I lost my job. I thought it would never happen to me. On my way to a hush hush meeting with my director, I walked past people softly talking in the hall about losing their jobs, and I tried to imagine how they felt. But in a few short minutes, I felt it too, being told I would be “let go,” and the program “restructured.” It felt like an assault, a particular kind of violence to the ego’s sense of security, a dose of anti-joy just in time to wreck the holidays!
Rejected, adrift in a strange city 2,500 miles from family, I felt like I knew no one and no one related to me; I felt so alienated, so alone. My mind rehearsed repeatedly fearful stories of failure, shame, and malcontent. Walking into my apartment, I feared having to move, having to sell all my things, having to find a way to feed the cats, or perhaps even a new home for them, and I was petrified to do anything about it. I was uncertain where to turn. But one thing came through clearly: I need not face this alone.
I realized I needed family and friends. I needed relationships. I looked around myself, and started to take stock of the people who were already in my life, who counted as friends and family. My cats. My friends from work. My massage therapist. My doctor. With a simple telephone call, friends appeared on the scene, asking me to join them for food and drink. At a dance class, a stranger turned around and hugged me! When times were good, I felt like I didn’t require much from friends or family. At times, I even questioned why I needed them at all. And now that I truly needed them, their presence and support were abundant.
Suddenly, I realized what mattered more than anything were relationships. People. Friends. Family, new and old. These mattered so much more than work, a paycheck, commercialism, the compulsion to spend money for the holidays. These other things were connections with inanimate objects, ideas, or my ego’s sense of worth. But only connections with living beings can provide us opportunity to experience the full spectrum of life’s offerings. My gift from the experience of losing my job was an opportunity to exercise the part of me that I was never really that good at: relationships. Approaching life as an introvert, I never found it easy or rewarding to relate to people. But now I caught a glimpse of the rewarding nourishment that others can bring into my life.
In addition to the desire to invest in my existing relationships, I now had an opportunity to form new relationships, meet new friends, new colleagues, and engage with them in curious mutual interest. I had time to get to know myself as I examined new work prospects. What do I stand for? What makes me a good person? What things have changed about me since my last job interview, and why?
And I realized, most of all, that relationships have three phases: a beginning, a maintaining, and an ending. All three are essential, and unavoidable. Focusing on the first two and neglecting the third inevitably fragments our relatedness. To honor and respect all three phases is to exercise healthy relationships.
When it is clear that a relationship is coming to an end, as with my employer, I found it healthy to honor that. And to honor an ending means not just to stand tough and pretend it doesn’t affect me, quite the reverse. To honor it means to grieve, to feel angry, to feel sad, to be vulnerable, to allow my hurt feelings to have a voice. And when I chose to express that voice at the appropriate times, I first made sure I was coming from a place of compassion and not a place of fear. In most situations in my life that stirred my emotions, or I could not make sense of, I’ve found compassion to be a far more useful tool than fear. Compassion allows for hurt feelings, allows for disagreement, and allows for toil. And, in a way that fear never can, it also allows for softening, mending, and resolution.