Five Life Lessons My Dog Taught Me After A Layoff
A Lesson In Mindfulness
In November of 2016, the proverbial bomb was dropped. I along with many others was being laid off from a company that I loved. It was my first corporate job. It was my first layoff. Ouch. Four years of lessons, incredible growth and amazing memories had flown by, and now the Universe was shouting, “Time for a CHANGE, Brittany!” Meanwhile, my fingers were slowly being peeled off my job title like Wile E Coyote’s off a cliff edge. Nooooo!
For those of you who have never been laid off before, the strangest feeling came after receiving the news — in the form of days far more empty than was comfortable. Managers and colleagues had consistently applauded my performance when it came to doing.
I was forced to be.
What was I supposed to do with that? I had been begging for a slow-down, for time to center, for time to feel like a week was defined by moments, not just meetings, but now that it was here? I was lost.
Or so I thought.
I had asked the Universe for a shift in my life. For lessons and growth in a new direction. For greater self-acceptance. I had cracked the universal piñata, and now the candy-sized life lessons were flowing.
You sure as hell wouldn’t think that my 20-pound pug would become my teacher.
As weeks passed after “the big L word” I knew I had to calm my constantly racing mind. So I turned to the meditation app, Headspace. Folks, I have never looked back. As I slowly created space to exist in the present and observe the world around me, Sensei Katy the Pug started dropping some universal knowledge.
If you cannot tell by reading this post, I consider myself a spiritual person. When I’m not asking other people for their perspective, I’m asking the Universe for help. Asking for help hasn’t always come easily. Sometimes, it still doesn’t. But I’m here to tell you that asking is but one crucial step in growing. Receiving is the true skill that requires practice, and additionally, letting go of some control.
It’s a DOG. The woman is talking about life lessons through observing a DOG. You may be thinking this. I get it, I really do. It took me weeks to work up the courage to write this article. But I ask you to consider this:
If you ask for a lesson and are truly receptive to its sudden appearance, do you also have the control to define what constitutes a worthy source of that lesson? I don’t believe so. The idea of true receptivity involves letting go of the very control that is trying to force a lesson’s shape in the first place.
Here I had the Universe offering me lessons in mindfulness through a pug.
So what do you think I did?
Rest when it is time to rest and don’t shame yourself for doing so.
Sensei Katy has mastered the art of the chill. Seriously, this dog could teach world renowned leaders how to slow down, enjoy the sun shining on your napping space, and rest… if only she was awake long enough to do so.
When employed full-time, the first thing I woke up to each morning was my mind running through my to-do list. My work’s to-do list, not my life’s. There was always more to do, more to discover, more to accomplish. More, more, MORE! This had much to do with my own self-image at the time and desire to deliver greater value. I was already doing well, but I could have done more. I was exhausted. One morning post-layoff, after finishing my meditation, I looked over to see Katy practicing her “chill” on the comforter next to me. Something clicked.
I did not judge her. I did not grow angry. I did not scold her.
Instead, I smiled. I loved her and my kindness toward her reflected that love.
Holy crap! I thought. How come I’m not that kind to MYSELF?!
I began to pay attention. After an adventurous day at the park, a wild afternoon chasing pigeons, or a social gathering taunting every guest to throw her toy, Katy rested. I didn’t. I felt guilty for resting. My fellow humans, we mustn’t be so consistently hard on ourselves.
Rest so that you can sprint, or climb, or challenge, or fight the good fight. Then rest again, and enjoy it as you do.
Encouragement is the great healer in the face of fear.
If my apartment was Katy’s kingdom, then the vacuum cleaner and aluminum foil would be the tag-teaming villains aimed at taking her throne. Seriously, this dog FREAKS out at the sound of a button turning on the roaming beast or the crinkling of the evil foil’s lengthy cape.
One afternoon, after completing my meditation, I was preparing to vacuum the living room floor. I had set the vacuum right in the door frame. Katy was trapped. She was also afraid. Seriously afraid. Giggling at her fear of an inanimate object, I bent down to one knee and began encouraging her to come closer.
“Come on, it won’t hurt you!”
“You’ve got this, get your butt over here.”
“You’re so silly, why are you afraid?”
“It’s just a vacuum!”
Something clicked again.
It wasn’t my words that carried weight, it was my tone. I was encouraging Katy. I was being kind. I love my dog and chuckle when she is afraid of things that seem so trivial. Ever so slowly, Katy came closer because she trusted me, not because she understood my language. She was going to be okay.
If I love myself, why not encourage myself when I’m afraid? Afraid that I won’t find another job. Afraid that I won’t do something that I love. Afraid that I’ll get rejected. Why is the voice in my head not only discouraging, but downright mean sometimes?
Are you encouraging yourself? What kind of people have you surrounded yourself with? Who is in your corner? You deserve to have someone encouraging you onward and upward. I promise you that as you begin to notice the tone of your inner voice, you’ll begin to pay attention to how others speak to you as well.
Get out there and show this world the art of openness.
Katy has no issue, whatsoever, with introducing herself first. Here is a 20-pound pug making all the introductions a master networker could drool over. Again, after my daily meditation, I was laughing as I watched my dog make her way around Lafayette Park.
It wasn’t that she was making an effort. There didn’t appear to really be any effort at all. Katy just walked right up to you and introduced herself.
Can you remember a moment, or several, where you held back hoping that another would be the first to say “hello?” Have you told yourself they didn’t say something first, he gave me a funny look, she’s probably judging me from afar this very moment?
Children and animals are beautifully open in their curiosity and interest in you. Why wouldn’t Katy introduce herself? Fear, anxiety, worry… those thoughts aren’t holding her back. If you choose to live your life waiting for others to come to you, you’re missing out on the powerful ice-breaking energy that your introduction can carry.
Share what you need with others. Don’t get angry when they can’t guess.
I am aware of numerous times in my life in which I would hold such resounding grudges for someone not “getting” what I wanted or needed. For a long time I didn’t know how to verbally communicate well, and I’m sure on some level this drove me to write. I would huff and puff, frustrated that nobody could understand me, when I didn’t even know how to express my own needs or desires to the world!
One day, after my morning meditation (theme alert), I noticed the ease in which Katy showed me what she needed. Food? Get over here and fill my bowl! Walk? Come on, come on, grab the leash! Play? Please oh please throw this toy that’s in my mouth!
It’s that easy. And it’s that difficult if you haven’t learned how to express your needs.
Katy reminded me that we all have needs. Those needs must be communicated with compassion in order for another to understand how and where to meet your needs. Katy would never quietly sit, starving herself and resenting others for not doing something about it. You shouldn’t either.
Your needs are your responsibility. Own ‘em.
Other folks will always be barkin’ — just keep on doin’ you.
Sensei Katy delivered a fifth life lesson with gusto. No other dog comes between Katy and her walks. She trots along, enjoying the trek, while other dogs bark from across the street. While they pull at leashes, threatened by her presence or feeling territorial. Katy just does her thing.
Again, after my meditation, I took Katy on a walk through our neighborhood. On this particular day there were a handful of dogs with obvious attitude issues being walked as well. Something clicked.
Dogs are a lot like people.
I watched as a feather-light Chihuahua completely lost its mind, choking itself in attempts to pounce on Katy. Teeth bared, high, shrieking bark. The issue wasn’t my dog, it was something much older, much deeper than a harmless pug.
You’re going to walk through this life, no matter where you are, and witness others barking at you. You may even wish for a “mute” button. They’re not really barking at you though, they’re barking at a projection. People yell, throw tantrums, and get mean in the face of unresolved pain they have yet to heal. They don’t really see you. They see what hurts. Can you blame them? I’ve felt this pain, I know this pain. Haven’t you felt it too?
Your responsibility is to heal yourself, not to obsess over healing others. In doing so, I’m certain you’ll show the barking folks greater compassion. You’ll heal by example. BUT you cannot stop being you in the face of all the noise.
Your quest for authenticity and their very personal healing need not be intertwined.
There they are. Five life lessons the Universe gave me through a 20-pound pug named Katy. The beautiful thing is… these lessons will never leave me. These lessons will always serve me. They’ll permeate my career, my relationships and other facets of my life. Hopefully, you see something that can serve you in them too.
You may reach the end of my musings and think, It’s a DOG. Life isn’t that SIMPLE.
I challenge you to wonder… What if it really is?