Survival in the age of uncertainty

Published October 1, 2010

Photo: Saskia Rowley Fielder

Have you ever been fired? I have. More than once. Oddly, it was never for the things I thought were just cause. Like the time, as a rookie staff reporter, I got an assignment to take portrait photos of four high-profile Toronto physicians. I cabbed it hither and yon, from one end of the city to the other, a fistful of cab chits at the ready. When I got back to the newsroom, my curious colleagues (all male) watched surreptiously as I opened the back of the 35 mm Nikkormat only to discover…dear Lord, let me fall through a hole in the floor right now…no film!

Instead of firing me, the snickering news editor made me go right back out and do it all over again. Which meant, of course, it was also my job to explain to each of the harried physicians that they had to stop everything (again) and sit for a photo (again). Fortunately, they seemed even more amused than the news editor, which was great, because they relaxed. So the photos were better.

Then there was the time I ran the same news story in two consecutive issues of a biweekly newspaper. With the kind of detachment one experiences when utterly mortified, I noticed that I had given the story the same prominent placement (page 2), but the headline was better. All was not lost, the optimist in me reasoned. My headline writing is improving! And in only two weeks!

No, I got fired for reasons other than incompetence. I got fired for money reasons…or lack thereof. Both times I was a freelance contributor, so the hit wasn’t as hard as if I had lost a staff position. Nevertheless, it came as a shock to learn that my services were no longer required. In one instance, I got the call on my birthday, just as I was leaving to meet friends for dinner.

Nowadays, it seems a lot of people are getting fired, most for no fault of their own. Even one generation ago, things were different. It used to be that you were hired to do a job and if you kept your head down and your nose clean, you could keep doing that job or be promoted within the same company right up until you retired.

There is no such thing as job security anymore. In any industry. So why should the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada be any different?

By the time you read this column, there is a good chance that more staff at Church House will be gone, the result of further downsizing. After two years of cuts to budget and staff, the biggest cut of all is waiting in the wings. In order to shave $1.1 million from the 2011 operating budget, the entire structure of Church House is changing. The goal is to create a sustainable budget and avoid further staff cuts. Perhaps some services will be amalgamated and others outsourced. One thing we know for sure: jobs will disappear and with them, members of the Church House family.

In 2011, I have no doubt the national office will look very different. How will this new structure support God’s work? We will have to wait and see. But I do have faith that things will work out, even if we don’t know all the details yet.

When the going gets tough, effective communication becomes more important than ever. It keeps people connected, visible and heard. It is the way in which we can all continue to feel valued, part of the whole.

The restructuring of Church House brings with it an opportunity to draw closer to people in the parishes across Canada, to share more stories about people living their faith. God willing, the Journal will continue to seek out and give voice to those stories.

One of the things I’ve learned from my own experience is that sometimes, job loss can correct the course of life, opening up entire new worlds. In my case, it brought me to a better place.

In May 2008, I lost my job for the third time and the impact went far beyond anything I could have imagined. For one, it created a domino effect, progressing rapidly to a series of losses that touched every area of my life. I lost my home, my significant other, my car, my pride.

There were days when the stress threatened to crush me. In moments of sheer panic, I would focus on the thought: “I am all right in this moment. I am all right in this moment.” The period of transition, in which I camped out at a friend’s house, all my clothes in hockey bags borrowed from another friend, was a real eye-opener. I learned a lot about myself and who I really am. I discovered I am stronger and more resilient than I thought. Things I had always assumed I could never cope with, such as the loss of independence, were actually no big deal. Out of my new vulnerability emerged closer connection. I didn’t feel so isolated and alone. Instead, I felt supported.

I came to see that everything of real value was still present in my life: my health, my beautiful daughter, my family and friends. Every day I counted my blessings, and thanked God for each and every one.

And then, life began to change again. Riding my bike became a passion and I got into the best shape of my life, shedding 15 pounds in the process. I felt healthier, more alive. I reconnected with old friends and forged new connections. Eventually, a new home found me, then a new relationship.

A year later, I accepted the editor’s job at the Journal. I showed up full of energy and ideas, with a 30-year track record in corporate publishing. Still, people wanted to know where I’d come from. I skipped the part about my trip to hell and back.

I like to say God found me, but I think she’s pretty much been steering things every step of the way. All I know is that by losing “everything,” I came to appreciate how much I really have. I am truly grateful.

As I look around at the various members of the Church House family, I see many who have survived much more profound losses than I. We are all struggling, every day, to make sense of shifting realities, to live with uncertainty. It’s difficult, no question. These are stressful, anxious times.

Life is not always about dodging a bullet, although it’s a huge relief when one does. Actually, I think the real test is what you do with the wound.

I will continue to count my blessings. Whatever’s ahead, I’m not afraid anymore. Ω

Kristin Jenkins is editor of the Anglican Journal.


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