Changing Careers in a Pandemic

Back in November 2019, I was reading Gail Honeyman’s bestseller, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, when I stumbled upon a line that really resonated with me: “if someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say, “fine”.”

From the first pages, I immediately related to how disheartened the heroine felt at her lackluster office job. Just like her, I had been working in an office environment for a long time and felt like I had reached a dead end. I knew I needed to make a change.

But when you’re past fifty and leaving a workplace you’ve known for years, starting a new career path can make you feel all kinds of stressed, scared, and overall not fine. 

Deciding to make a change 

For a long time, I was afraid to admit how lost I felt at my job. I kept hearing people say that the key to living a happier and more fulfilling life was to do something you loved for a living – then you’d never feel like you were “working.” Among other things, I thought a lot about what author Gretchen Rubin said in her New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project: “what I do for my work is exactly what I would do if nobody paid me.” 

I longed to be able to say that about my own job. I wanted to do something that truly resonated with my passion for social connection and physical wellness.

I heard people say that the key to living a happier life was to do what I loved for a living.

So, in my late fifties, after watching my body deteriorate from years of sitting in front of a computer and craving more meaningful human interactions, I piled my personal items into an archive box and finally left. That was in December, shortly before words like “covid-19” and “pandemic” became part of our daily lexicon. 

Uncertain times

January was supposed to be my fresh start. Something about 2020 sounded so fitting: the year had a nice round number, which made it seem right somehow.

I was to start a new career as a Registered Canadian Reflexology Therapist. In order to obtain this designation, I was volunteering at a Cancer and Wellness Centre in my community. I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work, but I had a plan, and set a clear goal. 

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, covid-19 struck – and everything was put on pause. 

All things considered, I know how fortunate I am: I cannot imagine how hard this must be for the cancer patients with whom I used to volunteer, or anyone who’s lost loved ones to the virus. 

But in the midst of all this chaos, I couldn’t stop thinking about the questions that people raised over my career change. Some didn’t understand why I’d left a stable job. In the aftermath of the pandemic, it would be hard for young people to find jobs, let alone for someone starting a new career at my age! People would have little income left for non-essential luxury services like getting their reflexes checked. How would I start up a new business in this climate? 

 All these naysayers and my own negative voice made me feel like I was being crushed under an avalanche of self-doubt. 

Being fine with not feeling fine 

I’m the kind of person who always looks for positive signs. There I was in full cleaning mode, dusting off a pile of books, when a card fell out from one of my favourites – My (Part-Time) Paris Life, by Lisa Anselmo. Coincidently, it was a non-fiction book about finding one’s purpose and self-worth, and creating lasting happiness. 

The card was from my mom, who passed away almost 10 years ago and was one of the most important people to me. She had sent me this card while snowbirding in Florida, because she knew I always worried about how she was managing on her own. First of all, she wrote to tell me that she was fine. Then, she told me that I needed to stop worrying about my work and that it would survive without me, before ending the note with a reminder to always enjoy a little sunshine.  

I miss my mom terribly, and I know that she would only want me to be happy. Finding her old card in a time when I was feeling unsure and scared was exactly what I needed: it reminded me that I’d made a choice to start over for the sake of my happiness, and that I had to continue walking down that path. 

My mom’s favorite song to sing to me was Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” I still don’t know what the future may bring, but I have the love, support, and wise words of those who matter most to me.

I may not exactly be “fine” – I often feel like I’m free falling without a compass – but I’m giving myself permission to be just fine with not being fine.

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