“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”
There was a lot of training sessions that I attended in the last few weeks, whether it was helping organize it, participating in it, or helping facilitate it. The last month was filled with a lot of realizations, learnings, and appreciation for everything I have now.
In one session I attended, we were made to watch a TED Talk video of Emily Esfahani Smith discussing the four pillars to a meaningful life. Her talk about the four pillars is a must watch, especially if you’re in that phase of your life when you’re finding meaning to your existence.
Smith’s discussion about having a meaningful life really resonated with me because a few years ago, I hit rock bottom and could not find meaning in my life at all.
My sister, Kristine, has a condition called patella alta or high riding kneecaps. This condition became apparent when she was ten years old when she had her first knee dislocation. Over the years, she would get two to three dislocations a year. We never knew when a dislocation would happen and some of them did even when she was only changing sleeping positions! By the time she was 26, her Medial Patellofemoral Ligaments (MPFL) were so overstretched from her knees’ constant going out of where they should be. I think it’s called partial dislocation because they always popped back on their own. Anyway, she needed to undergo surgery; on both knees.
In December of 2014, she had her MPFL reconstruction surgery on her knee. Everything seemed fine. She was recovering well at home after she was discharged. At least she was until she started having cramps. She had to be rushed back to the hospital. A slight error on the TENS machine during her PT sessions later, our lives took a sharp turn and everything went downhill.
Kristine was having cramps on her operated leg and the only way to alleviate the pain was to keep her on medicines and to massage her leg 24/7. Yup. Non-stop. A minute or two of pause would cause her leg to have intense cramps, so we had to hire nurses and caregivers on a shifting schedule just to massage her leg. When there were no nurses, we had to do it ourselves. We basically stayed in the hospital for almost a month, celebrating Christmas and New Year 2015 there.
At that time, I was working in an audit firm and I loved my job as difficult and tiring as it was. I would work in the hospitals at night and during the weekends because we were wrapping up the audit of a huge client.
I was earning very little compared to Kristine, but I was happy anyway. So, when it became apparent that it was getting more expensive to hire a nurse while I continued working and when our house help went back to her province and did not come back, I had to stop working to help take care of my sister.
I love Kristine, don’t get me wrong. At that time though, work meant everything to me. We were dealing with so many issues at that time other than her knee surgery and work became my escape. I was a workaholic at that time that my senior would even plead for me to go home because I would insist on staying and working. To lose my job felt like I was losing a limb. I was suddenly forced to face everything I used to run away from.
My job description changed after my last day in the audit firm. I became in charge of cooking breakfast and became a pusher. By that, I meant a wheelchair pusher. We had to bring Kristine to work in the morning and fetch her in the afternoon to bring her to her PT sessions at night. That was my job for five months.
In between caring for Kristine, eating and hygiene activities, I slept. I slept a lot because I could not handle feeling useless. I could not handle the envy from seeing my former colleagues move up in their career or start going abroad. I could not handle feeling so lonely because my friends from work were so busy at that time (which was not their fault at all) because of the nature of their work. I could not accept that I had to quit my job because we were basically penniless and dependent solely on Kristine’s salary to have a roof above our heads and food on the table. I felt that if only I were more successful in my career, we could have afforded to hire a nurse instead of needing me to stay at home. Sleeping afforded me peace from all the sadness I was feeling.
One day, Kristine talked about wanting to have her left knee operated on as soon as possible. Mom was very much against the idea and so was I. For one, we could not afford another complication. Mom wanted to save up first before the next surgery. I badly wanted to have a job. A fight ensued and my sister accidentally blurted something about being the only one earning. It felt like a bucket of ice water was poured on me. I cried for hours out of hatred for her. Looking back, I knew it was myself I hated more that day. I never felt as useless and worthless as I did on that day. I wasn’t the one who went through the surgery, but why was I the useless one? I asked myself that a lot.
The surgery was not easy on my sister. She has always been a go-getter, independent girl. To suddenly be so dependent on people to lift her leg for her when she got out of the bed, or a chair, or the car, was also taking a toll on her. As painful as moving around was, she had to show up at work because she was supporting our family. She must have had to swallow her pride and she might have felt like she was a burden too. I could not see that right away after the big fight. It took some time to understand her and what she was also going through. As difficult as the ordeal was for me, it was hella tough for my sister too. After all, she was the one who went through the surgery!
I don’t think we were both being selfish and self-centered at that time. It was more of a lack of communication between us that caused all the negative feelings. Maybe, if she were more vocal of her appreciation (which she later on expressed), and if I were more open about my guilt of not being able to help financially, we could have consoled each other. When we finally understood what each one was going through, we started being able to figure out what to do next.
I don’t remember having prayed as much as I prayed during this period. I complained a lot to the Lord, but even if my prayers were more about whining, just knowing I could talk to Him helped a lot.
Kristine and Mom are my biggest supporters. Even if I was feeling useless, they knew I was going to be able to go back to work and they let me know they believed in me. We were a trio of strong women who always bounce back after a difficult situation and we always had each other’s backs.
I realized that being jobless did not mean I didn’t have a purpose in life. While it was not my life purpose, at that time, my purpose was to help take care of Kristine. I was not useless, I just had a different idea of what being useful was. At that time, I had a narrow-minded view on what being useful was that I could not see how much Mom needed my help in tasks like pushing Kristine’s wheelchair or lifting her leg.
Eventually, my sister could already walk with a crutch. That was somehow the go-signal for me to start looking for a new job.
The tougher part of job interviews for me was explaining the months I was without work. I wanted to be as honest as possible without making myself appear as a victim of circumstances. I had to convince interviewers that even if I was jobless for some time, that period that I did not have work was not a waste because the situation helped me grow. That growth may be useful to them because it spoke of my character, something that they could consider in hiring me.
Throughout the interviews that I had over the last few years, the story I share about why I was jobless evolved. In my last job interview (for the job I am currently in) the story went something close to lines of:
My sister had a knee surgery that had a complication. I stopped working to help take care of her as it was the more financially smart thing to do at that time. I do not see it as a sacrifice. Instead, I see it as an investment because her knees are fully well now. Two years later, she started working in Hong Kong as a regional IT auditor for a multinational company. Her knees are now strong enough to handle all the traveling for her work.
Before I arrived at those lines, I admit that I still felt bad about the situation from time to time. Yet, the more I said my story in a positive light, the better I felt about it and myself. The better I felt about it, the clearer the purpose of having to go through it became. There were so many things that I learned during that period that I was jobless, and most of them were things I doubt I would have learned has I kept on going to the office. I realized that you should never underestimate the power of the words you tell yourself. You might be amazed at how much they can influence the outcome of your ongoing story.
My story may not be that grand. I did not suddenly become a millionaire after a period of being jobless. I did not become an influencer afterward. Still, I hope that you learned something from my story.
No matter how difficult things are, hold on to the hope and the trust in yourself that you can make it through.