‘I’ve been mourning my old life’

Event planner and founder of The Professional Retreat reflects on how being furloughed and in lockdown has changed her world view.

Catherine Rainey is founder of The Professional Retreat.

Having worked since 13, always wanting to earn my own money from a young age, I have devoted much of my life to my career. It's included relocating to eight locations around the UK and worldwide for a role or contract, with stints in Brazil, Australia and Abu Dhabi.

I’ve made myself available any time of day and even put off other commitments outside of work to be available, should I be needed. This was always my choice. 

It resulted in a fast-paced existence. One where I would have to consciously schedule quarterly/biannual reunions with my family around the UK, monthly catch-ups with friends, weekends away and time with my partner. 

Then BOOM. The C-word brought our world to a standstill. Working for a travel management company I witnessed the coronavirus crisis unfolding first-hand – borders closing, hotels closing their doors, airlines cancelling their flights, visas being cancelled, customers being stranded. 

When it began we were in full crisis management mode – working all day, every day, weekends, evenings and with everything against us. As a team we pulled together and undertook roles outside of our remit to help with the thousands of cancellations that were hitting the inbox. 

Then came the F-word. I don’t think I had even heard the word ‘furlough’ before – a mandatory career break that you may not have wanted or needed. (Or maybe you did?)

At first I embraced the rest after a traumatic few weeks – but I soon realised I was slipping into a hazy existence. No routine, no deadlines, no to-do lists, no structure – I lost all sense of me, my why and what exactly was even happening. 

The days rolled into one and before I knew it almost a month had passed without really doing anything constructive, proactive or stimulating. I stopped watching TV, the news, social media and was reluctant to join the million zoom invitations, catch-ups, quizzes and so on. I needed to keep myself to myself until my head had digested what on earth was going on here.  

Then – something clicked, and I emerged out of this haziness. I started to feel a bit more like myself again and started to pick the phone up, join virtual catch-ups, activities and take on some home projects. have been hosting online virtual retreats for professional women every Sunday morning helping others to figure out this situation too. 

Reflecting on the last eight weeks that I have now spent at home – I think I have figured out what I was going through. I’ve been mourning my old life. 

I have gone through an internal grief cycle of my past lifestyle, career, everything that I took for granted about my life and freedom. I have mourned the potential loss of my job, colleagues, network, the events and travel industry we love so much, my social life, my planned adventures this year, travel, weddings, birthdays. It had really knocked me for six. 

Coming out of the other end of it now, I am appreciating what this lesson has taught me. Quantity does not equal quality. Social anxieties, FOMO and hectic schedules are not good for you. Your salary, job title or size of your team does not necessarily mean that you are fulfilled, happy or successful. There is more to life than work. Ensure that you are looking after your personal life as much as you are nurturing your professional life. 

I see this time now as an enforced career break that I did not know I even needed. I have two new rescue dogs to focus on and rehabilitate. Helping them is helping me. I am cooking, enjoying my home, having quality conversations with friends and family as well as enjoying nature and all the simple pleasures. 

We have heard in recent days about the extension of the furlough scheme so I will wait to hear more on that from my employer. I am at peace with any outcome now – if I look after myself, I can be resilient to anything that comes my way during this time.

Fittingly, this week is Mental Health Awareness WeekI’ll take every day at a time and feel thankful that I have this time to re-evaluate what is important. I guess the question is – do we want to return to our 100mph lives? Or are we going to bounce back in a whole new way when this is over? 

This article was written by Catherine Rainey at The Professional Retreat. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of C&IT Magazine.

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