Five Lessons Learned

Last year this time I was celebrating my 23rd wedding anniversary during July 4th weekend. I had a nice dinner with my spouse despite the pandemic, however one day prior, I was laid off from the senior software engineer support role that I held for twelve and half years. It was a job that I was good at, a job that the customers liked me, and a job that I had friends at. I had to wait until I received a severance package but was able to file for unemployment in August 2020.

As many people have encountered the ups and downs over the past year, whether it was job losses, business closures, or the ultimate loss, a death of a loved one, we have all had to come to grips with some kind of “new normal”.

As I approached the one year lay off anniversary, I debated on even writing anything at all. However, I reflected on what has kept me sane this past year and the lessons I have learned.

  1. Address the disappointment, but then get moving.

I wrote in the third month of my unemployment stint, , the first few days and weeks was a blur. I set up job search accounts, attended online classes, and made the required job inquires. But before any of that was done, I had to come to terms that I was laid off. I planned on retiring from my previous job. I was a good employee. I never was reprimanded. I made my numbers, which consisted of complying with service level agreements, providing good customer service, and keeping up with technical certifications.

I did not rest on my laurels. After I sent back my corporate laptop to my previous employer, I dusted off my laptop, opened a Connecting Colorado account, which is required for Colorado Unemployment, and started attending training courses and applying for new positions. This is standard fare for me. When approached with the unthinkable, I put off my feelings, and focus on the task at hand. But it would also would have been a good idea for me to reach out to a counselor to address the loss and the feelings I was suppressing.

As I look back now, it took me months to mourn. I woke up one morning, almost six months into my job loss, very sad. I was not just sad over the loss of the job I was good at, but for the friends I made there. I jumped into job searching mode as soon as I got approved for unemployment. However, I wish now, that I would have addressed the loss sooner.

2. Ask for help.

Aside from reaching out for counseling, asking for help from family and friends was crucial to me getting through this year. In October 2019, I had a palmaris longus tendon graft surgery to aid with osteoarthritis in my left thumb. Unfortunately, by December 2020 the graft failed. I was referred to Action Potential Physical Therapy for six weeks of occupational therapy and rehabilitation. However, the determination was the graft had shifted and was going to need another option to deal with the osteoarthritis in my carpometacarpal (CMC) joint.

I was advised by Dr. Ky Kobayashi of Colorado Center of Orthopedic Excellence (CCOE) of a procedure called The SpeedSpiral CMC System, which utilizes a pre-shaped, dense, strong and flexible allograft implant to treat thumb CMC joint pain and/or instability caused by osteoarthritis. He also performed my palmaris longus tendon graft surgery in 2019. I knew of the risk of failure with that surgery and was willing to give the SpreedSpiral a shot.

On April 2, 2021, I was fitted with a sterile, decellularized and freeze-dried, human harvested cadaver bone. Prior to the surgery, I asked for help. My daughter became a driver last summer. She agreed to pick up our curbside groceries. I asked my husband to take off a week of work, but then asked for him to take off a second week as I needed help getting to doctor appointments. My son took up more cooking responsibilities and upped his cleaning duties as well. My husband helped input my unemployment hours. It is difficult for me to ask for and receive help, but this was exactly what I needed to do to make me understand that my body needed time to heal. I am so glad I went back to CCOE to get advice on the surgery. Dr. Kobayashi was right, he said, “By July 4th you will feel so much better.” He was absolutely correct in that matter.

Finally, I also asked and received much wanted assistance from the Arapahoe/Douglas County Workforce (ADWorks) Center. I attended a Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) training class in March. I did not even think I could qualify for ADWorks, because I live in El Paso County. However, I had meeting with a WIOA coordinator in April and was awarded a training grant in June. I am using that grant to pursue coursework in Amazon Web Services SysOps Administrator – Associate through the Community College of Aurora. I plan on finishing up that course in late August and sitting for the certification exam in late September all due to the fact I asked for help on retraining.

3. Stay focused.

A recent report discussed Android users were tracked with a special tool that counted the study participants’ every mobile-device-related action for 24 hours a day for five days. Actions like typing, tapping, and swiping the phone’s screen counted as a “touch.” The research found that average users spent 145 minutes on their phones and engaged in 76 phone sessions per day.

As for iPhone users, Apple recently confirmed that its device users unlock their phones 80 times every day. That’s about as much as six to seven times every hour. So, no matter your smartphone preference, the facts make a clear point: We are addicted to our mobile devices.

So how do you stay focused in a world where devices are at our fingertips? In our household, we have two online students. What we have found works for them is to have them shut their phones off during school hours, unless they need to reach one of their teachers. I started this practice recently. I study for my AWS certifications in the office and leave my phone in the charging cradle on my nightstand in a different room. And more recently, I found what keeps me focused is to totally shut down my phone from the hours between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.

We became iPhone users in the fall of 2016. The first thing I did was I shut down all the notifications. No news notifications, no retail notifications, no game notifications. I found the notifications were just mere distractions and made me not focus my full attention on work.

I set aside one hour in the morning to address email. I have two email accounts, one that is mainly a junk account the other is for family, friends, and what I use to have potential employers reach out to me. I have filters for junk mail and the first thing I do every morning is blow away the junk folder. Then I move on to pressing and important emails. And then I do not look at email again until the next day. I also shut off email notifications in Microsoft Outlook as I do not want to be distracted ever time a new email comes in.

Finally, I limit my interaction with the news. I recently took advice from a good friend. She gives herself 30 minutes a day, usually in the morning, for news. That includes looking at her phone, watching it online, or turning on the television. I started practicing that in February and am less stressed and less distracted, at least as far as news is concerned.  

4. Keep a schedule.

Even before I was laid off last summer, I was a 100 percent remote worker. I was able to prepare lunches for my kids (when they were still in brick and mortar schools), get dinner ready, work out, get ready, and then start working from our home office. My lunch hour was carpool pick up time (my previous employer was generous and allowed me to have a late lunch hour to accommodate school pick up).

Last year, remote work became the norm for millions of workers and online school became common place for students. What that meant was many workers who used to go out for a coffee on their way to work, no longer did that. Going to the gym after work went by the wayside as many gyms were forced to shut down during Covid.

I pretty much kept the same schedule even with the job loss. My kids are now older and do not require me to make their lunches. I still prep dinner in the morning. For years we have built on to our basement home gym. I usually do a run on the treadmill if it is cold, or a hike on a nearby trail or partake in a quick walk in the neighborhood. My goal is to be done with my “me time” by 10:00 AM and then tackle studying and job searching.

5. Be grateful.

As stated earlier, I was not expecting a job loss last year, especially a job I was good at and planned on retiring from. But I am so grateful my husband has stayed employed during the pandemic. He had to pick up the family health insurance that I lost when I became unemployed last summer.

We lost three family members last year. None of them to Covid. We were unable to grieve in the normal ways. But when we were able to come together, we treasured those times more as a family. All of my family and most of my extended family is vaccinated, so that allows us more opportunities to gather as a family.

It seems like I value my friends and family more now, then I did before my job loss. Partly because of Covid, partly because I have time to reflect on those relationships. But I am grateful I have had this year to reflect on where I want my career and my life to go into the future.