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What It’s Like To Lose Your Dream Job In The Middle Of A Pandemic

How I'm handling the anxiety of starting all over.
STYLECASTER | laid off during coronavirus pandemic
Naitian (Tony) Wang/Unsplash.

About a month ago, I received a raise. A whopping 12% raise, and it felt like I was on top of the world. Finally, I was hitting my stride at my job, and things could only get better from there. At age 25, making decent money and living in New York, I felt truly confident. Then I got laid off during the coronavirus pandemic, and it was as if all that got erased.

Four weeks ago, The New York Times published an article about two New York State government officials testing positive for COVID-19, a disease most of us were not yet familiar with. The total case count in the city was 269 and rising. We New Yorkers had been shrugging off warnings as sensationalism, so when reality set in, the beginnings of mass hysteria came with it. Suddenly, the HR office I’d called home for two years felt tense. My co-workers and I felt nervous, asking about work-from-home options, looking for any way possible to leave the city. In the midst of all of this, my boss called me into her office. There would be cuts to our team, she said, but I could rest assured I wouldn’t be one of them.

Three weeks ago, I was laid off anyway. It felt like being punched in the gut. Despite knowing that it was in no way a reflection of my performance, I found it impossible to not take personally, and all the reassurance I’d been given seemed like a cruel joke as I sat on the floor in tears.While myself and over six million others filed unemployment claims, we mourned our livelihood with the acute awareness that, at the same time, many others were mourning the lives of their loved ones. I am aware of how fortunate I am during these trying times; that said, I am grieving the confidence, the sense of security, and the life I knew a matter of weeks ago.

It is part of the collective human experience to want something to plan, to anticipate, to look forward to. 

Born in New York state, I moved to Manhattan nearly seven years ago as a walking cliche: my DVD box set of Sex & the City in hand, ready to work in fashion and date smart, driven guys. Oh, how naive I was. Still, I worked hard, attending the Fashion Institute of Technology and spending my time outside of class dragging garment bags around the city, feeling pure joy on each and every errand. Every internship, every class, every new corner of the city I explored—it was all in pursuit of the life I knew I wanted. The plan I had made for myself and my future.

Fast-forward to 2020, and the New York City life I’d spent more than half a decade building felt as though it disappeared instantly the moment I got laid off. As my sister drove me out of Manhattan, my bags haphazardly packed, I felt frozen. As the ice thawed over the following days, I began to face both my anxiety and my disappointment head-on. My anxiety thrives on a fear of the unknown, and it’s a crippling feeling even on the most normal of days—and these are certainly no longer normal days. I had worked hard over the past seven years to make my dreams a reality. I was devastated to see them crushed, but was my original success not concrete proof that I could do it all again? 

It is part of the collective human experience to want something to plan, to anticipate, to look forward to. My future plans are largely uncertain for the first time in years, but with this challenge has come a change in perspective. I have come to terms with the reality that I am so much more than what my plans made me out to be. It sounds cornylike the kind of thing my dad would assure me after a couple glasses of wine and an introspective conversation about growing upbut life is not linear. Especially not right now.

STYLECASTER | laid off during coronavirus pandemic
Aaron Burson/Unsplash.

“Focus on what you can control, and don’t stress about what you can’t.” My therapist gave me this advice two years ago, when I was sat on the couch across from her in a spiraling panic about God knows what. It’s startlingly simple, granted easier said than done, but it’s stuck with me nonetheless, and her words have proven especially valuable in this moment of uncertainty. Right now, I follow a self-made schedule that includes a wake-up time, workouts and meals, and the opportunity to tune into Governor Cuomo’s daily briefings. I spend most of my day inside social distancing, save for the 10,000 steps I attempt to walk around my block. Establishing a routine, one that doesn’t revolve around a 9-to-5 work shift, helps me feel like an actual human.

Some days, working out and making dinner feel like big wins. Other days, they strike me as vain attempts to feign normalcy, and I can just barely get myself off the couch. I try not to dwell on these negative thoughts, and turn my focus to what I know I can control. At some point, when a new normal is established, I will return to New York City and find another job. I will begin rebuilding the life I loved so much—or, I’ll break ground on an entirely new one. It’s hard to know exactly what the future holds post-quarantine, and I’m learning to be okay with this.

I felt so certain of the direction of my life prior to the pandemic and my resulting layoff, but now that I’ve had time to mourn those expectations, I have no choice but to embrace the unknown. Maybe I won’t live in New York forever. Maybe I’ll make a pivot in my career. I know now that I simply cannot predict life’s curveballs, nor can I give up when things don’t go according to plan. I am well aware that  having my health makes me luckier than most, and just as the post-pandemic world will be different, so will be my perspective. I will continue to try to embrace uncertainty and change, and while it won’t be easy, perhaps it’s a lesson I needed to learn.

Kristina Buller is a pen name chosen by the author to protect their identity due to the sensitive and personal nature of this story.

News about the Coronavirus is unfolding in real-time, and while we make every effort to ensure our content is accurate, some of the information in this story may have changed. For the most up-to-date news on the pandemic, please go to the CDC or WHO websites. For the latest from STYLECASTER, visit our Coronavirus hub page

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