A little more ‘human-like’ after 11 months

Last weekend while I was at a BBQ, a friend asked how long have I been away from full-time work. A quick calculation revealed that I have been away for 11 months. I am almost coming to the end of my gap year! *Gasp* Have I sorted out my life? … The answer is obvious, I guess.

Until this particular conversation, it did not quite hit me that it has truly almost been a year since I embarked on this journey of rest and self-discovery. As I looked back at those 11 months, they felt like time wasted. Facebook newsfeed did an excellent job showing me how friends around me were moving on in careers, in relationships, in the family way… in life. Of course I am happy for them. But at the same time, as I looked at myself, it felt as if time somewhat stood still even as it flew by. (I am quite sure many of you know what it means even though logically that sounds or feels impossible.)

Emotionally, it was not a pretty picture: envy, guilt, doubt and the like more often that I would like stood in the way of sanity, but that’s just life, that’s just me and that’s something that I needed to come to terms with. Of course cognitively, I knew that I did not waste my time at all. I was teaching part-time once a week, I was enrolled in a part-time BATI programme at UniSIM, and I was also volunteering at my local church on various projects. I was also spending more time with myself, as well as with people that matter, doing things I enjoy. Truth be told, I was actually dreadfully busy! And I wondered, did I really take a break? Then I also realised I was the one who still could not break the habit of over-committing, who would still say ‘yes’ before thinking things through thoroughly. So much for having figured things out, right. *Grin*

Then there was the need for employment, a huge source of stress and anxiety. Obviously, when one completes its gap year, the intent is to return to full-time employment. As early as March this year, I applied to re-join my previous organisation; and I still have yet to hear from them 4 months later. You could imagine how depressing that could be. Thankfully, out of the blue, a friend recently shared with me her story: how her re-employment took 1 year to process, which reminded me of other horror stories shared earlier but somehow forgotten because it did not feel real. And now it is happening to me. Honestly, I felt so much better hearing her sharing, because at the very least, it was not personal.

Of course, waiting was painful and continue to be; but as I am still tied up with my part-time work and some pro-bono projects, I guess I really am not in a hurry to go back to full-time work.

However – and here I really just want to get this out – I am miffed by all this long waiting process. Firstly, the opportunity cost of not having a salary is borne by me, with little sympathy from anyone else. Secondly the organisation showed no empathy to my situation with its template responses twice when I wrote in to enquire. It made me wonder how can an organisation who do not model empathy (or compassion) inculcate that in the young charges under its care. And do I really want to work for an organisation like this? Are all organisations like that? Even public service? These questions often torment me, without answers.

This is why, when I was asked – at the same BBQ – what did the gap year do for me, my response was pretty immediate: it made me more human. The anxiety of not having a position to transit into at the end of my gap year, the frustration of not making any headway in my job application, the fear of not being able to provide for myself and my family… I finally know what it feels like to be unemployed, to be at the mercy of potential employers, to have to eat the humble pie and perhaps even take on jobs that I had previously turn my nose up at. For the first time in recent years, I felt truly helpless and rendered powerless by reality.

Yet, I also rejoice in that helplessness, because now I perhaps understood a little better than I did previously how people who were retrenched felt like. My eyes have been opened to a new reality. Previously, I could only imagine what others were going through, and what I thought were consoling words were perhaps more akin to adding salt to injury. Having gone through the process myself now, I am beginning to realise that empathy is shown not in words but in actions, that sometimes, remaining silent in solidarity beats a thousand words of comfort. It was an invaluable lesson.

And when I say I rejoice, I am not being flippant. Instead, this simple joy can be attributed to my faith, naive as it may sound. As a Christian, I find rest in the Lord Jesus Christ who is sovereign over all. I do not know what will eventually emerge from this season of waiting, but I am sure I would not be left in a lurch with nothing. I might not get the dream job or the desired lifestyle, but I am given the assurance in the bible that God will see to my every need. And it is precisely this hope that sustains me and keeps me going as my treacherous mind plays games with me.

For now, I continue to be busy with part-time teaching, part-time studying, volunteer work in church and possibly more, while waiting for my previous organisation to decide whether or not they would rehire me. Maybe at some point I would run out of patience and look for another job; but until then, I guess I will still be waiting a little more. After all, it has only been 4 months into my application, I might have another 8 more months to wait. In the meantime, I can perhaps do more adjunct teaching, or not.

P.S. I know I have not been writing as often as I used to and hope to, and there is only one reason – I am buried under. Yes, I guess I need another year off perhaps to work through this problem of over-committing. Help!

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