- Your Body Rebels. Put enough stress on yourself and your body will, in fact, rebel. And we're not talking about rebellion as in your kids refusing to eat peas. No, we're talking various parts and systems screaming "f&^k you!" while falling face first into a gutter, with all the gusto of a drunk at the Scranton St. Patrick's Day parade.
- You Can Overdose On Thinking. This one is easy and hard, both at the same time. I spent more time thinking and contemplating than a human probably should, and most of it wasn't helpful. Yes, of course, we should all be reflective, but too much of anything isn't healthy, reflection included. Some things don't have answers, and ruminating over them continuously serves no useful purpose, other than inching you one step closer to psychosis.
- Emotions Aren't That Predictable. There have been times when I'd easily give one of my lessor-used fingers for fifteen minutes of pure, unadulterated anger. Or sorrow for that matter. It would be a wondrous purge of sorts, a working out of the poison. And yet, for the life of me, I just can't do it. I just can't give up that control.
- We Search For Routine. I did: I replaced work routines with other routines. Forget about watching all of those videos I've been holding onto, forget about afternoon trips to the movies, or other fun stuff. My psyche needed to replace what it knew with something very similar. Oddly enough, I think I was reasonably productive during my 4 months. I got stuff done. And yet not much of it felt fulfilling.
- Who Are You? I had to face who I was during my 4 months. Now I thought I knew this, by the way, but I really didn't. The good news is that I'm closer now. This isn't about mindless reflection (see above), by the way; no, this is a starring in the mirror kind of thing and seeing yourself with the veneer of "well I'm a __________ (insert title)" fully removed. Big reveal: We aren't what we do from 9 to 5, not in totality. Those kinds of things are fleeting*. They are a vaporware of the worst sort, as they literally can disappear with a 30-second video call letting you know that your services are no longer required.
- You're Never Prepared. No amount of mental preparation readies you for the major shocks in your life. I'm convinced that mental toughness can't be saved up for a rainy day. Those sorts of things...in my case, the loss of a job and the loss of a brother...defy preparation at an almost genetic level. How you face these things, unlike say pride in a job title or a paycheck, actually does define who you are as a human being.
- Separating The Wheat From The Chaff. Big shocks help you separate the wheat from the chaff in your life. I'm convinced, utterly so, that western culture (particularly business culture) creates a kind of phantom universe of sorts, where sincerity is full of dependencies. The reality is this: There will be some people you work for in your professional life who will do everything in their power to convince you that they do, in fact, care about you as a human being. But many actually don't, at least when you cease working for them. Call that one as you like, but empathy shouldn't be conditioned by employment. Now, while that may be a downer, there is an upside: When that change in your employment status occurs, you'll be (positively) shocked at who does reach out to you with a helping hand. Yes, the disappointment you may feel at some will be replaced and overwhelmed by the satisfaction of knowing that there are plenty of good people in this world who are pulling for you.
All of this has now happened before, and it very may well happen again, and while I will never be fully prepared, I now have the advantage of experience as a guide. I'm also committed to being a better human being thanks to these experiences. I didn't get to choose this path, but I'm going to walk it with purpose nevertheless.
(*) As wonderfully articulated in the song "Minutes to Memories" by John Mellencamp:
"This world offers riches and riches will grow wings.
But I don't take stock in those uncertain things."