Tag Archives: pending retirement

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

Perspectives while barreling toward retirement

Wow, is it ever hard to keep my writing on track these days. I often blog about something I see that jogs a memory. It’s hard to see something new when you face the same walls day in and day out. And now, everything in the news is so disheartening: pandemic, race-baiting, protests, and riots, all on top of the day-to-day natural disasters. The world seems on fire, and I write largely about my career past and transition toward a new phase of life in retirement. It seems a little mundane and soft by comparison.

I have a nagging sense that my writing has become irrelevant. But it’s what I have to work with, so here we are.

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Sage advice from me?: I started my workday reading a couple of e-mail messages from students asking for my advice. I hesitated in my response. Situations keep changing and any answer I might give today could be wrong in less than 24-hours. And yet, I have to offer up suggestions to those who still depend on me. We still need to make progress, even if in fits and starts.

One message was from a student asking if I had gotten a request for a reference for a post-doctoral position that she had applied to. I had to tell her no, but the search might be delayed due to coronavirus and workplace disruptions. I didn’t tell her that it is unlikely that the position would be filled any time soon. And that she was probably competing against at least 50 candidates and may never hear back from them at all. This is a horrible time to be entering the workforce with an advanced degree. She probably already knows this, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her how badly her reality sucks.

Or how all of our realities suck right now. The threads in our collective tapestry have been severed and pulled apart. Our social fabric needs to be re-woven in a way that supports people. But until we are willing to address grotesque inequities and face the real perpetrators of these disparities, we are just diddling at the edges. 

But that’s a post for another time. 

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Reliving old times and not-so-fond memories: I recently started clearing some old folders on my hard drive in anticipation of my retirement. These are folders for projects that went nowhere. I had tried to flesh out these studies, spending much effort to get buy-in and funding — sometimes for years, but all for naught. I saved these proposals in case they could be re-ignited, but they are useless thought exercises at this point. I might as well get rid of the unnecessary files now before it all becomes too much.

I start to tear up as I do this. So many gut-wrenching memories of failures and shortfalls. One reason that I’m retiring now is that I’ve grown tired of fighting my own workplace to move things forward. I no longer know how to make things work. I came across one recent project that went unfunded, only to be picked up and initiated by a potential collaborator without me. This study plan is on the ground, but I’m nowhere to be seen in it because I wasn’t able to get buy-in. On the one hand, I feel encouraged that the work is being done, and that somebody saw value in the study. I would have appreciated a little credit though.

This transition is hard — so much harder than I ever imagined. I feel like I’m in mourning at a year-long funeral. I know that I need to let all of this go, but I’m stuck on what I could have done without the imposed limitations. I shouldn’t take this personally, but it’s tough not to. 

I think about leaving on my last workday with two middle fingers fully extended as I walk out the door. While I chuckle at that vision, I know that I won’t do that. I will continue to silently internalize my frustrations. 

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Retrospectives: I’m planning to start a series of posts that are a bit retrospective as a means of coping with all of these feelings. These are things that I wished I knew when I was young and just starting out. Perhaps this might make me feel a bit more relevant as if I’m giving sage advice to the students who contacted me earlier.

Something positive has to come from this internal and external turmoil.

Photo by Clément Gerbaud on Unsplash

Retirement got more real, but not real enough

I put in the paperwork to initiate a pre-retirement evaluation last week. For us, this is a first, formal step in the retirement process. It essentially alerts the human resources department as to when an employee is considering retirement. Allegedly, it also puts the wheels in motion to begin replacement. I know my position won’t be replaced, so I guess there is no need to be in a hurry.

That’s harsh — knowing that your position will no longer exist once you leave.

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Everything I’ve done to date for the retirement process has been informal: discussions with my supervisor, conversations with collaborating scientists, and establishing a timeframe for completing projects. All of it was just a flowy thought process up to this point. Do I really want to retire, or was I just throwing it out there to see how people would respond?

No one seemed surprised that I’m leaving over 10 years earlier than when most in the field decide to retire. Do others see that I’m burned out and ineffective and think that I should get out of the field? Do they sense that I’m phoning it in most of the time? Or are they feeling the same as I do and ultimately understand why I’m leaving now?

My supervisor said that the decision to retire was entirely up to me. He would support my retirement timeframe, whatever I end up deciding. Sounds nice and all, but if he wanted me to stay, he could offer some kind of incentive. Something like support in the form of staffing for me to continue my work. The same staffing that males in the workgroup already enjoy. No, that wasn’t on the table. I’m free to stay, but I have to continue to bring in all support to keep me going.

So….what’s the point then? I could do that on my own.

Many of my colleagues expressed their own fantasies of retirement when I brought up the topic. I can tell that many face similar levels of burnout and disillusionment with their own science careers. I suspect that our reasons for wanting to leave may differ though. My burnout stems from fighting a system that is ultimately stacked against women in the field. More so, as an older woman, I’m feeling more and more invisible. I’ve grown tired of screaming to be heard and be remembered. There is also a lack of control over my work and loss of meaning over what I do. It’s hard to fight the fight when you no longer feel that the work is valued. And, finally, I’m tired of putting my life on hold. No work-life integration has ever been possible with this job. It’s time to make me the priority in my own life.

My final goal is to complete two projects that have dragged on for several years. A little flush of funding to gather data, but not enough money to complete the analyses, has left the burden on me to finish them off. 

Colleagues are anxious to get the results but don’t have the resources to help out once the dollars were spent. I made commitments. I hope I can live up to them.

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I had planned to retire in December, but it looks like I may need to extend that by six months — which could mean as late as next May. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated delays in processing HR requests. The priority is now hiring for the summer rather than preparing people for retirement. Can I do another six months? Probably. It does give me more time to plan and develop the next stage. 

It seems like so very far off though. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.