Doubling Down & Leveling Up: The End of Quarantine
I love quarantine.
No, I’m not kidding.
I’ve been enjoying my time off in quarantine so much that I requested to take another month of voluntary leave for August. I figured I may as well “round out the Summer,” enjoy the best of New England, keep carving out headway in the various projects I’m working on.
But the universe had other plans for me. Schedules were published for August and, as it turns out, I’m going back to work. It’s been over three months since I’ve stepped foot in an airport, and by the time I go back I will have been out of work for four months in total. Finding myself on a limited timeline, my “unemployed” days numbered, got me thinking about all the things I’ve done in quarantine. And the things I haven’t. The worries I had when this thing started. And the newer ones I’ve acquired along the way.
I was supposed to be living in the Dominican Republic right now. Enjoying the sun and a slower pace of life, improving my Spanish. I had determined an unofficial move date of April 1. I was researching neighborhoods I’d grow to love, figuring out distance and transport to and from the airport.
And while I was figuring this stuff out, Coronavirus started spreading in the U.S. and it became glaringly obvious that things would change. The DR closed their borders. Flight schedules were slashed, and the flights that were operating, only carried 5-20 passengers at a time. My airline, along with all the others, announced cuts. And the entire industry, with its millions of employees, waited on edge to see what would happen next. How bad would it be? Which companies could survive? You can see how I was feeling in my post on Comfort Coasting and Job Insecurity, published in early March. Let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty.
Suddenly, my jet-setting plans were put on hold and in turn my whole life was—I’m sorry, but—up in the air. Would I even have a job at the end of this? Could I procure a new one? What would I want to do next? And who would hire me?
Looking back, after these months of quarantine and unemployment, I smile at my worry. I knew then, and it’s affirmed now, that everything will be alright. As it always is. As a matter of fact, things are better than alright. Over these months I’ve had the chance to pour my full attention into passion projects of mine, like this blog. I’ve started an entirely new platform talking about activism and issues of social justice, an arena that I truly feel I am MEANT to be in, and which, despite the slow learning curve, is bringing me incredible fulfillment.
I’ve been learning about digital & social media marketing, designing logos and graphics, Search Engine Optimization, video editing—my current nemesis—and SO much more.
My worries in the beginning of this crisis were about money and about having to “find” something to do next. Being eligible for unemployment, having voluntary leaves of absence offered (and strongly encouraged) by my company have provided me this unique opportunity, one of the biggest gifts I could ever ask for.
Time without worry or struggle.
I swear I'm excited to go back to work.
Before I go on, I realize that this virus and its effects have not hit us all equally. I’m in a very privileged position. I acknowledge that for small business owners this was crippling or fatal. That for essential employees, the choice between getting sick at work or having no income to feed your family is a false choice. That for low-wage workers, with multiple family members working in service sector jobs, the burden of keeping us all afloat was unfair to ask of them. And the conclusions that I have drawn from all of this is that everyone needs healthcare and a living wage, or we are all in big fucking trouble. If I can be so blunt in my wording. And I’ll keep saying this over and over because we tend to forget about something once it is no longer trending.
My situation is completely different. I am being paid not to work. And at first, because of the narratives around “entitlements” and people “working the system” I felt a little funny about collecting unemployment. It was my first time ever filing, and I felt as if I was doing something wrong.
I don’t feel that way anymore.
I have learned more about unemployment insurance, how the funds came from both past-me (the one that worked and paid into UI) and my employer. And while my company bombarded us with dozens of leave options and all but begged us to take them, I couldn’t help feeling that my taking time off was also serving the greater good, helping to keep them afloat.
Am I rationalizing something I feel guilty about? Maybe. But the only guilt would come from the acknowledgement that many other people got the shit end of this stick, and I didn’t.
It feels like I’m investing in myself.
For me, quarantine has been kind.
Distractions have fallen by the wayside. Priorities have become clearer, and life is simpler. I have more time than ever and am simultaneously as busy, or busier, than I have ever been. The difference is now the busy is energizing rather than exhausting. Because it feels like I’m investing in myself. I have had the opportunity to be my own “start-up” without taking the leap of quitting a job or sacrificing pay.
For creatives—writers and bloggers and artists, musicians and those with big ideas—this is the dream. This is the moment where “If I only had more time” and “If I didn’t have to worry about insurance” are no longer limitations or excuses. It’s just me and my ideas and my time. And every second of my time is mine.
When else in my life will I ever have this chance? To work fully and only on things I’m passionate about? To do it without worrying about money or security or the future?
Probably never, and that is why I’m taking full advantage. The gratitude I feel is overwhelming, and I hope there are a lot of others experiencing this too.
Because of this
I started this.
And while I’m feeling so blessed, so lucky to have this time, this opportunity, I’m also feeling a bit of pressure.
At the end of the night when I haven’t completed a project, when there’s so much work to be done, my mind races. I feel guilty for the moments wasted throughout the day. The minutes scrolling through social media. The hour spent watching a TV show.
“You have all this free time, how could you not have finished by now?”
“You should have accomplished more by this point.”
My own voice chastises me while I try to sleep. Advises me to turn on the lamp and type out a few more sentences, trim a few more clips.
This, after producing more content and more consistently than I ever have. After creating an entirely new platform from scratch. After finishing the last two classes for my second (just for fun) degree. After paying off the final dollars of my last student loan, becoming DEBT FREE. In the midst of learning entirely new skills sets, of bolstering my resume with entrepreneurial endeavors. Of TRYING for the first time in my life, for real, to take my passions seriously, to mold my life into what I want it to be.
I’ve done a lot in quarantine.
But there persists this underlying anxiety that when this is all over, when life resumes normalcy, I won’t have done enough. The realization of the gift I have right now brings with it fear of wasting that gift. If I don’t finish all the things I’ve started, then I’ve made poor use of my time. If I haven’t hit all the incremental goals I’ve set, then what have I really accomplished? If I haven’t monetized my websites by the time Corona fears are over, does that mean I never will? Is a failure to reach visible, external success by the end of this time period… a failure?
I don’t think of myself as an anxious person. In most aspects of my life “go with the flow” is how I’d describe me. But this one particular anxiety, of not doing enough, has been suffocating. For years it has made doing things solely for enjoyment difficult. It’s why I haven’t watched TV since 2018, until now. It’s why I started listening to NPR in the car, to make good use of my driving hours. It’s why I stopped reading for pleasure—because my (just for fun) business classes, and my blog, and studying Spanish required my attention in those free moments.
And then there’s the deeply engrained fear of failure that I’ve carried with me since childhood. The one that has followed me through life, making decisions harder than they needed to be and trying new things terrifying.
We talk about failure now like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. In whimsical, buzz-word fashion. “The power of failure.” But for most of my life I didn’t believe in the gift of failure. I didn’t know that success was a matter of numbers more than a matter of talent. That failing once and twice and three times may be the foundations you need to then succeed on the fourth. I shied away from things in which I didn’t instantly and effortlessly excel. I assumed that if I were good at something it would come easily.
There is time for pleasure
as well as progress.
Happy, busy moments of quarantine
I am getting better at this. Partly because these notions of the importance of failure have become popular and widely accepted. Partly because I’m getting older, and as life’s timeline shrinks, so too do the fucks I give about what other people think of me. (To be real, I still give some. But not nearly as many.) I came to the realization that if I died never having pursued, with all my force and strength of mind, my true passions, that would be the real failing. I realized that “I was too scared to try” is a pretty lame way to live.
So while I’ve had this gift of time, I’ve been hard at work putting one foot in front of the other and stumbling like a toddler while I learn these new skills. I feel proud for trying and more proud for trying publicly. (If I’m being honest, more scared for it too.) And in the meantime, with this gift, I’ve learned to slow down a bit. To create time for simple pleasures. I started reading again. I’m on my 5th quarantine book. I have stopped to smell and admire all the flowers on my many daytime walks. I’ve been singing, writing music, short stories. Dabbling in poetry. Dabbling (heavily this week) in the wonders of Netflix. And when the anxiety does rise in me, telling me I haven’t done enough, I’ve been telling it to buzz off. There is time for pleasure as well as progress.
Are others feeling this pressure to accomplish something significant during quarantine? To be their best selves? Do you feel it?
I see people taking on fitness with a fervor they haven’t before. Becoming botanists, lavishing their in-home gardens with love. I’ve seen people step up and become more involved with social justice causes. New chefs, at-home cooking shows. Earning new educational accolades; real estate licenses, personal training certificates, signing up for a writing class. I know a lot of people are thinking about what might be next for them. In their current career or a totally new one.
Do these personal improvements stem from worry? Or from accepting this gift of time to pursue purpose? Do they feel this same internal pressure to hit progress markers, to “prove” they’ve spent these months well?
Asking for a friend.
These are the things on my mind while I think about packing a suitcase and going back on the road next month. The faint hum of anxiety wondering if we will have accomplished enough, pushing up against a deep sense of gratitude, a quiet, but powerful contentment.
What Corona, and quarantine, has also given me is the beginning of an itch to settle. Am I addicted to this slower, static reality because of months of quiet? Is it age? Or am I simply ready now, after paring down to the core of what matters?
Whatever the reason, I’ve been craving home. Where a year ago I felt most comfortable in a new, foreign place with nothing but a suitcase, I am starting to feel like maybe I want somewhere to miss. A thing to look forward to returning to. A feeling of peace and ease and comfort all my own. An anchor. One with a very long rope, so that while I’m drifting, I never get fully lost.
Where this anchor will land, I cannot say. My chronic indecisive makes it hard for me to figure out. And I believe that sometimes having limitless options is harder than having none.
But really, it’s a good problem to have.
Like most of my problems.