Being Human, First and Foremost

This is a tough topic, because we have deadlines, priorities, family needs, personal goals, and lots and lots of obstacles. When these obstacles get especially tricky, sometimes our response can be to become callous, abrupt, thoughtless, cranky, and more.

Christmas season is tough for me anyway, with memories of my mom’s final decline (she died three days after her birthday, on Dec. 28) and doubts about the over-wrought complexity of American-style Christmas. A visit with my family was two years overdue and they were all living in Oregon for the first time in years, so I made travel arrangements to take Jim to meet my dad and stepmom before we get married. I combined some time off that I had saved up, plus company holidays, so that I could be off the last two weeks in December.

The company had planned in January to move me to the Internet group, a better fit for my skills and a way to make me more of a shared resource to all groups. I was excited about the transition and feeling optimistic about the strategic direction this was taking.

Going into Christmas season, one of the kids developed some pretty serious health issues and had to be hospitalized, which worried the whole family. At the same time, my dog Sophy was dealing with a recurring bladder infection and one vet had said we might need to check for bladder cancer. The last week before Christmas, I got some wonderful news on both fronts as both were feeling better and back at home with us – it seemed things were beginning to even out for us and I was full of gratitude.

Seeking to embrace hope, we managed to get the Christmas tree set up, plans went forward for family visits, and we purchased a few gifts.

A few days later, I was laid off from my job because of budget cuts related to the economy. Lots of people have gotten laid off during this economic downturn, but I have never been laid off or fired from a job in my life, so this took me by surprise. I made two decisions that day after filing for unemployment: I wouldn’t let this stop our plans to visit my father and family, and I wouldn’t let this discourage me about my own professional future.

I would have been off the week of Christmas anyway, but my time at home took on an almost feverish urgency as I began to do all I could to make sure my name was “out there” – I got my resume updated on three career sites and began applying for jobs that were suited to my skill set. I started thinking about contract work and freelance email marketing work, and this led me to realize something important: I was out of health insurance coverage. I either had to get COBRA or get added to Jim’s health plan.

Because he and I had planned to marry as soon as we could arrange it, deciding to move up those plans was easy, but figuring out when to fit in a marriage was the hard part. We’d be in Oregon for the last week of 2010 but we needed to do this right away – sort of a “shotgun wedding,” if you will! I did some research, and we ended up getting married in one day before a county clerk in Newport, Oregon, with my dad and stepmom there as witnesses. One I am employed again, we can plan a nice reception here in New Jersey.

The new year has brought with it some signs of hope. I’ve had several job interviews already and I am getting calls every day. I think it won’t be long before I am working again.

These challenges are opportunities for frustration or patience, despondency or hope, anger or humor, and so on. In other words, the important thing is to remain a human being, first and foremost.

I see so many people in New Jersey that are caught up in the grind, working hard and not really happy with their circumstances because the cost of everything keeps them from really having the freedom to explore in their lives. Many residents of the part of New Jersey I live in have families and all their decisions are in support of family needs and activities, understandably.

It’s hard for young people to strike out on their own in this state, because of how late they have to wait for driver’s licenses, the competitive job market, and the cost of rent and gas. They end up staying at home with their parents longer than they had planned, which can cause more frustration.

What I am seeing these days is examples of how people are still striving to be human, and to treat others humanely. They may still have gruff exteriors, but grocery checkers are occasionally unexpectedly kind and considerate, postal workers smile from time to time, bartenders remember my favorite ale flavor, and clerks of small shops still find the time to carry my purchases to my car. In fact, in the last month, a former employer recommended me on LinkedIn, many friends where I worked reached out to me to help me look for work, a family member sat with me in gentle conversation, another family member made us a wedding cake, former coworkers invited me to lunch, a toll booth attendant let me through without paying when I failed to exit in time, and recruiters gave me helpful advice on my resume.  There are so many more examples I could include.

You can get wrapped up in your life circumstances and start asking “why me?” but the fact is, there are examples of grace being offered to me (and you) every day. When others are human with me, it’s an opportunity for me to stop, take a breath, and reset my emotional condition. Chances are, I wasn’t being human with myself. Maybe I was judging myself, trying to push myself too hard, or commit other unkindnesses. This just makes me frustrated and cranky with others, too.

A very wise man told me once to give myself more grace because we are all imperfect. Through his example, he taught me to keep placing myself back on my intended path even after I mess up. I don’t really want to be perfect – what I really want is to be human.

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