Man, I'm tired.
There is no facet of this pandemic that hasn't managed to make me feel exhaustion in all of my bones. I started this bizarre new chapter filled with piss and vinegar: ready to use this reset to refocus my career into a different avenue that I had been dreaming of for years. I was ready for change; aggressively ready. I addressed the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in my post titled Career-Killing Covid-19 Coronavirus, and with it the first levels of my evolving emotions surrounding my furlough and my future career plans. Now that almost a year has elapsed with that first foray into a changed world, the emotions are still churning wildly.
2020 drew to a close with the world holding its breath in the hope that 2021 would bring reprieve from the uncertainty and an end to this global pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, nothing changed: in fact, in Canada.... we regressed.
At the early onset of the pandemic, everyone anticipated a simple little blip in our personal and professional lives. I knew, based on my research and consistent reading on Canada's airlines and their history, that recovery would take some time longer then was being advertised (the book Straight From The Top makes a good point in discussing Air Canada's health during and after the SARS outbreak). However, I never would have guessed at the ugly turn events took.
I was lucky enough that I had the support of my spouse to go pursue a ground loading position in Saskatchewan, two provinces away from home, to be able to garner experience in the aerial application world. This job was tremendous in its learning opportunity: to work along cropdusters and getting to know the pace, the chemicals, the working conditions, and an up-close-and-personal look at the job I wanted to pursue was priceless. I also had the advantage to work in agriculture, which meant the working conditions and workload were mostly unchanged from pre-Covid days. Saskatchewan was also much more lax in their coronavirus precautions at the time, which helped breed a feeling of normalcy. At the natural end of the season I came home. Though that presented challenges in itself, (which I addressed in my post Out of Season, Out of Place) I wasted no time in throwing myself back into work at the peak of Ontarian harvest. I immediately snagged 2 jobs in agriculture: service writer at a tractor dealership and scale operator at a local grain elevator.
I had a wonderful team at the grain elevator that made it difficult to say goodbye at the end of the 2020 harvest. The year prior, harvest had been incredibly difficult due to ugly weather haunting every turn, accounting for terrible losses, and so it felt incredible seeing successful farmers bring in their treasured grain prior to snowfall. The feeling was reflected in every farmer's smile, a certain feeling of relief and gratitude for Mother Nature's temporary cooperation.
Unfortunately I experienced less success at the tractor dealership where I experienced terrible understaffing and ended up leaving for ethical reasons. This was the first job I had ever left on issues of morality and I struggled a lot with the decision, seeing myself as weak for not having borne the abuse long enough to see to the resolution of some issues. Once the decision was made, however, I felt some level of relief when three of my colleagues joined me in my departure in search of a more respectful workplace. This was a difficult decision made more difficult by my genuine yearning to learn more about diesel mechanics and agricultural equipment, and exacerbated with the uncertainty as to what the next source of personal income would be.
I have always been very good at keeping busy. I have always had multiple hobbies and a long list of interests, often ready and waiting in the sideline for the time off that became rarer and rarer at the height of my flying career. Finding ways to be productive and distracted has never been problematic for me. With that in mind, I threw myself fully into what had been just a hobby, my artwork, and made it my primary income generator. What an adventure it is to grow a small business and to attempt to make a small name for yourself via your personal creations. This renewed my morale as I saw some moderate success in generating more commissions, although by the very nature of my work there are no ways of expediting the process, and the value remains a very subjective thing, making it nearly impossible to truly make money, as I can not charge my labor as minimum wage and keep my pieces affordable. I am comforted by the savings in gasoline and other expenses with working outside of my home, but this solutions is proving unsatisfactory for the long run, beyond its former role as a sideline.
Which is all coming to frame my main argument: reinventing yourself is bloody difficult. Let me break down the mind-boggling vicious circle we find ourselves in.
As the government imposes more and more restrictions in every avenue from travel to social, there are a huge amount of factors being taken out of our hands, forcing to change to way we live, we work and we cope with our own humanity: and also complicating the ability to move on with our lives.
I lost my job, end of story. You know what? That's okay. I chose to pursue a career in a highly volatile industry and assumed that the day would come were I would experience a layoff, and I am at peace with that reality. Being at peace, however, does not mean I feel no grief; simply that I accept what has happened.
I am ready and willing to work. As I have mentioned previously, I have a plethora of interests and that includes potential career choices too! I'm not exaggerating.. agronomy, diesel mechanics, animal husbandry, welding, electrical, agricultural equipment operator, ironwork, sheet metal work, construction, mechanical engineering, psychology, sociology, historian, librarian, livestock veterinarian, graphic design, illustration, animator, video game design, cartoonist, artist, carpenter and that's all without counting my obvious interests in aviation: pilot, flight attendant, ramp crew, loadmaster, fueler, dispatcher, instructor, trainer, aeronautical engineering, aircraft accident investigator, air traffic controller... this list isn't complete, but you can see a few broad fields of interest: aviation, art, agriculture, trades & mechanics.
I will offer you the first hurdle - training validity. My training in 3D Animation is now as good as expired, as most of my education revolved around specialized software which is, ten years later, wildly out of date. This is not the cause for much grief as my college years taught me much in the ways of lifestyle and balance, as well as pursuing passions. My bigger concern is aviation, of which I expended much more money but more importantly, much more time. The years I invested in the cabin and later in the cockpit is seen as so specialized that the skills, especially the technical skills in piloting, have no direct carry-over in any other field. We can say that discipline, and the ability to work under pressure can be carried over to any role, but those are difficult to highlight in a resume.
Not to mention the following hurdle - assumption of future abandonment. At every turn I am confronted by folks in hiring positions of long-term career opportunities that I will only serve them long enough to see a return to the jet. I am sympathetic to the employers fearing their investments in furloughed flight crew will only end in inevitable departures. Though it is also exhausting to encounter mistrust at every corner, and pleading to be taken seriously when I am saying that I wish to reinvest my future outside of the airlines. The mentality is that words are wind and it is too risky to make an investment with only spoken promises, and it is hard to fault anyone for that train of thought.
Third hurdle - financial investment. I am willing to pay to retrain myself into an employable position in one of my fields of interest. No small bill, my first attempt at doing so will be at the cost of 18 000$ for my (basic) ag pilot course at the conclusion of which I still hold no promised job. My Ontarian homestead makes me ineligible for government grants, as funding for training for out of province work is not possible and there is very little spraying done here. Why choose this course of action? Because I am passionate about it, and if 18 000$ is the cost of salvaging 80 000$ worth of training and 7 years of my life experience, then so be it. The terrifying part is if this fails, my budget will have been expended, I will likely still carry a partial loan and no further retraining will be possible. If I return to college to pursue any of my aforementioned career considerations, I will have to take out further loans and once again hope for the best. Not to mention this current second avenue is nearly impossible with the constant school closures and inconsistency of post-secondary education these days.
Financial investment is about more then a single expense too. Our roof is leaking. Our living room has no insulation. Our dryer quit working and the temperature has been too cold to line-dry. I can not continue to dry our family savings in pursuing training for jobs I can only hope for. I can not uproot my husband, who is forced to carry the load of our cost of living on his salary. We are not starving, and for that we are blessed, but I am not willing to selfishly dig us into a further hole because I crave a return to the sky.
Fourth hurdle - pandemic restrictions. Just take a roadtrip and shake hands, you'll get a job! Funny how often I hear that, while many provinces have out-of-province quarantine periods, and restrictions into entering businesses. Hell, we aren't even supposed to shake hands. Most importantly though, I attempted this endeavor in the fall, and my truck died. Unable to float the expense then, it is doubly true now. Between hotel stays and gasoline, we would not be able to pay our mortgage if I took such a trip. I was truly looking forward to the CAAA conference for this very opportunity, but due to Covid, it has been relegated to a virtual gathering... not exactly easy to bump into anyone that way.
2020 didn't just take my job. It took away the ease with which I could do anything else.
Now this discussion often attracts an endless amount of unwelcome advice;
"Diversify your skillset!"
I am learning to woodwork with my father. Though an incredible skill to have, the material costs money, and the pandemic has dramatically upped the price of lumber and construction material. I could not sell my work at a profit because of the overhead cost. Thus, my projects are all on hold. I draw, I paint, I do digital art and design. I am a small sheep farmer, a pilot, a former flight attendant. I enjoy teaching, public speaking, reading, writing, creating. I have a flair for interior design and a penchant for video games. I wish I was told what the elusive economic skill I should be pursuing. Sarcasm aside, I realize that I could always use improvement, though my efforts have not yet resulted in employment.
"Just toughen up, it's temporary!"
I lost my maternal grandfather in the winter of 2020 to age and health complications unrelated to Covid. His celebration of life was limited to 25 people which had to maintain social distancing. We were not allowed to hug eachother. We were not allowed to touch the urn. We were not allowed to remain in the facility after the preacher said his piece, in which he mistook the deceased for our grandmother, despite her being very much alive and sitting in front of him. Our grieving process was confused and left us feeling more alone then ever. Despite keeping a cheery facade, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a tremendous amount of pain and anxiety lurking beneath the smiles. Pilots are trained to cope in emergencies, in high-stress situations. Many of us have put aside self-care and our emotions to be able to cope with this current emergency. However, attempting to internalize and carry your burdens alone will only increase suffering, which brings me to the next point.
"Geez, just talk to a shrink already, you're being miserable!"
This one is my favorite. The mass majority of furloughed pilots have lost their health benefits, of course, and I have been researching what options are available to different folks. Some have retained access to some mental health access through their EAP which is hilariously limited (4 sessions and you should be good, right? Well, that's all you get!). Others have a financial limit which usually reflects between 2-3 visits with a private psychologist. Worse of all, having nothing left means recourse to our horribly overburdened public mental health care, which is reported to take over 2 months for establishing contact, and limited access to actual therapy/counselling, oftentimes being referred to independent reading and homework rather then actual contact with a human being.
Mark my words, as people become more desperate, more isolated, more alone and more unable to get access to help or even peer support, the next wave will be a suicide epidemic. This was brought home when local farmer’s son was suffering from suicidal ideations and checked himself into the nearest hospital. He was discharged almost instantly, and went immediately home to take his life.
We are being told to stay home by politicians who travel on vacation. We are told to shut our businesses while Wal-Mart thrives. We are being told to reinvent ourselves without any tools to do so. Everyone wants to hire experienced staff but no one is willing to let you build experience. The government wants to ground all flights yet grants no help to the aviation sector while doing it. It is hard to maintain optimism while confronted with such baffling hypocrisy, and at this same time, protect our susceptible loved ones from a disease that just won't piss off. There is no magic answer to how Covid should be managed, but this can't be the answer.
I gain incredible strength from those who remain steadfast in their support despite their own challenges and I do my best to reciprocate. My hero, author Peter Pigott, has been such a person in my life and simple words never bolstered me more.
I'm keeping my head high. My hands busy.
But please, please let me make something of myself.