COVID stole my job, and gave me an identity

Ah, 2020. A year that sounded so hopeful from afar. Like many others, I sat down in late December 2019 and compiled a list of goals, or revolutions, if you will, that I wanted to focus on in the year 2020. I was super excited about this list, as many of the goals were career-focused. I was determined to get a raise or promotion or find another job that would offer a more consistent schedule (I’ve been used to the retail grind for my entire career). I hit the ground running in the new year, talking about these goals with my leadership team at work. However, in March, it all came to a crashing halt. 

I left work on a Friday evening in mid-March, not knowing I might never come back. Living in a studio apartment in downtown Chicago, I stared out the window with my face pressed against the glass as I watched the city become a ghost town. My company decided to close for a week while America started to digest the virus’s grim reality that was sweeping the nation. I adapted to the WFH lifestyle for just a week before I was introduced to a word that I had never heard before, “we’re unfortunately going to need to put you on a furlough.” I called my parents sobbing, and they assured me that I wasn’t alone and that this wouldn’t last forever. I wasted no time and filed for unemployment that evening– something I had no idea how to navigate (why don’t they teach us this stuff in school)?

I quarantined alone in Chicago for 16 days before making the difficult choice to come home to be with my family in Michigan. With all of the unknown, the last place I wanted to be was alone in my 500 square foot apartment with no job.

I suddenly had so much free time that I didn’t know what to do with. I was so thankful and lucky that my family and I were healthy, but I found myself to be filled with anger and constantly on the verge of tears, ready to burst at the mention of “if I’m okay”. I clung to my inbox the first few months of quarantine, hoping to miraculously get an email saying I could come back to work. Instead, my inbox was flooded with marketing emails from various places I’ve shopped, informing me how their companies were tackling the severity of the virus.

My quarantine, along with the rest of America, consisted of several things–Tiger King, Monopoly, forced family walks, and the never-ending Zoom calls with extended family that you never used to talk to regularly. The Zoom calls really got to me because what was I supposed to say? “Yea, I’m still not working….anyways, how’s the weather over by you?” I found myself constantly thinking about how I wasn’t working. It consumed me.

PC (a term I’ve now adopted into my vocabulary to refer to Pre-COVID times), I would’ve described myself as a really happy person. I was healthy, had a great job for a company that I loved, and a fantastic social life in a big city. I felt like I had hit the peak of my life. Fast forward to 2020, and those things were ripped away. It felt as if I didn’t know who I was without a job. This really got me thinking, Americans are so caught up in the idea of work. You go to school and study hard so that you can get a good job. You don’t ever really plan for life without one. We live to work. There’s a sense of pride that comes with being “workaholics.” But at the end of the day, does that really define us? Do we have identities outside of our jobs? Why am I embarrassed when I have to tell my family members that I still don’t have a job over those Zoom calls? 2020 made me realize that I had begun to base my self-worth on my job status. And for what?

Mid-Summer, I started to really put in the work to focus on my mental and physical health. I developed actual hobbies and started running as an outlet to release stress. Month after month, I continued to receive the infamous “your furlough is being extended” email. I continued to apply and interview for jobs daily, only to be slapped in the face with the automated rejection email that every company has seemed to use (get more creative, people). And at the beginning of Fall, I received the dreaded letter notifying me that I have exhausted my unemployment benefits and will be financially cut-off on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas! How sobering. This is life in America.

But I’m a lucky one, and I’m not saying that sarcastically. I have been so blessed to have parents who support me through a year that has put me through the wringer. I can’t help but think about those with children who have received the same dreaded letter, knowing they won’t be able to put food on the table for much longer. I don’t need to get political for me to say that this isn’t right.

I’m going on month nine without work. And the next time I go back to Chicago, it will be to say goodbye. “Break your lease” wasn’t exactly a goal on my New Years Resolutions list, but this year has been filled with surprises. I didn’t come to a decision lightly. But the second I realized that I was putting my happiness in the hands of my job, I realized that Chicago isn’t really where I want to be anymore. In fact, I moved to Chicago to chase a job. I have my eyes set on a new home, but I will be moving there to chase happiness instead.

I’m writing this piece as a wake-up call for everyone out there buried in their work. Don’t let your life pass you by. Don’t let it take a pandemic for you to realize where your priorities lie. And if you happen to be in the same boat as me, you’re not alone. The dust will eventually settle, and hopefully, when it does, we’ll look back on this year and be able to say that we became stronger because of it.

(That being said–someone, please take a chance on me! If you’re hiring, reach out!)

If you like this article, check out: http://www.harnessmagazine.com/4-daily-habits-you-didnt-realize-were-compromising-your-online-safety/

by amandaplease25

I'm a 26-year-old Chicago transplant that recently moved back in with her parents in Michigan when COVID rocked the world. I'm a child at heart--I love boy bands, grilled cheese, and catching up on the latest TikTok craze. I got my degree in Fashion Merchandising & Design from Central Michigan University and have always wanted to pursue a journalism career.


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