Life at a Distance: The busy season for career reinvention & health care

Juggle readers adjusting to new socially distant lifestyles: A career coach and a health care professional working their butts off.

In our series, “Life at a Distance,” we feature the experiences of Juggle readers adjusting to new socially distant lifestyles.

This week we hear from Yolanda Owens, who is grateful her career consulting business is booming but feeling the strain of absorbing so much stress, and Amber, who started a new job in health care during the pandemic and is pulling 12-hour days.

Yolanda Owens, Washington D.C. Metro Area

Tell us about your quarantine.

Painting of a woman looking down, facing a tree
“Mother Earth,” a painting by Yolanda Owens

I was comfortable at home when the quarantine started. I feel extremely blessed to have been in that situation since home is a safe place for me. Not everyone has that luxury. 

I live in the Washington D.C. metro area and have been disheartened by the lack of social distancing. Store parking lots have been full, traffic’s had a normal flow, streets have continued to be occupied and masks aren’t being worn. Basically, it’s been business as usual since the beginning of the pandemic. People have been Darwinistic in their habits without taking the enormity of the situation seriously. We unfortunately live in a culture where rest isn’t valued, and it’s literally killing us.

I have to say I’ve had a chuckle watching clueless men not used to shopping navigate their way through grocery stores. If I had a dollar for every time one of them asked me where something was located, I’d have a hefty squirrel fund. 

Are you currently working? What is work like in quarantine? 

I run my own career consulting business and must say the quarantine has caused a HUGE spike in business. Between layoffs, furloughs and general PTSD from toxic work environments, everyone is looking to reinvent their career. And I’m blessed to have many of them contact me to help reinvent their work lives.

I’ve been working from home since I started my business full time, so the quarantine did little to affect the way I was already doing business. What has been different is the tone of the work. As a career coach, I knew that people were hurting at work. But the pandemic has really pulled the bandages back to reveal just how deep the toxic work wounds are. It’s beyond bandaids and stitches. Employers are going to have to dig deep to extract the malignancy of the cancer they’ve caused in the workplace. 

Coaching through so much brokenness has taken a huge toll on me mentally, physically and spiritually. So I’ve had to take extra measures to set boundaries, make time for self-care and regroup so I can continue to help others.

Has anything positive come out of quarantine for you? 

Social distancing and working with lots of displacement issues like layoffs and furloughs has made me better at setting boundaries. It’s forced me to make a more conscious effort to protect myself from taking on too much and allowing people to take advantage of my personal space.

What has been your biggest challenge? 

Figuring out what to eat on weekends. I live with my husband and do most of the cooking. Prior to the quarantine he always took me out to eat on the weekends so I wouldn’t have to cook. But my husband has started taking the apron strings on the weekends. And he’s surprisingly giving the restaurants a run for their money. 

How are you taking care of yourself in quarantine? 

The library and my Kindle have been the lifeline to my sanity during the quarantine period. There’s nothing better than escaping reality in a good book. And I’ve made sure to carve out an hour every night before bed to read so I can decompress from the day. I’m also a creative and consider painting a form of prayer. So I’ve been praying with my paint brushes — a LOT. I also have a few passion projects that I’ve resurrected and completed during the quarantine. In a nutshell, the quarantine period has done wonders for my creative side!

Amber, New York City

Tell us about your quarantine.

Woman getting a blood test in a gymnasium
Amber getting antibody testing. “It’s like voting (lines & paperwork in a gym) but with needles.”

When all this started, I was in Washington D.C. caring for an elderly friend who had been released from the hospital with a lung infection — not COVID related. I got nervous the government might shut down New York City, where I live, so I rushed back and have been quarantined in my apartment since March 17. I am here with my partner. He lost his job during the pandemic, which was unexpected. 

For those of you who know New York, you can’t imagine how eerie it is here. The streets are empty of cars. The only traffic sounds are delivery trucks and the wail of sirens. In all the quietness, you can now hear the sounds of birds as they return from their winter migration. Everyone outside my window is wearing masks — even when driving in their own cars. The playgrounds and dog parks are all closed. The police patrol the streets with megaphones asking people to stand 6 feet apart. At 7 p.m., everyone opens their windows to bang on pots and pans and applaud the health care workers. That sound comforts me because it reminds me that my neighbors are all around and we are getting through this together. But it also unsettles me because it reminds me of the crisis we are living through. 

There are big white COVID treatment tents set up in the Meadow of Central Park. It reminds me of Civil War paintings of field hospitals. Daily, I get text messages from the city government with updates and requests. Today’s message asked all NYC veterinarians to give up their supplies of gloves, masks and ventilators. At night the Empire State Building is lit up bright red with a circulating white light. We can see the Empire State Building from our bedroom window and I miss its neutral, soothing white lights that used to dance every hour for the tourists. Our home is on the LaGuardia Airport flight path and, in pre-COVID times, planes flew overhead every 30 seconds. Now I miss the planes — they don’t fly over nearly as often anymore. I am healthy and safe and can cope with the changes in my daily life. What I still cannot comprehend is that, just blocks away, there are humming refrigerator trucks holding the bodies of my neighbors. 

Are you currently working? What is work like in quarantine?

Yes, I started a new job for a company that provides urgent care at home. I’ve been working 12+ hour days from my kitchen table, nearly six days a week. I’ve helped health care institutions, local governments and employers increase access to COVID testing and ensure patients can access urgent care services and COVID testing from the safety of their homes. 

I started my new job in April, when everyone had just transitioned to working remotely. We only interact by video so I have no sense of the height of any of my coworkers. When we meet in person, they are going to be shocked by how short I am! That said, I’ve met my coworkers’ kids and pets, and had interesting conversations about the art on their walls. It’s been oddly intimate at times. During my first few weeks, I wore my earbuds so often and for such long periods of time that I got little ear wounds, which was an unexpected result of working from home. It has been nice to work in yoga pants but I miss the snack closet at my old office. I have started to “commute” in the morning by walking the block to just mentally shift into my day. 

Has anything positive come out of quarantine for you?

I have reconnected with a lot of friends that I hadn’t reached out to in a while. I got both my parents on Marco Polo and we share fun videos and messages daily. I spend a lot less money and used some of that savings to donate to organizations that need resources during these difficult times. I learned that you can get a birthday cake delivered. Most importantly, I learned that my partner and I can stay stuck in an NYC apartment together for three months and still get along and enjoy each other’s company. 

What has been your biggest challenge? 

The sense of grief that has overwhelmed me at moments. The feeling that life is on pause. 

How are you taking care of yourself in quarantine? 

Man playing board game on a patio, New York skyline behind him
Amber’s view playing “Pandemic” during a pandemic with her partner

I’ve tried, with limited success, to take my usual ballet classes from home. I found a church that has an open outdoor patio space with smooth tiles and I go there in the evenings to dance across the smooth surface. New York is quirky enough that no one thinks twice when they see someone dancing around to music only they can hear in a church courtyard. I also planted flowers on our balcony and took over the garden space in front of our apartment building. We had over 400 spring flowers bloom, which was a much-needed burst of color at the height of the pandemic. Seeing the seasons change slowly has been helpful for me to keep a sense of time during this never-ending stretch of days. 

I also finally caught up to the rest of America and watched all the seasons of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.” My partner and I play hours of the board game, “Pandemic,” and sometimes we win, which is really satisfying. Since my daily work is dealing with the COVID crisis, I have taken care of myself by mentally unplugging for a bit every day. That said, I think, like all people, I’ve managed my anxiety better some weeks than others. 

What do you think? (Leave comments here.)