Sunday, October 21, 2012
Work Musings/Retirement Dithers
At the University
It’s nearly four years since I retired. Whew – that whizzed by! It’s a little scary. Long before I made that big step, I’d ask retired acquaintances how they liked it. Without fail, they’d say it’s wonderful, better than they could imagine, absolutely perfect, etc. I never say things like that. I’m more likely to say it’s okay, or it’s so-so, or it’s all right but I really liked working better. I wasn’t completely insane about my job, but it did offer more in the way of social contacts, opportunities for achievement and recognition, and a sense of contributing to a common mission.
I still go in to my office multiple times a week, so I haven’t completely severed my ties. The other day I passed by the lecture hall where I’d taught my large social psychology class for many years. Looking through the doorway, it still seemed completely familiar. I’d spent hundreds of hours facing those same rows of seats, the projection screen hanging from the ceiling, the clock on the back wall. I had a lot of mixed feelings. Part of me missed the opportunity to address batches of students on topics I was highly interested in. On the other hand, I always felt a lot of unpleasant pressure in classroom teaching – mostly fears of being boring or found to be incompetent. I wasn’t sure whether to be sad or relieved.
I recently got a chance to return to one aspect of my ex-work life when the department head asked me to be on a committee to organize a celebration for retiring colleagues. I was excited about the prospect and volunteered without a second thought. However, much to my surprise, working on a department committee was nowhere as enjoyable as I’d remembered. Though I arrived full of enthusiasm and commitment to the task, my fellow committee members were all suffering from work overload. We even had difficulty finding a common meeting time. No one wanted to chair the committee, so we operated in a pretty disorganized fashion. Members had mild disagreements on just about everything -- location, numbers of speakers, whether to have gifts, what kind of music to have (if any), food choices, etc. At one point I wondered if the celebration was going to come off at all. It brought me back to when I was a brand new junior faculty member and a more senior mentor told me that that committee work in the university was inevitably chaotic and aggravating. I think I’d just gotten habituated to it over the years. Now, with the benefits of some distance, I realized that it was pleasant to be free from frustrating tasks. I wondered if I’d fabricated too rosy a picture of what my work life used to really be like.
A week or two later I got a phone call from a former colleague at the University. He was incensed about a personnel decision being made about one of our long-term associates and felt that the person’s department had made a terrible mistake. He implored me to write a letter to the university president to protest the action. I had no information about the reasons for the uproar and felt caught in the middle -- uncomfortable and unsure what to do. It reminded me of the occasionally nasty side of university politics from which I’ve been removed for several years. I wound up writing a letter to the president but was not happy to be back in the thick of such conflict.
I had an interesting dream the other night, a variation on an academic anxiety dream that I’ve had my entire career (though with a brand new twist). It was the end of exam week, and, even though I’d been on the faculty for decades, I’d never finished my Ph.D. while in graduate school. Nobody knew that, but it put me in a perilous situation. I was enrolled in a graduate seminar to finally complete requirements for my degree and make up for my long-time failing. However, I’d missed the instructor’s deadline for a take-home final exam, and I realized that I’d never be able to get it done. Even worse, I was completely unprepared for my doctoral prelim exams which were coming up in a few days. I realized that I would never finish my Ph.D. At first I was in a state of total despair. Then it suddenly dawned on me that I was now retired. It no longer mattered whether I had my Ph.D. or not. Such a great revelation. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. In reflecting afterwards, it dawned on me that I’m now free from the many sources of strain in my former bureaucratic work environment and that my level of stress is lower as a consequence. Maybe, I thought to myself, being retired isn’t so bad after all.
-Linda K-C (10-22): Great story, and dream. I too have had a dream that haunted me forever, it was a dream with in a dream, I would dream that I had never taken a necessary class to finish law school. It would take me hours going through buildings to find where to sign up for the class. Then I would attend the first class, ( the other students in class changed from each time I had the dream, grade school friends to law school professors) during the class i would decide i would skip the classes and just take the test since I knew all the material. But of course I would forget to take the test. Then during the dream I would say to myself, this is a dream I think, I think I practice law, then revert to , oh no I have to take that test. On waking, for a second I thought it was true. Retired 7 years ago, stopped having dream about three years ago. What we do to ourselves worrying about our careers. I still miss work.