A tale of two Fridays

Not last Friday but the one before that, I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 10 miles away from Maalaea Harbor, bobbing up and down on a catamaran anchored to the floor of a volcanic crater. We were there to snorkel in said geologic marvel, to float atop the azure water and peer down below at myriad sea creatures — the supposed pinnacle of our trip to Maui. I’d never been snorkeling before, but it wasn’t until we were geared up, standing among strangers and listening to a hasty lesson on how to breathe through a plastic tube that I started to feel nervous.

Roth assured me I’d be fine once I got into the water. I would just need to relax my body and breathe — in and out, in and out. He’d been snorkeling before, in the Florida Keys when he was a kid, and more recently, about a decade before on another trip to Hawaii.

(I’d never been to Hawaii before, either.)

We stood at the back of the boat, my legs quivering and my eyes starting to fill with tears, fogging up the mask. I didn’t want to get in the choppy water, but more so, I didn’t want to have to tell anyone that I didn’t even try to snorkel, especially since we paid for this rare, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Somehow, with more coaxing by Roth, I willed myself toward the steps and slowly eased my body into the water.

I never knew the depth of my fear of open water until I was in it. Even though we were mere feet away from the boat, and Roth was by my side, I felt very alone. Vulnerable. Unskilled. I clung to a boogie board and tried to breathe — in and out, in and out — through the tube, to get used to the sensation, as Roth suggested, but the more I inhaled-exhaled, my breath an eerie echo in my ears, the more I started to feel the vines of panic taking over my mind.

Put your face in the water, he said. Just look down.

I did. I did. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel good.

Just relax, he said.

I tried. I extended my arms and put my face in the water again, this time I was able to see to the rocky bottom, a scant few fish slithering by, but I couldn’t breathe. I was holding my breath. No in. No out. No, this wasn’t working. Despite the utter vastness below and outstretched before me, I felt claustrophobic. This wasn’t the magical experience that’d been touted in the guidebook. I had to get out of the water, and so I did, encouraging Roth to stay and get his money’s worth.

As I sat alone on the top deck of the boat, tears streaming down my face from behind my sunglasses, I felt like an idiot. We’d come all this way — not just the 10 miles from the harbor, but all the way from Seattle to Maui in the middle of winter to have an amazing! and awesome! vacation — and now the trip was marred. All that planning, and it was no longer perfect because I’d failed at snorkeling.

Several hours later, as Roth and I sat in our rental car trying to work through the anger and disappointment that’d taken over the rest of my day, we had a breakthrough, an epiphany, of sorts, as I remembered something I’d read in The Happiness Project last January.

“Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you.”

Or, more specifically, “I tried snorkeling; snorkeling is not for me.” Period.

The rest of our trip — all the meals and driving and sightseeing and relaxing — was awesome! and amazing! It just feels so surreal that we’ve already gone to and returned from Maui, that two weeks ago I was adrift in an ocean of emotions. Little did I know that feeling of not being able to breathe would happen again just a week later.

***
This past Friday, the one after that, I was in a small conference room, the one without any windows to the outside, hearing my breath echo inside my head again, this time as I listened to the COO of the company for which I’d worked almost seven years tell me my position was being eliminated, that I was being let go, effective immediately. Like a scene out of a movie, another man I’d never laid eyes on before, an HR manager flown in from the corporate offices in San Francisco, extended a box of tissue in my direction as my eyes started to fill with tears.

The feeling of hearing you’re being laid off is not unlike the feeling of drowning. You try to breathe, see straight, and cling to the facts — it’s not you, it’s just numbers; you’ve done nothing wrong — but the water rises quickly in that situation. You’ve been sunk.

Obviously, this wasn’t part of the plan.

I didn’t see it coming, though I should have, having been through several cycles of layoffs and department consolidations in my time with the company. The sticky thing is, a month prior we’d all been assured that despite tough times ahead, there would not be any layoffs. Wrongly, I’d let myself feel safe and secure, especially in my diverse and varied role. I’d gotten too comfortable. Complacent, perhaps. Heck, I was 7 months pregnant. They’d never let ME go!

HA. Ha, ha.

Several days later, as I sit on my couch in my pajamas, with Rowan now at my side (the world as he knew it has been rocked pretty hard, too), things look a lot different than they did just a week ago. I’ve been through the gamut of emotions — sadness, anger, fear, woe, confusion (I’ve never been let go from a job before, either) — but I think things are really going to be OK. Thankfully, my former employer is not leaving me totally high and dry. There’s severance — a token, perhaps, of how terrible the powers-that-be feel, given I was one of six who were laid off that day — and help with insurance, too.

And there’s a silver lining, of being able to collect unemployment, of course, but also of being able to collect myself. Had this not happened to me, I might’ve stayed at my former company another seven years, but maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me it’s time to put my face in the water and see what else is out there.

To sink, or swim.

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13 Comments

  1. Yes. YES. Your post just inspired me to write about my own experience of being laid off. Because i’m still coping with the residual emotions, and I think I need to write about it in order to let them go.

  2. Just the fact that you can write about such difficult things with such beauty and clarity shows that things will be OK. You’re very talented and I have no doubt the right thing will come along when it should.

    I’ve seen many, many coworkers get let go over the years (that’s the way of the world in publishing, it seems) and nearly every single one of them comes out for the better on the other side. It’s a great thing to see, if only for piece of mind, because you just never know.

    I can’t believe it was a stranger who let you go, though, and not your direct boss or someone who you trusted. Interesting.

    Best to you guys!

  3. S

    I never thought I’d call someone writing about being laid off beautiful, but this really was. You are so talented. I’m so, so sorry this happened.

  4. Kendrah

    Hi Jen, I was laid off from my job of a year and half back in February of last year. I had taken a long weekend of PTO and my work friend called to say she had been laid off and others too. I emailed my boss from home to ask about my fate, figuring I would be reassured, because hadn’t I helped build our system, hadn’t I been there since the companies infancy and was a prized and valued employee? Come to find, I was not. I was VERY angry. I cried for days. And while the next job wasn’t a prize either, where I am now-AWESOME!! It was so meant to be, so I could come here and appreciate something so awesome. Some place I can truly grow. You have an amazing set of skills that the Company gave you and I have zero doubt, that something perfect for you is right around the corner. Much love from Salt Lake!!

  5. Beautifully written, Jen.

    I’m proud of you for taking your time to process your emotions and to come out looking at the bright side. I wasn’t laid off, but I took my own plunge into dark and scary waters. I have to say – even though I’m hardly closer to the end of it – I’m so glad I did. Welcome to being at home with your kiddo! Chat me up ANY TIME.

    Love and hugs from St. Louis.
    VW

  6. JA

    Yay! Great post. I hope you can try snorkeling closer to shore in calm water one day, because it would be easier to relax, even if it’s ultimately not for you.

    And, I can say better than most, that your former employer will be up a creek without you.

    Really nice sentiments, my friend!

    -J.

  7. Linda

    You are a terrific writer Jen. So sorry about the job. I really hope you find another one using your writing talents. Take a breather now and collect from unemployment until you’re ready to have the baby. Best of luck. Linda

  8. Mom

    The universe called and said it’s okay for you to sit back, relax and enjoy some well deserved time off! It’s perfectly okay to be a full time mom right now who finally has time to just breathe until the perfect opportunity reveals itself at just the right time. Love you! :-D

  9. Anonymous

    I am so confident that you will be OK! You have everything going for you :)
    Loved this post. You wrote it beautifully.

  10. Katie

    It’s cathartic for me to read this today. I was told Friday of last week that my position was going to be eliminated. I’ve been very unhappy at my job recently and while this is just the push I need to move forward into something else, I, too, am running through the gamut of emotions. I sit here in my office with a very strange mix of feelings, wondering when, exactly, the axe will fall. Hoping (as strange as it may sound) that it will be soon. I’m excited to move on; to get myself centered again; to finally do all those things that get put off when we’re busy. And at the same time my feelings are hurt. I’m angry. I’m sad. It’s a strange thing this knowing your life is about to change…even when it is for the better. Best wishes to you as you navigate your season of change.

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