Reinventing During a Pandemic
I was quitting my job and taking a two-month sabbatical to decide what to do next. The universe had other plans
I’m a planner by nature, so when I decided to leave my media job of eight years, as editor-in-chief of Woman’s Day magazine, and look for a position in a new industry, I took specific and deliberate steps. First, I announced I was taking a two-month sabbatical to start the process of reinventing my career. I talked to friends who work from home about how they stay productive and motivated. I set up calls and meetings and used my departure to network. I cleared out books and papers and set up a new home office. Corralling the unknowable helped me be less worried about the giant step I was taking, and creating structure made me feel more in control.
I left my job on February 28, took a trip to Arizona with my daughter, then came home to…well, you know. The one thing I couldn’t control, or tame, or even remotely expect. An unknowable future, an economy in tatters — not exactly the best time for a sabbatical, or, heck, a job search. As I talked to friends and former colleagues, the prevailing feeling was stunned bewilderment, followed by mild to moderate panic (depending on the moment). I quickly joined in.
One afternoon during a group chat on Zoom, my career coach asked a simple but potent question: “What can you control?” It was an immensely hard question for me to answer, and I found myself stumped — really, nothing, I thought. My pre-pandemic efforts to map out my future seemed almost quaint in this new world.
How to Add Structure to a Quarantined Existence
Obviously, I needed to rethink my reinvention, so I started in the simplest of places: by building a scaffold for myself. I thrive in structure, but without an actual job, the ground felt too shaky to even move throughout each day. So I came up with four daily goals that I wanted to accomplish to help me to use this time as best I could — and lay the foundation for a future job search. Take a look:
- Reaching Out. This one is by far the most fun because it involves calling my mom or my brother at 5 PM and enjoying a quarantini. But it’s also about staying in touch with friends and family over text, Zoom and email, and building my virtual network by commenting and posting on LinkedIn. I learned quickly that just because people are working at home, they don’t necessarily have time to chat. So I’m conscious of that and don’t beat myself up if someone doesn’t respond to me.
- Forcing Creativity. This is the deepest bucket, and purposefully so. For the first time in oh, 32 years (the length of time I worked in media), I actually have time to explore. I’m writing, trying new recipes (ingredients permitting), and I even took up an embroidery project. Yep, that’s right, embroidery, with the little wooden hoop. Very Laura Ingalls Wilder, and honestly while I’m doing it, my brain empties of worry.
- Learning. I’m taking classes on personal branding and digital marketing on LinkedIn Learning and through other companies (my current favorite: General Assembly). A friend gave me this very cool link, which leads you to hundreds of free Ivy League classes (global health or Hamlet, anyone?). Because I don’t have time every day for a class, I expanded this bucket to also cover reading totally escapist novels, like the Outlander series. Because, why not? When else will I ever have time to read a 1,000-page book or three about time travel, complete with a Scottish hottie?
- Moving. I can state without hesitation that my #1 sanity-saver is running—it’s spring cleaning for my brain. Going from confinement to freedom and moving my body through the world feels particularly exquisite right now. I also called my former trainer from my gym and asked if she’d do a strength class with me over Facetime once a week — I’m staying strong and helping her out at the same time. And if I really want to sweat indoors, the Home Work-Ins from Planet Fitness are fun.
Let’s be honest: Some days I hit these goals, and other days I am blown sideways by the immensity of it all. These are extraordinary times, and not even the most motivated of us wins every day. Sitting down at my desk every morning at the same time helps, as does keeping mealtimes consistent so I have blocks of time in the morning and afternoon. I also try to hold myself accountable by writing down the day’s accomplishments in my journal—even if that victory is the discovery of a cache of toilet paper under the bathroom sink. But that’s really OK. Part of reinventing my reinvention is reminding myself that right now, in this moment what I’m doing is enough.
Susan Spencer is the former editor-in-chief of Woman’s Day. She is currently hunkered down in New Jersey with her family, crushing on Anthony Fauci, doing a lot of cleaning with bleach, and eating far too much chocolate.