I’m Too Old to Learn a New Career, and Too Young to Retire

I’m Too Old to Learn a New Career, and Too Young to Retire
Illustration: Angelica Alzona/Gizmodo

Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? How are you coping with reopening? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Authors’ identities have been verified, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.

Evan, live entertainment technician, Nevada

Both convention/trade shows and live entertainment are effectively dead. I haven’t worked since March 5th, and don’t anticipate working again until at least October, if not January 2021… or even later. The longer corporations and business associations go without convening — by doing product reveals, training, and meetings online — the more I feel they will realise that conventions and trade shows are an entirely unnecessary expense, and my entire industry will be reduced by 80% or more.

As for live entertainment, which makes up about 40% of my income, absolutely no one knows when it will be safe for audiences to gather again. But I’m a little more hopeful here. I think it is human nature to want to gather for a shared entertainment experience. I expect that at some point there will be a vaccine, and business will resume. But is the vaccine coming this year, next year, or five years from now?

I’m pushing 56 years old; been doing this work for my whole life. I’m at a point where it is essentially too late to retrain for a new career (who wants to hire someone who’s 58 with no real-world experience in a given field?) and too early to retire.

I’ve been doing ok on unemployment and the extra $US600 ($857)/week. My health insurance has waived all payments until October. But the extra $US600 ($857) dries up next month, and my state unemployment insurance will dry up in September. If I forego health insurance, I could survive on my retirement savings until my pension and social security kick in. But that’s surviving, not living.

I’m not looking forward to it.

Marcel, IT consultant, England

I was extremely lucky.

Living with my wife (no children) in a spacious flat in north London with outside space the impact on us has been minimal. In fact, the city being more quiet in the early weeks made it quite “pleasant” (all things considering). We are well aware that this looks very different for less well-off people, with children, in smaller properties!

While I have seen projects being cancelled, I personally have been lucky to work with clients who take this time as means to future-proof and go full speed ahead. So I have been busier than ever.

I can, in my role, work easily from home, which means being 8-12 hours a day in remote calls. To be honest, I would not mind if this way of working continued, as it reduces my business travel massively (and consequently time spent travelling and my carbon footprint).

My wife, being a yoga teacher has been on a different journey. Initially there was massive demand, and students joined from all over the world. As covid became the new normal, and summer (in the UK) kicked in, numbers dwindled a bit. Now studios are considering going back to in-person yoga, possibly with a remote offering on top, so everything’s up in the air again. While yoga and meditation may have been seen by some as gratuitous self improvement, I believe there is a lot of benefit coming of it in a times of high stress and anxiety, such as this.

I am very disappointed how many in our community, especially those in their late 20s. There has been crazy partying, noise late at night constantly in Stoke Newington [ed note: a borough in North-West London]. While I understand that people are bored, stressed and have anxiety — all understandable — I feel it is very inconsiderate to those of us who work, keep the economy going, pay taxes, so that the government can then provide benefits… I’m a big fan of the government supporting those in need, but I would also expect a bit of consideration towards those who need to get up at 7 to work…

I also feel very frustrated to see how bigger organisations are taking government support, and make use of covid-related ‘allowances’ to effectively correct bad decisions made over the last decades at the cost of the tax payer. Again, very happy to contribute to those being less well off, in a situation of need. But it can’t just be left to the middle class…

Chris, industrial heating manufacturing, Midwest U.S.

Company I work for deals with heating on large process and comfort heat applications. This covers things like ovens for food process, manufacturing of fasteners, boilers to make steam for production needs, steam/hot water boilers for comfort heating of apartments, hospital laundry drying and ironing. My position was full time field service until October 2019. Now it’s light field service and mostly office time dealing with customer support, parts orders, product quoting and invoicing, shipping/receiving, RMA processing, and tech training.

We’ve stopped all factory training here. While parts sales really haven’t slowed down, field service did. Nestle, for example, had put a stop to outside contractors from March to the beginning of May. I still had to finish a food factory in Michigan because of a project that started in January and only finished in mid-May.

My stuff hasn’t changed much. We had a rotation of people at the office to make sure parts went out and any freight that needed to come in or go out was taken care of. Not a whole changed besides working from home parts of the week. My employer allowed us to expense masks and any cleaning products we needed to do our jobs. Going to factories has become more of a pain because a lot of these places are hot and so it makes wearing a mask that much more annoying because now you get to heat up your face when you exhale while steaming up your glasses.

While it looked a little dicey for a while, things have gotten better. It’s very busy now because everybody seems to have awoken from a sleep and wants everything ASAP. We have to buy a lot internationally because our head office is in Germany. That hasn’t slowed down a single bit, never noticed a disruption.

I am very thankful for working in this field because it means I am financially secure. Since we have to support all of the essential guys, we need to stay open and maintain that level of support so that everything up above can do their work without worry. Mentally it’s become hard to stay informed with all that is going on. I don’t mind wearing a mask to do my groceries. The most I can say is I probably drink more on off hours. I like to travel to Europe for vacations and seeing the news about quarantining the US makes sense, it also is really disappointing that we cannot get our stuff together and work together. It’s sad to see how selfish so many Americans are.

Mike, pet store worker, Washington

I’ve been working at a local pet supplies store for a little over eleven years and recently started up my own photography business. I was ready to really do a marketing push with the hopes of making it a full-time career, but it’s absolutely stalled out for now.

Meanwhile back at my day job, the company implemented some outstanding safety measures from the get go. This included metering how many customers can be in the store at a time (the location I work at is pretty small and we have a cap of four), setting up portable hand washing stations and requiring customers to wash or sanitise their hands before shopping, placing tape on the ground every six feet as a visual, using barrels to hold the credit card readers away from the counters, wiping down the carts and baskets after every use, and doing full sanitising sweeps several times a day. We’ve even been offering curbside pickup via online ordering or over the phone.

We hired seasonal workers to man the doors, and we all received a pay bump as a thank you for the extra work and hazardous conditions of being on the front lines as an essential worker. Things were going pretty well and we were all feeling just fine with our jobs despite the circumstances.

Fast forward to now. Our company has apparently used all our budget for the year (even after getting some of that huge small business loan) and has let the seasonal helpers go a while ago. They also just recently stopped our pay bump…

But the exposure is still there, hell it’s even worse now that we’re getting busier with people itching to return to normalcy even with the increase in cases. We’re still having to metre the store and make people clean their hands, and now we also have to make sure customers are wearing masks. Without the extra help, that means that we still have to do our usual jobs, now with the addition of all the extra policing and cleaning.

My normal day now is something like this:

Unload the delivery pallets and stock the shelves while customers are starting to arrive. Pause that to run to cut off a customer who ignored the multiple signs talking about masks and hand washing to tell them to go back and wash. Put up with the pushback and grumbling (sometimes outright cursing), and proceed to help them find a new food for their picky animal. Start ringing them up. Notice another customer come through the door despite the giant neon green sign saying that we’re at full capacity and have to yell across the floor for them to go back and wait outside. Finish ringing and follow the customer to the door so I can usher in the next one. Probably the same response about cleaning. Point them where they need to go and then go back to stocking. Oh, there’s another curbside that needs to be gathered up. Do that, and try to stock and straighten a bit more. Run back to the door, rinse and repeat over and over and over again.

When we lost the extra help it was still manageable since we were getting paid more for the extra work, but now with the extra pay gone it’s just too much. I used to be an avid video gamer, but now I’m so exhausted by the time I get home that I just sit and watch TV. Not even anything new that would take more attention, no, I’ve just been rewatching shows I’ve seen a million times…

I’m known for being the patient, laid back guy, but I’m starting to feel that my fuse is barely even there. Luckily my manager is a rockstar and I’m able to take five days off in hopes of resetting myself. If that doesn’t work though, I fear I may lose it on the next customer who complains about sanitising and/or mask wearing.

If you would like to be included in a future edition of Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story.” Stay healthy and safe.