Life came to an abrupt halt in The Netherlands mid-March 2020. My Italian colleagues constantly speculated that Covid-19 would have the same impact as in their home country – complete lockdown. “Nonsense”, I declared! But, it soon happened. Nearly overnight, I lost my job. In the beginning, I thought it would be a quick ‘chill out’ period. Life would surely return back to normal. But in reality, it didn’t and it still hasn’t today. The term ‘new normal’ continues to make me cringe – a buzzword that makes its way into every conversation these days. Thankfully, we humans are very adaptable because the determination and desire to experience the small joys of life, triumphs everything!
My initial response to The Netherlands’ ‘herd immunity’ approach to contain the spread of the virus was disbelief. Friends and family members living in other European countries, such as Spain, Italy and France, were by law, ordered to remain at home. Police checks, fines and imprisonment were the new reality. Although we are experiencing a global health pandemic, it still remains crucial to question everything – logical justification over incoherent control.
An episode of ‘Black Mirror’
Midst Zoom call to my friend Rebecca in New York City, she suddenly paused. However, it wasn’t one of those Internet lagging pauses. Ambulances and a hearse rolled up to the front door of her apartment building. People wearing white protective medical clothing and masks entered the building. Her elderly neighbour, on the top floor apartment, had passed away. The magnitude of the virus became real during this exact moment. But even more for her, as she was somewhat acquainted with the man. This wasn’t some dystopian ‘Black Mirror’ episode. We were live and this was real. Rebecca shouted out the window to the ambulance crew for further answers.
“Was it the old man upstairs?”
He simply nodded.
“Was it Covid?” she further enquired.
“I’m not sure of his name,” he replied.
Since that day back in March, every person on earth knows who Covid is and what it’s capable of in its path of destruction. Both directly or indirectly, we have all suffered the consequences of this global pandemic. Typically an open society, life in Amsterdam changed even further when an ‘intelligent lockdown’ was implemented nationally. Although many international publications viewed the impact of this approach as a success, I don’t think it’s possible to make such judgements by simply looking at a couple of shops and cafes. Our experiences are subjective and elusive – personal emotions in this city typically aren’t expressed. Therefore, it’s difficult to really know the truth beyond a rise in takeaway coffee sales.
Dutch culture and Human Connection
In my experience the Dutch culture lacks the outward expression of emotions. This is simply an observation and not an attack. They rank low on the cultural context scale – communication is direct and explicit. People have an individualistic mindset and achieving a task over a relationship is highly desirable. My social media is exploding with ‘Karens’ criticising each other without context for – not wearing a mask, not wearing it correctly, travelling abroad, or simply enjoying life at this time – how dare they! In The Netherlands the individual approach has proven a blessing – less judgement for how others decide to live their lives. You do you and I’ll do me.
Throughout my two years living here, I discovered that everyone has two faces – the public face that is often hard to read and the private, more emotional face. Of course, each culture has their own variation, some more noticeable than others. For example, the Japanese have a public face (Omote) and a private face (Ura). Arbo Unie, a national service provider that champions optimal working conditions for employees in The Netherlands, released a report that predicted 25% of the workforce would experience a ‘burn out’ by 2030. One of the causes? Lack of connection. In my experience showing emotion at work is an absolute no-go! It’s not efficient and it’s your personal responsibility to regulate your own feelings to ensure work and home remain exclusively separate.
Human connection is becoming increasingly scarce. Interestingly enough, it’s the one thing we need more than ever. The new ‘working from home’ approach, whether companies like it or not, has dramatically adjusted our daily lives. Microsoft recently released their findings of a study about working remotely, carried out on their employees, predominantly based in the USA. The report suggests that working from home isn’t all positive, particularly the blurred lines between work and homelife. Companies are flooding their LinkedIn homepages with numerous innovative approaches. Similar to the explosion of Google as a one-stop-shop for everything, including becoming a verb in its own right, ‘to Zoom’ is how the majority of us have stayed ‘connected’ in 2020. In the beginning it was a novelty. But the distance soon grew further, making space for humorous memes about the dreaded Zoom calls.
Bright smiles, virtual drinks and greater teamwork – connection, no? But is this the reality of the situation? As humans our greatest desire is to be seen and seen from a level of acceptance for who we are individually. I won’t lie, I have often found myself dreading going to work in the past. But after the first cup of coffee upon arrival at the office, I’m happy to find myself amongst others – the chats and human interaction because we humans crave socialisation. It’s the same approach to working out – just think of those potential endorphins! I’m lucky to live with a group of great housemates and in a city that didn’t enforce a total lockdown. However, in a city that often lacks spontaneity, I’m definitely feeling the realism that lack of connection in the physical realm can exist with invisible barriers too.
I personally hate job interviews and especially in The Netherlands. They pride themselves on little-to-no hierarchy – informality. I like it, I really do. But culturally speaking, coming from a more hierarchical background, it’s hard to know where to draw the line between professional and personal. I’m exhausted with the number of interviews I’ve had scheduled over the past couple of months. I strangely looked forward to them a little bit too much at times. It’s a new face and a potential engaging conversation.
Let’s cut to the chase
But let’s get back to the title of this article – My Zoom Job Interview Breakdown. It was probably the most truthful and exciting day of my 2020 so far – now that’s saying a lot. I have experienced numerous Zoom job interviews since March. The questions are all the same. I mentioned a lot of ‘me’ time above and since this pandemic, I’ve certainly sharpened my level of self-awareness, and as cliché as it sounds, got to know myself better.
Meditation, yoga, and maybe slightly too much coffee pre-interview, couldn’t curtail my heightening anxiety. With my journalistic background, I’m more familiar and comfortable interviewing others. Therefore, when the spotlight shines on me, I naturally freeze. I knew this job interview didn’t align with my goals, dreams or aspirations, but as the percentage of hiring freezes and job losses increased, maybe I could just give it a go?
The two Dutchmen interviewing me on Zoom were quite pleasant. A little bit of banter in the beginning and we were straight down to business. “There’s a lot of gender inequality in the legal world. How would you go about writing a report, whilst tying our product into it?” He asked. Without a doubt I’m interested in the multifaceted topic of gender inequality. But a question like this required time and deep thought. Two men staring at me through a screen immediately awaiting my answer didn’t cut it. In that moment, I say that I freaked out, but in actuality, I think I spoke my truth. This didn’t feel right and I was going to honour that, regardless of how uncomfortable this was going to be for everyone. “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I answered. The words left my mouth without little effort. Was the Zoom call lagging? No. The two men were stunned. “This has never happened before.” the boss explained. The other was simply “perplexed,” as he put it. They were confused and I was ready to exit the call. My only response was to apologise for wasting their time. I also apologised to myself for wasting my own time too. In that moment, I vowed to only focus on potential opportunities that felt good – body, mind and soul.
What’s For You Won’t Pass You
Tears flooded down my cheeks – happy, sad, confused, freedom, truth – it was a crazy mix of emotions, but all positive. I called my mom and she was supportive. The classic mantra of ‘what’s for you won’t pass you.’ My phone started ringing from another incoming number. It was one of the men I had just interviewed with. He was calling to check up on me. I would usually be mortified about crying, but I couldn’t help it. I broke out into floods of tears. I explained that mentally my head was all over the place from the past few months of this pandemic. *Cue the awkward silence* “Okay, but this wasn’t to do with my question about gender inequality, was it?” I guess everyone wants to cover their back. I ended the call and felt mentally lighter and freer. The sun broke out from behind the dark clouds. My anxiety suddenly disappeared.
I finally realised the importance of listening to my gut feeling – It’s your internal compass – the guide to truth! Apparently the Buddhists say that if you meet somebody and your heart pounds, your hands shake, your knees go weak, that’s not the one. When you meet your ‘soulmate’ (in this case, a job) you’ll feel calm, no anxiety and no agitation. I feel this quote is applicable to many aspects of life – career, friends, relationships, etc,.
Sometimes job interviews feel like a date – Do we click? Do I feel comfortable? Do I see a future? Can I grow personally? The following week after my ‘Zoom Job Interview breakdown’, I had a new interview that flowed with absolute ease. I made it through all the interviews with a sense of calm. Most importantly, I felt like I could be myself. I recently accepted the position and I’m so excited to start a new adventure in my career. I know there are so many people in the same position of uncertainty and fear at this current moment of time. But surrendering and trusting the process of how things play out, or fail to play out is paramount. In the last two years I’ve experienced so many life lessons – personally and professionally. The most important lesson was understanding the intrinsic connection between the body, mind and soul. It’s equally as important to listen to your body’s reaction to a situation, just as much as your mind. Resilience is key.