Behind My Mask

When I said yes to an employment opportunity in Spokane, I wasn’t seeking a reason to move or close my consulting agency. I adored where I lived and my business was doing just fine. Better still, I was happy. I was making money doing what I truly loved to do—training teams, developing people, and brainstorming innovative futures.

But after a long-term on-site gig with a client in Spring 2019, they actively recruited me to join their team. I had apprehensions, the biggest one being that historically I don’t do well working for people. It’s a troubling detail that stems from the fact that I, unfairly, put my superiors on a pedestal. Of all my past bosses, only one has lived up to my unreasonable expectations (and he, ironically, launched me into my current industry 15 years ago). Needless to say, I am far more content when I’m not reporting to someone. So the prospect of doing so for this client was disconcerting. 

Also, I wasn’t seeking a new job. I had carved out a professional life that perfectly fed into the four things I knew I needed to be happy. My list: 1) I’m utilized for what I know I am best at, 2) I earn a modest pay commensurate with my myriad experience, 3) I get ample off-time, and finally, 4) nobody sweats what time I roll into the office. I shared this list of non-negotiables with my client fully expecting their idea to fizzle. But they didn’t balk. In fact, they understood and embraced it without any hint of pushback. This made me feel appreciated. And also scared the crap out of me since I suddenly knew I wouldn’t refuse the job offer.

So I packed up all my things and moved to a city about which I knew nothing. Dived into the fold and immediately busted butt. Within three weeks, and before I was unpacked, I designed and led a leadership summit for all store managers. By six weeks in I had spent more time on the road than at home, traveling to outlining markets to lead training sessions and in-store follow-ups for all network employees. I was on track to prove the efficacy of a non-traditional hire and I loved every minute of it. Granted, I wasn’t meeting any people to form my new social circle. I was working too much, after all. But the way I saw it, once I found a groove, my schedule would settle down and I’d have time to start putting down roots. 

Then, boom, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. On a dime, stores closed. Teams were reduced. My employer scrambled to take care of people and investments. Everyone disappeared into quarantine. We did Zoom calls. Considered the unknown future. And though I never once stopped appreciating the fact that I was still drawing a paycheck, all the reasons that brought me to this place fell into a state of disrepair. 

Frankly I feel like a self-indulgent ass for harping on my situation and being angry at having lost my non-negotibles. For suddenly having to exist in an environment where I feel of little use. For having to manage my own stress and not get mixed up with others’ emotional rollercoasters. For being in a place where I have nobody to lean on. For wanting out. For craving the comforts of another place. Home. For being grateful for a paycheck simply because it’s a paycheck. Now is not the time to complain, right?

I can’t tell people how unhappy I am because they’ve got it far worse than me. My livelihood is not on the line. But truth be told, my happiness is. But right now I am not convinced happiness is anything more than a luxury. Can happiness be a driver when we’re in survival mode? I want to answer yes, but I think this is my privilege talking. 

I’m trying to take all this chaos with a grain of salt. This moment in time isn’t about me. It’s the space we are all in, one way or another. We’re all learning to exist in a varied state of brokenness. We are all coping with uncertainty and absence. We are all trying to find a foothold to help define what’s next. Each of us looking for a resonant truth as we sift through an excess of political madness, partisan policy, lopsided science, idiotic opinions, and conspiracy theories.  

I’m trying my best to stay positive, even though I’m mostly faking it. I’m trying to remain compassionate towards others, though my ego regularly makes it a challenge to find empathy. I’m pretending I don’t need contact. Touch. Connection. I’m convincing myself I can be alone indefinitely. I’m actively refraining from screaming. From planning my disappearance. Just trying to take it all one day at a time and maintain something akin to a soft heart. I’m wearing a mask whenever I am around people. 

But dammit, I don’t want to be sullen. I don’t want to take my frustrations out on others. It’s too easy to be angry, even if it’s relieving. Too easy to spread negativity. Bottom line is this: we get what we give. So I choose, behind my mask, to oppose this strange moment and instead dish out an abundance of love. But honestly, this strategy is self-serving. Motivated by desperation, even. Because I’m only doing it hoping that love somehow comes back to me. My buckets are nearly empty. 

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