Category Archives: retirement

Thank god that’s over

So it’s a new year.

I’m seeing tons of retrospectives on the year 2020 on my social media sites. Yes, the year was rough and disappointing in so very many respects. The biggest for me was postponing my retirement for another year as I attempted to navigate tying up loose ends and finding ways to salvage projects that were interrupted in response to COVID-19. While I was disappointed that I needed to put off retirement, I will end up increasing my pension and leaving more “cleanly.” Those are not bad things.

Most importantly, I learned that it was okay to let some things go. 

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While most can agree that 2020 will go down as one of those “dumpster fire” years, there were also some good things that happened that I’m grateful for as we dip our toe into the new year. 

  • I lost weight, mostly on its own. It was only 25 lbs. since March, but it is 50 lbs. less than when I was working out with a trainer in 2018 and nearly 40 lbs. less than when I did a bike tour in 2019. This loss occurred during a particularly challenging time and with no dietary restrictions. I think that it will likely be long lasting because the changes I made are sustainable, long-term. I feel like I’m re-balanced in this aspect of my life.
  • I started swimming consistently and got a little fitter and faster. I have lots more potential for increased speed as I add in things like flip turns and starts to regular workouts. 
  • I’m in a better state of fitness to start bike training in the spring for our tour in the summer. 
  • I was able to get my damaged bike frame replaced! There were cracks in my relatively new carbon frame and the company honored its warranty. I only paid $75 for the rebuild. 
  • I moved my blog in fits and starts. I now have a better idea of where I want to go with this and plan to discuss more about life transitions in the future. I came across a book “The Passion Paradox” that mirrors and validates some beliefs I have about “following one’s passions” — and being able to step away from them when it becomes time to do so. This has helped change my perspective on retiring early.
  • I reached some financial goals for my retirement account. I’m hopeful that the upward trend continues or is at least maintained. 
  • I moved further toward my goal of retiring in 2021. No matter what happens with the manuscripts and reports, I will retire before December. 
  • Two projects came to a close. One voluntarily, the other by slow death. Both situations are going to be okay. 
  • We got a new rescue dog — one that needed rescue after he sustained a gunshot injury at 6-months and had two surgeries to repair the damage. He’s doing well now and has recovered. We have learned that training a teenaged-dog is much more complicated than training a younger pup. But we are in it for the long haul. 

So despite a disastrous year in general, I made progress in places that were really important to me. Like most of us, I’m not in the place that I expected to be, but it’s not the worst situation.

Please let 2021 be better for all of us.

A mini pre-retirement pause

I’ve decided to take the rest of December off from work. After straining through these last projects with little progress, I’m attempting a different approach. I finally recognize that I need time away — even if I’m staying at home — hoping that that will help lift my sense of complete burnout. Can I regain a more positive mindset after only a month?

I’m not sure that I’ve ever allowed myself to do this. I’ve never taken a sabbatical or a break longer than about a week, except when my Dad died years ago. Every year I donate copious leave that I’m unable to use — literally thousands of hours over the years. But not this year. I’m taking every flipping hour that I’m entitled to.

And I feel super guilty about it.

By virtue of our research positions, we aren’t supposed to use our leave. It’s there. It’s available. But we get the side-eye when we dare to take time off. As if taking a break to refill ourselves makes us less dedicated to our profession. Administrators love us for this trait, even when it threatens our ability to care for ourselves. The inability to cope is taken as a sign of weakness, and so it is further buried in our psyche. I can’t help but believe that this is planned to maximize what is taken out of us.

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I also thought that I could use this month off as a mini trial-run for my retirement in 2021. Will I still want to retire this early? How will I feel at the end of this trial? What if I am still depleted and burned out?

It’s only Monday of the first week, so it’s a bit difficult to predict if this will have any effect. I noticed that I was stressed yesterday because I sensed that the weekend was drawing to a close and I would soon have to face the job again. Then I remembered that I was taking leave today and literally felt a physical release. My brain felt a “whoosh,” and muscles that were tense relaxed. Absolutely amazing that this has such a strong physical connection.

I have to remind myself that there is no need for guilt. I absolutely deserve this.

Photo by Square Lab on Unsplash

The burnout is palpable

I’m trying to keep upbeat about my work as I continue to hurtle toward retirement. But it’s hard right now. Man, is it hard. I’m burnt. Drained. Exhausted. I’ve approached the stage where I wonder whether I have anything left to offer. This feels like third-degree burnout — to a point at which I fear there is little recovery.

I do have periods where I feel less stressed and anxious and think that I can endure the frustrations to the end. And then something happens, and I wonder how much longer I can keep doing this. Facing this computer, generating graphics and repeated analyses. The nuanced writing and endless editing. Knowing that it is all on me at this point because there is no help to be had. The only relief is to finish or quit. I don’t know if I care to which end it is at this point.

This feeling isn’t new — it’s been building like this for years. I’ve felt increasingly marginalized and disconnected from my program and from the work that I once embraced. I hate that I’ve come to detest my field. I’m fighting for a last bit of respect by pushing on these final reports and publications. All with a foreboding sense that no one actually cares.

Three bad days. That’s all it will take for me to finally make the jump. And they don’t even have to be in row.

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I sometimes wonder if burnout a mechanism to protect oneself from excessive stress. When there is no way out, is this forced inaction a way of keeping myself safe? When coping strategies are ineffective, do our bodies and minds simply stop working and make us address the situation? We see burnout as a sign of weakness — but is it a sign of strength instead? The strength to stop “going along” and actually address the problems?

I also wonder if late-career burnout is inevitable. I have had more than one conversation with colleagues lately who have nearly quit their jobs or are actively looking for something else. Those close to me in age are also preparing to retire early. We all share an intense sense of disappointment with our positions and careers. In a way, I’m grateful for these conversations, knowing that I’m not alone in feeling this way.  

But it’s not getting any easier.

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And still, I feel a slight stir of excitement as some new opportunities have developed for our workgroup. Is it enough though? There currently is no shared sense of purpose amongst my co-workers, and we are at a hunger games level of competition. It will takes years to get back into a functional working group where we treat each other with any semblance of respect. I sense that we simply too far down to possibly recover. 

It’s probably best to leave this job to some one less jaded than I. 

Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

The long, slow transition process

Transitions, particularly big, life-altering transitions, can be very long, slow processes. We sometimes expect our beliefs, behaviors, and habits to suddenly transform once we decide to initiate the changes. Moreover, big shifts are supposed to start happening at once. Unfortunately, it typically doesn’t work that way and we may become disappointed and disillusioned, often abandoning the transition process. That big shift might not happen simply because of our impatience.

I’m still in the process of making the transition toward retirement. I am, however, growing frustrated that I’m not further along. I’ve made commitments to finish off specific reports and archive the data. It has been a slog and the light at the end of the tunnel is still so faint. The best that I can do is continue to chip away at it, keep on course, and hope for the best down the road. And be willing to accept that some items might not be finished when I finally pull that plug.

I have been asking recently: how terrible would it be if I don’t finish what I had started? With everything going on right now with COVID, an election, and (here) devastating fires, the reports that I’m working on seem of little consequence. And they are standing in the way of what I really want to be doing. Do I keep pounding on this or let it go? Will six more months make a difference?

I just don’t know.

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I did my yearly performance appraisal this past week. This was likely the last time that I will ever go through an annual review. I’m doing a lot of “last times” these days. My last scientific conference. My last field season. The last meeting with other professionals in the area. I find that I go through an initial period of uneasiness with each of these reminiscences and then spend some time dealing with that sense of loss. I playback old memories in my mind and relive how things used to be. And then I understand that those events are in the past, the job has changed, and there is only the way forward.

And then I find that, meh, I’ll be able to live without it.

Photo by author

No end-of-summer blues

I’m so thankful that summer is just about done.

I haven’t been a fan of summer for awhile now. It’s an insane, hectic time where I have to crunch a year’s worth of work into a few months. Hiring and training temporaries. Traveling hours to remote areas. Bringing equipment online. The rush used to excite me, and I felt fortunate to be doing this type of work at some points in my career.

I now hate it.

Financial and logistical support eroded over time, forcing me to spend too much time on the job’s technical aspects. I’m supposed to be writing grants and papers, not programming data loggers, and collecting and processing samples in the lab. Working in the field was fun, but I wasn’t getting my own work done. Plus, I could never enjoy summer events like concerts or fun runs because I was always on call in the field.

I began to resent summer.

So even though we were in the midst of a pandemic and all of our planned activities were canceled, the summer of 2020 gave me a taste of the future in retirement. While I’m still working full-time, I can’t travel because of COVID restrictions. This is the first summer in over 30 years that I’ve done no fieldwork.

It’s delicious.

My tiny taste of retirement has been a break I needed, and I cannot wait for all of this to be finished. I have a feeling I’m going to love being retired. The problem is, I don’t feel like I can act excited about retirement with my colleagues who are still in the dredges. I know how they are feeling and how they continue to be pulled too thin without enough resources. Especially now, when our entire world has been up-ended.

But I can only help them for a few more months. I don’t plan on being emeritus for very long.

Photo by Andrew Bui on Unsplash