of what I imagined life would be like while unemployed (and in a pandemic) vs what’s actually happening. Reconciling those two things is sometimes challenging.

Here are some things I’ve noticed.

Being at home all day

  • What I imagined: I’d relax and de-stress.
  • The reality: Time is my frenemy.

Spending so much time at home alone resulted in some deep introspection.

I keep thinking of that scene from “Forrest Gump” when Forrest asks, “Mama, what’s my destiny?” Sally Fields smiles and says, “You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself.”

I thought a lot about my purpose in life. I thought a lot about death.

And Mama, I have questions…

  • What legacy do I want to leave behind?
  • What kind of work do I want to be a part of?
  • What impact can I make?
  • How meaningful would it be for me?

There are also days that go by where I’m not thinking about anything in particular, other than what time I need to get outside for a breather. I recently took up roller skating.

Each day is slightly different (but eerily the same?). I’m relaxing more, even though I have to give myself permission. When I do, I can lounge around on my couch and read a book from cover to cover while hitting snooze on answering these difficult questions.

Looking for jobs

  • What I imagined: My days would be spent aggressively looking for jobs.
  • The reality: Seeing the same jobs day after day is discouraging.

I’m grateful for the fact that recruiters and companies regularly reach out to me about new opportunities, but since nothing has panned out just yet, I started to panic a little. My inner voice ever so slightly reminded me that it’s been almost two months since I got laid off.

When I mentioned this to my cousin, she told me not to be so hard on myself and that, hello, we’re in a pandemic?! To land an interview right now would be a sizable accomplishment. Wise words, thanks, Cousin.

During the first month of unemployment, I looked for jobs almost daily, but the reality is, I keep seeing the same job postings. With the pandemic causing historic levels of unemployment in April, there just aren’t a lot of jobs right now.

Remember that pesky thing called control? I came up with a little trick to help me keep my anxiety in check when it comes to finding a new job.

I created a calendar that shows the effort I’m putting behind looking for a job. On days when I look, apply, or talk to recruiters, the calendar is marked with an “X.” A slash indicates the days when nothing job-related happens.

This helps me see how aggressively I looked for work during the month and makes me feel better about the fact that I don’t have a job yet.

A schedule and productive routine

  • What I imagined: I’d get up early to write and knock out deep work in the morning.
  • The reality: I still get up early to write and knock out deep work, but the work is different.

Most days I feel pretty productive and I still get up at the crack of dawn because, well, I am undeniably a morning person.

Working or not, I look forward to my morning coffee and get my best writing and my most focused, deep work done before 8 am.

Before, I’d use this time to work on writing assignments and things I needed to do for work, but these days, I work on improving my creative writing and finally having time to regularly contribute to my blog!

Learning something new

  • What I imagined: I’d learn how to sew, knit, learn the basics of coding, or improve my Photoshop skills.
  • The reality: I only have bandwidth for priorities.

Time itself isn’t motivation enough to get going on new projects. I thought I’d use this time to indulge myself in an art project or two and even learn how to crochet. The reality is, I couldn’t get motivated to do any of these things.

I have, however, always wanted to improve my creative writing skills. I made that priority and jumped on the online video bandwagon with a $39 monthly subscription to Creative Live.

I watch a few hours of videos each day and participate in writing exercises provided in the videos. I read the recommended books and take notes.

The high school version of me would be shocked to hear that I’m nerding out. I love school!

Yoga at home

  • What I imagined: I’d continue practicing yoga at home.
  • The reality: Yoga at home kind of sucks (for me, not in general).

Prior to the pandemic, I was practicing yoga at Core Power in a heated studio for a few years. The amazing teachers and steamy, packed classes always made me feel like a champ. It pushed me to improve so I could get on the same level as the svelt gals who always set up their mats in the front row (yogis, you know what I’m talkin’ about).

I’ve tried yoga at home and… it’s just not for me. I crave the heat and in-person instructors. This is not to say there aren’t awesome online instructors who offer up their expertise for free (thank you), because there are plenty!

I still use some videos to stretch, but mostly, I go outside for long walks or bike rides around my neighborhood.

Eating, cooking, and drinking alcohol

  • What I imagined: I’d make fabulous new recipes.
  • The reality: I only bake desserts. (And I overate and overdrank. I’m over it.)

At this point, I should have the contents of my refrigerator memorized. I wander into my kitchen aimlessly. Open the fridge, yep, there’s still food in there.

I thought I would make all of the fabulous non-dessert dishes I’ve saved on Pinterest and Flipboard, but instead, I can’t stop baking.

After my fridge starts to hum because I’ve burned a hole staring at the contents inside, I turn to open my pantry and repeat, pondering what else I can bake.

Bananas are my favorite food.

Baking is fun and therapeutic–I’ve made a ton of banana-based desserts, including banana blondies, banana cinnamon balls, banana/chocolate brownies, and banana pumpkin bread with walnuts.

I quit alcohol for the entire month of May

And alcohol… yikes. Before shelter-in-place, I drank a few glasses of wine during the week, at most.

After the pandemic, I stocked on wine like it was going out of style. I’m embarrassed to say how much I was actually drinking, but let’s just say it was way more than one or two glasses. It’s a slippery slope and I didn’t want to rely on alcohol to help me unwind.

I’m not very good at setting limits. It’s really hard for me to stop at one or two glasses. I’m a lot better at an all-or-nothing approach.

So when May rolled around, I quit drinking. Inspired by a friend who said she stopped drinking in March, I followed suit. I’m proud to report that I haven’t had a sip of alcohol since April 30. Whoo!

The pandemic culture is here to stay

Our culture is shifting–companies are allowing employees to work from home permanently, the economic outlook is alarming, and people are learning to adjust to isolation. Being in a world crisis and without my regular income means I no longer have a larger purpose set by a day job.

So, despite not having a lot of control right now, I’m grateful for these changes. We’ll probably never experience anything like this ever again (and if we do, I hope we’ll be better prepared).

But seriously, whoever thought a world pandemic would happen in the 21st century?

It’s going to be really interesting to see how society evolves and what the landscape will look like for future generations.

For now, sharing how our lives are being impacted is one way to find control and get through this. #TogetherButNot, #TogetherApart, er, #AloneTogether or something like that, right?