Counting Steps Through the Abyss

This is a post about job loss, personal comfort zones, life changes, how to consume metaphoric wine, and cinnamon buns.

Note: for the audio version of this post, click here.

by Bryan  

shoe

I remember well the day I lost my job.

A few months prior I started wearing a smartwatch to track my daily steps because in the brain of every person who works a desk job an evil voice rents an apartment who body shames their landlord every time they eat. In my office it was common to see a fresh box of cinnamon buns from the local bakery on the kitchen table as you arrived to start the day. I was amused by the majority of co-workers who would slice the buns in half and retreat to their desks with a rationally sized portion and a smile. Their willpower was cute. I’d eat one before anyone noticed, then return an hour later for my designated ‘half’, then swing back to the kitchen around 10 to finish the leftovers.

I justified this behavior in my head by saying out loud “It’s important to support the local bakery”.

As far as the rate at which I was consuming delicious cinnamon bunny goodness, it was the best of times.

Enter the smartwatch. I wasn’t about to kick the cinnamon buns so I started tracking my walks as a means to slufoot the calories.

This particular day, the watch vibrated against my wrist at 12:40 reminding me the day was half over and I hadn’t yet moved from my chair. It was time to go for a walk.

I returned to the chair 10 minutes later feeling good about myself. To the Ultramar at the end of our street and back was good for 2500 steps, or about 25% of my daily goal. Plus, the fresh air was good for me. I returned re-energized and ready to tackle the afternoons tasks. The phone rang. It was my manager summoning me to her office.

3 minutes later the meeting was over. I was now unemployed. It’s funny how your priorities can change on a dime. Suddenly my daily steps were the least of my concerns.

I worried about stuff, as humans do. How would Alana handle the news? Where was my career headed? I wasn’t the most conservative saver during my employ – was I financially fucked? With the job now gone any beneficiary comforts I received from it (pay cheque, purpose, a place to go in the morning) was gone too and I found myself no longer living within the borderlines of my personal comfort zone. Rather, tripped up and falling through the abyss of the unknown.

Human beings are biologically wired to be petrified of the unknown. It’s why fearless explorers like Christopher Columbus, Chris Hadfield, and Elon Musk are considered heroes.

Note: Christopher Columbus was considered a crazy person in his day. Today, not so much.

“The ‘crazy’ qualities you are ridiculed for at the beginning of your career are the exact qualities they give you Lifetime Achievement Awards for at the end.” – quote I heard somewhere

As a result of my free fall through the unknown abyss my brain began doing something it hadn’t done in a very long time: thinking.

Here’s my brain being uncomfortable, thinking itself through the job loss:

This is not a sappy situation. Your predicament is not unique and you are not special. Nobody else cares, and that’s a good thing because if people were showing care it would be a sign you were in legitimate trouble. You’re not. This shit happens to people every day. Did you think everything was going to stay comfortably in tact, forever? Right now you’re winded because you’ve been jabbed in the guts. But no single person, employer, economic crisis, news story, or weather forecast possess the strength to knock you out. (I don’t know why I added weather forecast – I thought it might be comically relevant to my Newfoundland homies). The world changes at a rapid pace. Any failure on your behalf to change with it will leave you suffocated in the dust. Developing an awareness for the fact that life as you know it will not stay the same is an essential key to healthy living. The awareness starts here: 1) Live in the moment. 2) Take nothing for granted. 3) Be receptive to change.

Side story:

Christmas is a good time to put the awareness to the test. I get depressed on Christmas Day because in recent years attendance at our dinner table has declined as relationships ended, family moved away, and people died. Where our dining room used to resemble an abstract portrait of chaotic festive celebration (think the opening scene of Home Alone when the family orders Pizza and everyone is wildly running around), has reduced to a modest skeleton crew with barely enough guests to finish a bottle of champagne.

I may find myself depressed during these times as I reflect on the past, but the reality is hardly depressing. Kids grow up and go their own way. People break up, which is a good thing disguised as a bad thing. As a famous comedian once said “No happy marriage ever ended in divorce. That would be depressing!” And of course, people die. This is life, changing. It’s not depressing. Life is not something I own, possess, or have control over. It’s not my life. It’s just: life. It’s a gift I get to participate in*.

*Full disclosure: many ideas you’ll read in The Bryan Post are original ideas conceived and developed inside my imagination. Occasionally though, my external influences — of which there are many — inspire me in such a way that when I go back and re-read my work, some ideas border on plagiarism, and I wince in shame. When that happens I wish to give proper credit. The It’s not my life, it’s just: life idea was stolen from an episode of Louis. It’s on Netflix. Now, back to the post…

I like the uncomfortable version of my brain. Fresh, outspoken, witty, emotionally present; it highlights areas of myself I genuinely like. I’m no expert, but taking a personal inventory of what you like about yourself and then clinging to those things are probably important in the area of survival.

My uncomfortable brain was also voted most likely to get his ass kicked in a bar by a group of peers. Oh well. It can be irrational at times. It’s the Martin St. Louis of mentality: not the most skilled or superior, but it has character, toughness, and heart.

 On the flip side, my comfortable brain is lazy, cynical, and afraid. It doesn’t do any meaningful living because in it’s opinion I’ve already done enough hard work over my life, set myself up well, and can just sit back and relax. It would never challenge itself because it’s too afraid of failure. Every now and then it will send out a meaningless tweet about the Blue Jays that nobody ever needed to read, ever. The comfortable brain doesn’t have a heart and soul and is mind numbingly boring.

Nobody has ever admitted this, but it is OK to say out loud the things you think you are good at. There’s no need to feel shame if you admit aloud that you’re, for example, a good singer. I am just learning this, btw.

I’m good at hockey. I’m good at making people laugh. I’m also good at analyzing myself, my actions, my decisions, finding out where and why I fucked up, and making changes to better myself.

(The shame is just hovering above my head as I type. Go away.)

That level of self-honesty (as I’m calling it), is rare, invaluable, and my greatest strength. I think. That’s my opinion at least…until it changes.   

Still, therein lies a dilemma. Talk is cheap. Can I take all that self-analysis and put it to action?

Brain chemistry – even in the most amateur analysis the likes of this blog post attempts to cover – is tricky business. Here’s the trick: it’s important to challenge yourself to expand the borders of your comfort zone and explore new territory. Both figuratively and literally, across all areas of your existence – I’m not simply talking about travelling here. However, once you summon the courage to step over the line, by definition, what you will surely experience next will be very very uncomfortable.

comfort-circle-drawing
Figure 1: The world is big and scary…until it’s not.

That’s the nature of the beast. The key is summoning the strength to live uncomfortably until your body and mind have adequate time to adjust. Eventually the comfort circle pictured above expands. That’s a beautiful thing. The result will be, among other things; personal growth, deeper intelligence, love for one’s self, love and understanding for others in your life, acceptance of what you can’t control, and inner peace. In other words, an all-star roster of character traits.

Somebody gave me a bottle of wine. How will I choose to consume it? I have 3 options:

  1. I grab it by the neck, tip it skywards and devour its contents in 4 ambitious chugs. This approach leaves me wasted; unable to speak, unable to think. The bottle is over before it begins.
  2. I store it away safely in my wine rack. It looks nice there. When I see it I’m reminded how lucky I am to have it. Truth be told, I’m scared of it. I’m afraid of what it might do to me. I’m over-thinking it.
  3. I open it. I pour a little glass and taste it. I’m the scientist and the wine is the experiment. As I consume ever so slowly, I am learning, I am growing. The conclusion is unknown.

I lost my job. When it comes to my employ, I’m an unrestricted free agent. I don’t harbor any ill-thoughts towards my former team. Times are tough and the franchise is making changes. I wasn’t part of the re-build. The exact same thing is happening right now to Jose Bautista, and he once hit 54 home runs in a single season.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. In today’s atheist western society it’s hard to hang my hat on a thought like: just have faith everything will work out. But honestly, what else choice is there? At the absence of answers faith is crucial in the mental and physical ability to move forward.

I’m living outside the borderlines of my comfort zone right now, and as advertised it’s uncomfortable as fuck.

My watch just vibrated against my wrist. I’ve been sitting in this chair all morning.

I’ve been thinking.

I think I’ll go for a walk. ♦

Endnotes:

  • Do you have a question, comment, hate mail, or story you would like to share with me? I encourage feedback in all shapes and sizes. Contact Me.
  • If you enjoyed this post, check out Parents, Television, Social Media: The Eras That Formed My Contact Lens – the story of my contact lens.
  • For audio versions of The BRD Post, visit the Audio Page.
  • Please consider subscribing by email to The BRD Post. I’m not too active on Facebook or Twitter and you can easily miss a new post. Subscribe below (if reading on mobile or tablet) or subscribe in the right margins (if reading on desktop). 
  • Finally, share The BRD Post if you feel like it. Why should you have all the reading fun? The BRD Post needs love to grow.
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