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Are you a fish out of water?

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Scientific studies have been conducted on what happens to a fish when it is out of water for too long. Typically the gills slowly dry up and the fish dies of suffocation. Unfortunately, I think I sometimes feel like a fish out of water (FOOW) since moving to the state of Mississippi. This is NOT a judgment of the deep south or any group of people--just an honest observation of my life experience at this point in time. I share these observations because I want to comfort others who might have had to relocate due to a job opportunity for themselves or a spouse. What amazes me most, is the impact being a FOOW has on behaviour and personality.

I call it the "FOOW syndrome" where several things can happen:

1) You are unable to have real conversations. Most conversations in the workplace, church or other settings feel guarded or awkward on both sides,causing only surface interactions. You tend to feel like you are speaking a different language.

2) You don't have anyone to offer healthy challenge to you professionally, personally or spiritually, so you become a bit stagnant in your work and social life without maturre relationships and discussions.

3) You become acutely aware of nonverbal behaviors and reactions (i.e. people tense up, make strange facial expressions or stop talking when you walk into the room).

4) You pour yourself into work, which does not ultimately fill the emptiness. Your anger (which is really loneliness) then causes abnormal, negative repsonses in simple situations. The appearance of a bad attitude causes further alienation.

5) Finally, you become irritable in response to being alienated, isolated and lonely. You might even give up on trying to connect or make new friends. Sadly, this provides more ammunition for further exclusion. And a slow suffocation begins.

Recently an EF3 tornado (click to see live footage) came through the town where we live. My husband was out of town. After making it home safely, I realized that locally I had no one to call and no one to comfort me. It made me rather sad. I am a firm believer in "to gain a friend, you must be a friend." Reality and maturity remind me that not everyone connects or likes each other but this is the first time in my life I do not have genuine, deep, caring relationships in the city where I live and work. And that's unhealthy for someone who seeks to maintain a fit body, career and spirit. I am honestly trying to figure out how to fit in, better connect, and understand what God is doing in this situation.

I have asked myself intellectual and spiritual questions about the FOOW syndrome. Is the pull of sameness just easier for most people? Is it because friends and family would judge us if we invite a person from a different background into our homes, churches or social circles? Perhaps it's because if a person does not fit the typical behaviors, speech patterns or social interests expected of a particular gender or race, then people don't know how to relate to you? SInce life is meant to be a great learning and growing adventure, I wonder what the greater purpose of all of this might be. What am I supposed to learn from this? What will others learn?

The good news is I still have healthy, strong, joyful relationships all over the country. These people lift me personally, professionally and spiritually. I can get to any of them via a plane ride, Twitter or Skype but they are not here daily to spontaneously encourage, embrace and show me love in person. We all need that. I long for the authentic support systems, belly laughs, intellectual debates and caring conversations. I miss having co-workers who ask me about me about my family, my day or care enough to give me a reassuring pat on the back when things get rough. It reminds me of a proverb that states, "Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget."

In a freshwater aquarium there are thousands of species available to the aquarist. The various fish come from all over the world. These fish all have their own preferences for environment and social behaviour yet they share the water and learn to swim in the same direction. When a new fish is introduced into the tank, it requires the other fish to have a short period of adjustment and then accept the new fish. The fish wh o have been in the aquarium have to avoid judging it based on the external appearance or behavioral differences. It also requires the fish introduced in to the tank to try to understand the surroundings and behaviours of other the fish already there. Yes, there is repsonsibility on both sides of the aquarium. Sometimes a job relocation can cause these feelings to surface. I'm not miserable, I just want air, water and yes, my joy to return. I shall find it, even if I have to float upside down awhile.

So, what do you think? If you comment, try to keep it constructive--even if you disagree with me. Bring life giving water so we can all breathe and learn! I welcome your thoughts, observations and experiences. Let's return to the freshwater aquarium of clarity, hope, friendship, peace and joy. I can breathe there. Has your job ever transferred you to a new location? Have you ever felt like a FOOW? What did you do?

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