One fond memory I have from growing up is going with my dad and brother to check on our cows.
We would hop into my dad’s pickup and make our way down the dirt road we lived on toward the pastures where he kept our cattle. Once there, my brother and I would typically ride in the back of the pickup with the tailgate down as we drove the perimeter of the pasture and carried out the various tasks my dad had planned.
These activities typically included dropping feed or hay for the cattle, dropping a new salt block every now and then, and my personal favorite, counting the cows. We would count on our own and let our dad know what our count was which he corrected if needed once we reported in. The idea was to make sure that none of the cattle were injured, or had gotten out of the fence. Even though our dad didn’t really need our counts since he was doing the counting himself and we realistically didn’t always have our eyes on the pasture constantly due to playing and short attention spans, I felt like it was important work.
I carried this concept of counting cattle to my own assets at the time as well - my toys.
Yes, whether it was my collection of My Little Ponies, stuffed animals, or action figures, I typically would take them all out each time I sat down to play to make sure that each was accounted for. This meant that I needed to take each one out of the bin or shelf that I was keeping them in at the time in order to line them in rows and take stock of every one. It was my way of ensuring that everything was fine and truly “ready” for me to be able to play.
Looking back, I believe the reality is that this practice was a good way for my developing brain which was skewing to prefer the “20,000-foot view,” to relax, let go and have some fun.
This practice of taking stock has continued with me throughout my life and manifested itself in various ways. Whether it be in my desire to make to-do lists before starting a task, my disinterest, or annoyance, in activities that don’t seem to have a clear purpose or my strong opinions about conflicting messages in marketing copy (I know that is a weird one, but it is my reality as an empath with a business degree!), I believe that my desire to ‘take stock’ is typically involved. At it’s best, it is a practice to fully understand a situation to ensure that the best actions and decisions are made by ensuring that I step back and fully analyze what is going on, but at it’s worst it can be a circular and sometimes exhausting task that doesn’t result in action or peace of mind.
I have learned over time that the idea of ‘taking stock’ isn’t something my mind is really capable of during times of high stress. It tends to misinterpret inputs, make exaggerations, and focus on actions that will yield results no matter the impacts on my mental and emotional health.
My response to the coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example of this. As soon as it was no longer possible to offer massage services, I made a “game-plan” of how I was going to get by and continue to make a living. That plan involved a large increase in the number of virtual ESL classes that I was teaching.
You might think that someone who just lost their main form of income due to a global health pandemic might need some time to process that information, right? They might even need to show a little vulnerability and simply admit that they don’t know what is next for them, right?
Nope - not me. I even made sure to post on my personal social media accounts that while I was sad to be pausing my massage services, I would be just fine teaching. Don’t worry about me!
My mind had already rushed to solve the problem of less income.
“Solved!” it said. “Pencils down, I’m ready to hand in my scantron.” I had figured out what my next move was going to be, and most importantly, I had figured out the ‘right’ answer.
Unfortunately, or fortunately in hindsight, that plan didn’t work in the long run. While I absolutely love teaching my ESL students, that is very much a part-time gig. I had never imagined or planned for the job to meet all of my income needs. It had been a perfect side hustle to keep money coming in after leaving the corporate world to enroll in massage school, and I had continued my contracts even after I started offering massage services to help supplement my income as I built my massage business from scratch.
Prior to coronavirus, I would teach anywhere between 15-25 classes and work 4-5 mornings each week. It was absolutely doable and honesty really fun. However, once I started my new ‘game-plan’ I was teaching roughly 70-90 classes and worked every day of the week. In practice, this looked like me starting to teach each morning at 4 or 5 am until around 8 am and then again each night from 7:30 pm-midnight. You read that right, I had roughly 4-5 hours between my evening classes, and when my classes started the following morning to sleep.
This new schedule lasted for about one month before I had to stop. The schedule just proved to be too much for me and forced me to reassess my ‘game-plan’ that I was so sure was the right way to respond to the post-coronavirus world where I was no longer able to offer massage services.
I went back to the idea of taking stock of my situation, but this time it looked a bit different. My overworked mind, body, and my mental exhaustion helped me be honest with myself that the end did not justify the means if I was going to burn out in the process. I was able to silence the voice in my head that was urging me to find ‘the answer’ and ‘make a plan,’ long enough to turn my focus inward and actually check-in with myself.
This new way of taking stock for myself included a reduced amount of time on both my BraveNewLove and personal social media accounts. I took a break from teaching and finally worked up the courage to admit to myself that the loss of my massage practice was devastating for me not just from a monetary perspective, but on an emotional level as well. I finally started to acknowledge that I had lost my job.
After sitting with those realizations a bit longer, and leaning into my feelings, I finally got to a point where I felt like I needed to file for unemployment as a sole proprietor under the CARES act. I was able to finally acknowledge that the months of work, training, and money spent to attain my massage license mattered and that the apprehensions I had about filing for UI were based in shame rather than reality. More writing on that to come in the future!
I still don’t know exactly what is next for me, but I am working on mindfully exploring that question without rushing to an answer that might result in emotional and mental problems for myself. While restrictions for massage have been lifted, I still have concerns about offering services during a pandemic in general, but especially given that I have moderate asthma that would make it more likely that I would have complications if I were to contract the virus.
What I do know is that I am no longer in a rush to find the 'right' response and can now focus on finding the next step that is best for me.
If there is one thing that I have learned throughout this process, it is that you can’t rush counting cows and taking stock, and I am finally finding some peace with that.