These are extraordinary times.

Yesterday, I joined a 10:30am zoom conference along with dozens of my colleagues. The meeting was titled, ‘Important Organization Update.’ With the participant audio muted, chat disabled, attendee list hidden and video off – we were let go. This was just day ten of working remotely due to the coronavirus. It was my sixth month working at the start up.

Perhaps this resonates with you, because you too were let go due to the business disruption of COVID-19. Maybe you worked in one of the many industries – restaurants, cafes, local businesses, hair and beauty salons, retail stores – that were and continue to be directly affected due to government guidelines to close down in-person operations. Maybe you worked at an airline or hotel, or one of the countless other businesses that saw revenue take a nose-dive due to the almost total pause on what we know as normal life. Or maybe you just know somebody, like me, who was affected.

I live in New York City, so I thought it was clever when Governor Cuomo issued New York on Pause. Because who can really expect New York to fully stop? Life wasn’t really on pause, with technology and a constant stream of work projects and assignments, being in self quarantine just felt like a little vacation from the office. My main concerns were to not get lost working way into the evening, and to not finish my two weeks supply of food in two days. It wasn’t until I was let go and the reality that my next paycheck would be my last paycheck, did I realize that my life, like New York, was about to be on Pause.

The rest of Friday should have been a wash. We were gifted, whether intentionally or not, about fifteen minutes left with our access to company email, drives, and Slack. A few minutes to digest the news, and maybe message some colleagues the news of your departure and how to stay in touch. I already had colleagues say openly that they weren’t doing shit for the rest of the day. I think they meant work, but I understood if they meant anything else either.

But my Friday wasn’t wasted. I didn’t want to brood on the news (although it would have been okay if I did – this was the first time I was ever let go! And under extraordinary circumstances, I found myself metaphorically joining one of the already three million Americans who filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus – where’s the back of the line ya’ll?)

After a pep talk with a close friend and then my brother, I tucked my work – now mine – laptop under my sofa (at least the company let us keep the laptops! I’m sure they didn’t want the logistical nightmare of collecting them during these circumstances and in all likelihood, they probably didn’t believe they would get them back at all – hear! hear!)

I took the afternoon to clean the apartment, even the bathroom. Whenever I want to have some control over my circumstances, I turn to cleaning my immediate environment. I rearranged my books, I tidied up my kitchen cabinets, I took out the garbage and recycling, I cleaned the floors (okay, I turned on my robot to do that).

What I realize now, was in choosing to clean my apartment instead of wallowing in despair and anxiety (I did that too, just later in the day), I had taken my first productive pause.

This is what this blog is about – when life throws a rock-hard, not-ripe-at-all lemon at your face, what do you do? Or as I would say using different words: when life events gift you the unexpected, how can we transform a forced interruption into a productive pause?