”I never expected this”
That’s a common reaction to a layoff. I, however, expected it. Before the VP’s earnest explanation. Before the mysterious email insisting upon my attendance at a non-specific but ‘very important’ meeting in a random conference room across the sprawling corporate campus I’d called my work-home for the last 14 years. Before the idle thoughts triggered by the rumors of impending layoffs. I expected it before all of that.
See, I’ve always sort of expected it. There’s a pessimistic side to my nature. It tries to keep me from harm by anticipating all the bad outcomes. So I’ve thought about losing my job longer than I’ve had a job. As far back as elementary school I’ve worried about unemployment. And I’ve always wanted to know how I’d handle it. My presumption was that I’d wage a total war: put every last measure of energy into finding a new job — devote everything to survival.
The layoff itself is an extremely emotional event — even with the resources to convince your rational mind you’ll be OK. It’s a rejection. It’s an abrupt loss of the society of your peers. It’s shameful. There’s no helping that. But with time and the comfortably bland corporate processes, the worst is soon over. Then you need to answer the question.
Everybody wonders what it’ll be like when they don’t have a job. Either through ’natural’ retirement or through a job loss with comfortable severance, everyone fantasizes.
When it really happens, the immediate impulse is to forget those silly fantasies and get back on the treadmill. What if your skills get rusty? What if people forget about you? What if you run out of money? Eat through your nest egg? You’re displaced, better find something new. But if you’ve got a strong dream and enough resources you can push aside that impulse and really think about it. What do you want to do, really, now that the stakes are more serious than a few moments’ unfocused gaze?
This blog is a chronicle of what my life-without-work dreams look like when they are made real.
It is the story of a very privileged job loss. Against a charge of self indulgence, I have no defense. This is self indulgent. And in no way is this meant to say ‘everyone, you can make lemonade from your lemons! Just believe!’. My lemons were very sweet and abundant, and I write this mainly for myself. Truthfully, I do not possess a fearless character. But I do have enough wisdom to know that wealth can reduce your fear. That belief has made me live below my means for years, just in case.
With that purchased fearlessness and my newfound freedom, I set my intent to act on my favorite daydream of the last decade, and cast myself out to travel. Not to vacation. Not to holiday for 10 days, 4 of which are spent in a jet lag haze. Not to just get comfortable enough with a place in time to leave it. But to really travel. To go to a new land without a clear return date — though maybe with a season in mind — or detailed plan. Without the language. Carrying on your back everything you need for months.
That was my idle dream while typing away the long years of my thirties. Now on the brink of forty, I’m going to give it a go. This is my chronicle.
Before it begins in earnest, I need to thank my anonymous muse. Someone who came into my life a few weeks before the layoff and has been my travel Sensei, a real example of someone who cast off the corporate life for one of greater experience. I’m incredibly grateful for their inspiration. Grateful, and amazed at the fateful coincidence of our meeting at this pivotal juncture of my life.
And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just
”Something That Happened.” This cannot be “One of Those Things… ”
This, please, cannot be that. And for what I would like to say, I can’t.
This Was Not Just A Matter Of Chance. Ohhhh. These strange things
happen all the time.
— Magnolia, 1999