Sunday Essay: Fresh starts

FOR practical and sentimental reasons, I have never spent New Year’s Eve away from home. I admire people who make it a point to ring in the New Year in unfamiliar surroundings, but I prefer to spend the first few hours of the year on home turf.

We don’t make a grand production of it. For more than two decades now, instead of lighting our own fireworks, we’ve enjoyed the New Year’s Eve fireworks from the house on another hill visible from our porch. It’s usually elaborate and prolonged, and has the added benefit of being free. After that, we head back inside for a quick family prayer, desserts, and for those so inclined, a second dinner.

Last year, I nearly abandoned these traditions. I was unemployed for the first time in 25 years and recovering from an argument with a loved one over some trivial thing. So, I booked a room in Bantayan Island and was all set to go when bad weather upended my plans. Exactly what I would have done, had the trip proceeded, wasn’t clear. I suppose I just wanted to mope, eat, read, nap, and mope some more. In hindsight, I am thankful that the trip didn’t proceed as planned.

Looking back, I think it also prepared me for the year that followed, a year marked by plans that didn’t always go the way I had intended.

When you’re looking for your first job, fresh out of college and full of ideas about how differently your life is going to turn out, you’re mostly excited. But when you’re looking for a new job in middle age, the inner voice that tells you to be excited and optimistic can so easily get drowned out by your doubts and anxiety, which are often louder, more relentless.

I am grateful to point out that eventually, my new situation far exceeded what I had hoped for.

But the path that led me there wasn’t always easy. One of the many things I love about my new workplace is that all the recruiters I met were consistently kind, efficient, and encouraging, which is a function of the culture in which they operated, as well as their own qualities as human beings. Before I met them, however, I had encountered enough recruiters in other organizations who were so disorganized and inconsiderate that their actions bordered on cruelty.

It should not have been so surprising, how difficult the process was. We’ve all heard cautionary tales about how a lack of certainty has become one of the markers of how the world of work has changed in the last decade or so.

But as someone from a generation raised by parents who believed in lifelong careers with the same organization where they had started, this new terrain was hard to navigate. This year, my respect for freelancers and start-up entrepreneurs increased immensely.

“The gig economy” sounds good only when you focus on the pitches about how it allows you to take more control over your creative potential and the profits it can bring you. But when you see its lack of predictability and security first-hand, your faith in your abilities (to provide for loved ones, to make something meaningful) can get shaken.

There were days, before landing this new job that I love, when driving off the nearest bridge seemed like an idea worth considering, if only because it might finally cause all the anxiety to stop.

But for every person who made me feel worthless and disappointing, there were others God used to bring me comfort. Some of them referred me to potential opportunities, and some reached out to remind me that the situation wasn’t hopeless. Some simply asked to meet up for coffee and conversation. And some prayed with me, which is one of life’s most underrated forms of kindness.

Now, as I look back on 2019 and make plans for this New Year, I will say a prayer for those who lack the things we often take for granted, like shelter, family, and a measure of certainty. For those who have lost a loved one this year and are trying to find their bearings.

For those in need of a fresh start but are losing hope that it will ever come. Trust that it’s on its way. Get ready to meet it. Hold on.