After months – no, years — of planning, I finally have walked through the door to retirement. I have received my last paycheque. In a couple of weeks, I will pack up my office at work. I have bought a house in a different province, in a community closer to our kids and grandkids. And I have booked a moving date.
Rethinking my Identity
It has been an emotional roller-coaster. Regular readers will know that I have struggled mightily with the challenge of stepping away from my work identity. What you might not know, as I have not shared it until now, is why I have found it so hard to leave work.
After all, a job is just a job. People go to work to earn money in order to support themselves and their families. If they are lucky, they have work that enables them to contribute something useful and meaningful to society. If they are even more lucky, they have the kind of workplace where colleagues are almost like family; where they work together with respected colleagues to create and build new knowledge, systems, or services; and where they are deeply appreciated and seen as integral to the business or institution. Sometimes, a person becomes so wrapped up into their work role that it becomes almost impossible to separate one’s personal identity from one’s work identity.
That is my situation. My job isn’t just a job for money; it is a big part of my identity. You see, I am an academic.
From the day that I began pursuing my PhD in the late 1980’s, through to accepting my first tenure-track position as a professor, to achieving tenure, eventually being promoted to full professor, and then moving into university administration, I have loved the academic life. I have deeply enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with students: in a teaching role, as graduate supervisor and mentor, and designing and developing academic programs and services to support students.
I have loved being a researcher. Really, could anything be more interesting than thinking up questions that you want to know the answers to, or speculating about why things are the way they are, and then studying those problems and writing about them? On the practical side, it is very satisfying when the problems you have been studying lead to new processes or ways of doing things that make a real-world difference for people. This is especially the case when you have the chance to work with a new generation of researchers and teachers who are inspired to take their own practices in new and productive directions. How could I ever walk away from all that? That was the dilemma that faced me when I began to consider whether and when I should retire.
Yet, I had reached a level of exhaustion and burnout that was scary. My creativity and love of the academic life had faded to numbness. My husband had been retired for eleven years already and was eager for me to join him before we both got too old for outdoor adventures. Our four grandchildren were growing up in locations far away and we could not visit as often as we would have liked. None of our close friends lived nearby. I could afford to retire. All the signs were pointing toward retirement, but still it was hard to make the choice to do so.
Putting Plans into Action
However, for me, the long interim period of working through the decision of whether to retire, how to retire, and where to live after retiring was necessary, I think. It helped me come to terms with the identity question. I decided that although I was leaving my role as a university professor, I would retain my involvement in research for at least a year or two after formally retiring. So I made arrangements to facilitate that plan, and committed to continue on with some academic research projects that I had initiated during my year of administrative leave.
We toured around the province in which we knew we wanted to live, and jointly made a decision to buy a house on Vancouver Island. As it turned out, the date we took possession of our new house was the same day I retired! I thought that I would write cautionary notes here, advising readers against combining the two stresses of retiring and moving by doing them simultaneously. However, for me, it actually has been a great thing. It has distracted me from mulling over what I am leaving behind to focus instead on the new home and new life, and to throw myself into the practicalities of making it happen.
There is a sense of relief in finally moving from thought to action. Coming to our new community and new home, knowing that we will be moving here for real very soon, I have a huge sense of anticipation about new possibilities. Vancouver Island is so beautiful and lush. I love being near the ocean. The grocery stores have lovely produce and seafood counters. I will be closer to people that I love. Already, I can hardly remember why I was clinging so hard to my old life and our former home. Onward! There are exciting adventures ahead!Gideon Sock Puppet
From Retirement Reflections: Thank you to Dr. Sock for sharing her longstanding dilemma with her decision to retire and the reasons behind this. As a long time follower of Dr. Sock Writes Here, I am privileged to have ‘Gideon Sock Puppet’ as my new real-life neighbour. I know that her retirement has been off to a fantastic start. I look forward to reading (and now ‘hearing’) about her upcoming retirement adventures!
Please join us next week — same time, same place. Janis, from RetirementallyChallenged, asks us “What’s So Challenging About Retirement?” This post contains Janis’ signature positive outlook….you won’t want to miss it!