Early January of this year, I was teaching striking and grappling from the tiny screen in my art room turned training room. My job at the Bank was incredibly alienating and lonely, and relationships with my teammates would not improve.
I was still getting over the heartache of losing three years' worth of friendships (or whatever they were) at the Krav/combatives training school I had attended. It reminded me that my friendship circles seem to turn over every three or four years – a heartbreak I'd struggled with my whole life.
I'd wanted to teach kali and pragmatic, pressure-tested self-defense all year, but without any experience or support of more experienced practitioners, it also ended up being a dream that never really came to fruition this year. And as the summer arrived and brought about the hot muggy weather, my training group melted into nonexistence. I accepted it as inevitable, but it still hurt. I wouldn't have much time to mourn though, as my Muay Thai and BJJ training shifted into high gear the moment COVID restrictions loosened and we were able to train with partners again. I pretty much filled my life with training, work, and cooking.
That wasn't to say that unemployment wasn't fun. I made the best of what opportunities I had, even though it stressed me out to not be working. In truth, I had always thought a period without employment where I could retool my technical skills and get my head right would ultimately help me in the long run.
Some things I learned about myself during unemployment:
- I really needed sleep. For the first couple of weeks of my unemployment, I seriously could not stop sleeping. It wasn't depression this time; I was just dramatically deficient, and when I finally had the time, my body completely shut down, for weeks.
- When I get the sleep I need, it makes a huge ass difference to the quality of my training sessions. Not only can I keep up and go faster, but things don't hurt as much. So I guess, I also had a lot of injuries I didn't realize I needed to heal from. (So symbolic of the emotional and mental things I also would need to heal from over the course of the year.) I also lost a lot of weight when my sleep quality improved.
- I hate being unemployed. You'd think that I would really enjoy this period of funemployment, but I was mostly a little freaked out that I wasn't bringing in any money. Ever since sophomore year of college, I've always brought in a paycheck of some sort. I applied for work as a transcriptionist, a gardener, a cashier,.. no-go, nowhere. And mentally, I had some low-grade worries that I would be a failure in my career.
And then one day, I went and sought out a job at a flower shop, and was hired on the spot. And then a few days later, I got a call from a security company, and they offered me a job too. So after a few months of unemployment, I suddenly found myself with two jobs. And as of December of this year, I still have them.
Something about working a busy customer service job at the flower shop helped me regain myself; the florist and owner complimented my coolheaded, easy way with people, even the angry ones. It reminded me of a former boss once saying that my laidback, unruffled way of interacting with teammates when tensions were high was surprisingly helpful to team dynamics. Back then, I had a lot more confidence in myself, and the memory of it gave me some comfort that perhaps I still had my old do-no-harm-but-take-no-shit personality.
The last several months of the year, I feel like I've been detoxing from my rather toxic past several years...
Remember when I had to quit grad school? And I lost my job and got denied my clearance? After some distance and time to reflect, I was finally able to identify that period for what it was: I'd had a mental breakdown. It affected me emotionally, physically, and unfortunately professionally as well. It was couched a little bit by the fact that I'm a high-functioning dysfunctional person... but now I understand what my breakdowns look like.
Now at my new job, my new boss gives me the space to learn and accomplish work at my own pace, particularly because I am still a new team member. And I relish that opportunity to grow, unencumbered by micromanagement. Despite feeling my whole career like I was never enough, I pressed into the support of my team, and I've found nothing but encouragement and camaraderie among some of the smartest, savviest folks I've ever had the opportunity to work with. When I told my boss's boss that I was a little concerned about my lack of development expertise (since most of my career was focused on security and network analysis), he said that in fact, I was hired into the role because of exactly what I brought to the table. He was looking for me to cross-pollinate my security experience with the developers on my team. It was such a relief to know that they knew exactly what they were getting when they hired me.
Lastly, I've since started training at a new Muay Thai school, with a familiar teacher and familiar faces, and he has given me so much encouragement cloaked in the perfect amount of sarcasm and dry humor. I've also turned my old combatives training project into a digital project of sorts. Next year I hope to do more interviews and videos, be a better fighter and friend, and a stronger and more peaceful person, with a clarified and clean-cut mission about my work.
Some of my favorite memories this year:
- Taking apart a heater to fix the on-off switch. With my buddy Rich's help, of course. But I envision more hardware projects to play with in the future. Realizing that friends like Rich are some of the most precious things in my life, even if I don't always see them for what they're worth.
- "I just wanted you to know, you were not a diversity hire... just in case there's any doubt. You are extremely technically qualified." – my boss's boss, my first day on the job. In hindsight, it's really impressive that he had the acumen to know this even needed to be said.
- Seeing myself doing new kali flows on video, and seeing that I did in fact improve this year... I was also gifted an anting-anting by my instructor and kuya, Tuhon Bobby, as a form of level promotion.
- All the extra time spent joking around with hubby, making restaurant-grade breakfasts at home on the weekends, reminds me of why I like him so much. Prior to covid, I never really spent enough time at home to relish all these moments.
- Meeting and training with the Libre Fighting folks in San Diego. Super nice group of people, and super informative training to boot.
- Meeting my sister's boyfriend, and my little baby nephew Benjamin for the first time. His brother Nicholas doesn't remember me, though, and that made me sad.
- Chatting about the beginning of Tao of Jeet Kun Do with my friend Alex on IG Live.
- Becoming friends with Carlo when I did – not only was I able to help him through one of the hardest times in his life, but he helped me as well. He's basically my little brother now.
- Reading Talking to Strangers and Never Split the Difference with hubby and sharing our favorite parts.
- Training with "Coach L"!!! The hardest, but the best, training I've ever done once a week. He taught me so much and gave me a baseline for solo practice.
- Balisong and dumog seminars with Tuhon Rommel – two of my favorite topics in kali. I met and interacted with a bunch of friendly kali practitioners during those virtual seminars, and they're basically extended PTK family.