We are in the twelfth month of the pandemic. In March of last year, San Francisco along with the rest of the Bay Area swiftly hunkered down into a lockdown as the pandemic swept through the nation. Having a cautious leadership, the region has repeatedly flirted with reopening (carefully) but the numbers were never in favor and in the face of a difficult decision we chose an abundance of caution.
As a consequence, we have a fatality rate that is favorable and lower than many other parts of the country. Twelve months is a short amount of time that feels like forever. Especially when everything appears to have frozen in place. The streets deserted, businesses evacuated. After all, this economy is the definition of white collar work. With the fleeing population, the small businesses here suffered the double whammy of a heightened restrictions and a shrinking customer base.
When I’m walking the neighborhoods, I would take note of proprietors that have gone out of business. I was taken by surprise when a for lease sign took over the fascia of an old-time French bistro around me, with the stained outline of where the signage use to be a reminder of it’s decades long existence. The Creamery, notorious for being the meeting spot of money and technology, closed down after year long rumors (the food was alright at best). It was supposed to give way to a new condominium building, but yielded instead to the pandemic. After a while, I lost count.
The pandemic will inflict a lasting scar on the city. In the last decade I witnessed the city built up and around the technology boom. Early settlers turn into entrenched institutions as new entrants bring in nervous energy and unbridled optimism. In one fell swoop, the pandemic cratered it all. Even if covid were to go away tomorrow, the puncture will still be here and things will never go back to where it was.
I think about this hole quite often. I think about the familiar faces that are no more. Then, I think about the buildings that were left behind, devoid of its tenants and brimming with potential. Then, I think about what comes next. San Francisco is a robust city, her death greatly exaggerated. Once human activity resumes, this will turn into an invitation for enterprising individuals to seize the day. New tenants will take the place of the old, things will change and the city will continue to evolve.
It’s a pity for what used to be here though.
This will be my last week at this job. Like every job, there were good and bad times. Overall it greatly exceeded my expectations; I had to quickly ramp up in an unfamiliar domain, build a brand new team from scratch with limited resources and immensely expand the scope of work. It has shown me what I am capable in the face of overwhelming odds and in the process help me clarify inquiries I have been wrestling with over the years.
I decided to leave for a few reasons. Above everything else, a wonderful new opportunity showed up. In addition, the prolonged covid and isolation really made me reflect on the work that I want to do. In the face of this historical catastrophe, so sudden and out of left field, it is difficult to not be awed by the fragility of it all. Time is creeping up, if not now, then when?
As fast as it presented itself, the new opportunity went away, popping into the night with the vigor of an overinflated balloon. The string I am caught holding flops lifelessly in slow motion. I am now serving through my notice period, my calendar clearing up day after day as duties lift of my shoulders. I have no plan now. Stumped. For the first time in my life I’m confronting a blank slate as my well laid plans cratered in front of me.
I think about this hole quite often. I think of the familiar faces that I am leaving behind. Then, I think of all the time that used to be filled opening up, devoid of meetings and brimming with potential. I think about what comes next, my mind plots up ways to hastily fill up: tell my boss I made a grave error, jump onto the next project – any project – that comes my way, polish up my resume and do the interview song and dance, the list goes on.
The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
A monthly salary, indeed! Spoken without a care in the world. But Professor Taleb is right in a sense that there is no need to rush to go fill that hole. Where there are gaps, there will be opportunities for new thoughts and ideas to enter and take it’s place. Over time, I will find something meaningful to devote myself to and get back on track. Like this city will bounce back. I take a deep breath.
And, gaps, they are opportunities for renewal. I’m writing this as much for me as it is for you.