Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Finding Balance

I received some questions about why I retired and how it’s going. The answer to the first part is pretty simple: the university is in deep financial trouble, I had more than 36 years in the system and it seemed wrong to keep taking up a full-time job when doing so might cost someone else an opportunity to keep/have one.

What I didn’t expect was the change it brought, especially since I continue to do much of the work I most enjoyed. First, the transition process itself was rough: it appears that no one had really thought through what it would mean to shed a lot of people with many, many years of service all at the same time; the process was not handled well. Though my work on many levels continues, it was a bit of a shock to have to figure out for myself a whole range of logistical aspects of the transition. And then, to get rehired on the grants/projects I’m on, I had to show up with my passport to prove my identity and refill out a ton (well, ok, nine or ten) forms showing who I am, where I live, etc. That was all on top of the self-identity issues that surfaced after an adult life of full-time employment and connection with the place.

Having gotten through all of that, though, there are some terrific aspects to being retired I hadn’t anticipated and that I like very much. For example, all the good girl rules in my head about what I “should” do have fallen away. I’m retired and I don’t need to account for myself (beyond my personal commitments) to anyone. That’s freeing in grand ways, especially since this period of my life seems to be require yet a new set of working habits to be productive.

During the very first phase of my university life, I worked at a research lab, mixed with school and other things, so it had a set of idiosyncratic rhythms. When I moved to my grown-up career as an administrator, it was set in office life: fast-moving, multi-processing that required juggling a lot of balls and people all the time. I loved the work. Then, when I went to the law school, the rhythm and pace were completely different, as well as the centrality of my role, which in a word, wasn’t. There were still a lot of people with whom to interact, but in a completely different way. It took me years to find a way to do that work that was productive, satisfying and met all my internal rules about “how to work.” Then, I was recruited to the business school and now I’ve transitioned into retirement. I’m still maintaining a lot of different projects (maybe one or two too many, I think some days) but I work almost exclusively from home, only going places when there are specific meetings to attend or classes to teach.

In part, of course, this is my new brain and the only way I can maintain all these projects is to spend a lot of time in familiar environs and in the quiet. Part of it, though, is moving into a new phase and learning both who I am now and how to work in this new and different configuration. It’s an interesting voyage and I’m learning things about myself that seem worth knowing. My endeavor now--along with keeping things going on a variety of different fronts simultaneously--is to figure out what I most enjoy and how to focus only on the things I like, not those that feel like “shoulds” when those are now exclusively self-imposed. It’s a surprisingly daunting task to disentangle all the pieces.

I’m enjoying the process, though, and this phase of life. Talking with Kearney the other day, she said “we really did brain tumor well,” as a family. We did, and emerging from that, the sense of satisfaction for having fared well as a family with all the support we got, well, that feels good and provides a great foundation for this new phase of life. The book is progressing again, the class is going well, the announcement is in the papers tomorrow, and I’m almost 15 pounds down, and counting. There’s still a long way to go, but one foot in front of the other is bringing progress. May your endeavors be moving in the direction you want, too. Cheers.

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