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  • Writer's pictureunkillbilly

Collecting Splinters On the Bench

The headlines are horrific and insistent. Due to the pandemic, millions of people are without work through no fault of their own.

Now you know how I feel.

Hey, hey, billy. Pretty immature response. To someone else's misfortune. Really, sorry. Just to be clear—I've had more than a little stigma from my disability. When I'm standing there in front of you, rather, if I am standing there, you're not going to detect anything disabling. In fact, you might think, "this guy actually acts like he's got himself together, what's stopping him from working?"

The fact is, I have a disease. A mental health diagnosis. I don't want sympathy, and only a little empathy. See, my career was looking strong.

Until it wasn't.

Then I found myself, like you do now, out of a job, even out of an occupation. There's a stigma to being unemployed, which is phucked up, because many people are their jobs. Gettin' sent to the bench is no fun, especially when circumstances are beyond your control. Until you're in it, you can't relate to what the sense of loss does to you. You can't comprehend the underlying grief.

But now…

Maybe ya do.

See, we have this problem here in America. You ask someone who they are, and they'll answer with what they do. Our identity is so wrapped up in our jobs, we'll describe our whole life relative to our occupation. Especially if you like your job, like I did.

And on top of that, I was going blithely along, inattentive and ignorant about the possibility of massive change. I took the bet (gambling is addictive), I made the assumption (and we all know what they say about assume), I indulged a denial of reality (that would come back to haunt me).


As Nassim Taleb would point out: A thousand days won't prove you right. One day can prove you wrong.

It's a peculiar kind of grief that goes with the loss of one's occupation. I couldn't figure it out, for a long time. I would argue with myself, trying to be logical, thinking, I won't miss the travel. Or the office politics. I've got things to do, by golly, things that I've wished I had the time for my whole life.

And then…nothing. Once removed from the workplace, there's no more gratification from your abilities and skills, the good feeling you get when you're good at something. No more joking around, which is a real dicky-scratcher for an inveterate class clown like me. No more team meals or bowling, no collection plaques and certificates of recognition building up on your office walls.

That's a lot to lose.

If you're finding yourself struggling. Unproductive. Even paralyzed. It's prolly time you made an attempt to unwind your professional identity from your true identity. Find material to read that leads to a better sense of self. Look at the concept of rewards and decide how they fit with your real values, not your wannabe values. Have a vision of the new you, re-invented, and understand what rewards will line up with your values. What are considered accomplishments in the new reality, and do you need them to be satisfied with your efforts. How do the answers to these and other questions liberate you from your grief?

I saying I heard once in treatment: We are human beings, not human doings. Try to come to some conclusion about why you are as opposed to what you are.

'cause in the end, we're going to have a tough time redesigning, rebuilding, repurposing if we can't give up on what we used to have.

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