You Lose the Callouses

Yesterday I published my final title for 2021. All told it was over a million words of published content although that involved collections and derived titles so actual new words written that were published were about 375K. Mostly non-fiction.

So. Time to turn my attention to COVID for a minute.

First, if you can do so and have not been vaccinated, get vaccinated. Second, if you can do so and have not received a booster or third shot, get it ASAP.

It’s pretty clear at this point that the Omicron variant can infect people who previously had COVID and that it is also pretty good at overcoming just a two-dose vaccine regime.

Also, not a bad idea to mask up and keep your gathering small for the time being. COVID is airborne which means that being in an indoor space where a bunch of other people have been breathing out is maybe not the best choice to be making right now.

(See that situation where people who were in the same restaurant but at a later time of night got Omicron because that’s how an airborne situation works. That stuff hangs out in the air for hours at a time.)

And before anyone comes in to tell me this is overblown and all that, I will just remind people that my father lost his kidneys and eventually his life forty years after a childhood illness. And my mother had a heart murmur and ultimately needed open heart surgery fifty years after a childhood illness. And those illnesses they had? Nothing compared to what we already know long-COVID does.

You can live a life with a serious illness, as my dad proved, but it’s frickin’ hard and a lot of people don’t have what it takes to make it through something like that. So maybe don’t test yourself that way if you can avoid it.

But that’s a side point.

The title of this thread is about callouses. Because I am seeing more and more ER or ICU doctors and nurses putting in their notice. And I’m sure there are some of them who think, “I’ll go back in a year or two when things are not so awful.”

Here’s the thing, though, most of us don’t realize it, but we build up the equivalent of mental callouses through our training and socialization to our jobs.

When I was consulting I thought nothing of hopping on a plane Sunday night, flying to my destination, working Monday through Friday often both at the client site and then in my hotel room later, flying back on Friday night, and then going into the office on Saturday to submit my expense reports and catch up on any admin.

I was well-compensated for it, but my life was work first, anything else second. And even the job I had before that was similar. We’d get a last minute request and it was time to work until 10 pm until 7 pm to get it done and it was normal for my boss to send emails at 3 am on a Friday night and expect a response the next day.

That’s not something most people can easily dive into day one. You get socialized into it and it takes some time to not notice it.

There are personal interaction callouses, too. When you’re around a bunch of other personalities it tends to be like being in a rock tumbler. You smooth off the rough edges. You hold things back, you tap things down, you self-censor over time until the work version of you is a more polished version than you’d be on your own.

The problem is, when you step away from that environment, the callouses eventually disappear.

Which makes stepping back into that environment very jolting. It can be the exact same people and the exact same work, but because you’ve taken a breath and let yourself loosen up and expand a bit, it can be really frickin’ hard to put yourself back into that space.

Some women experience this physically as well. At least any woman who has ever worn high heels for work. You develop that spot on the ball of your foot that lets you wear three or four-inch heels every day without pain. But stop wearing heels for six months or so and that goes away. And next time you put on those heels? It’s excruciating. You wonder how you ever did that.

The answer is, you built up to it. Over a long period of time. And then didn’t notice what you’d had to do to get to where you were.

Anyway. I bring this up because if we continue to lose highly-trained individuals from positions that require intense amounts of indoctrination to survive, we are going to have some serious troubles ahead. Because not only can those people not be replaced overnight, chances are the ones who try to return won’t be able to do so easily. We won’t get back what we lost.

Take an already under-staffed system under tremendous stress and replace each piece of that system with an inferior replacement and you get really ugly results. If not collapse.

Anyway. Just something to think about. (And if you want an action that you personally can take today, get vaccinated, get boosted, and be generally careful about the things you do so you don’t add stress to an already breaking system.)

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at]

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