Tag Archives: transitions

3200 yards

The pandemic has had one sort-of positive benefit for me in that I was able to start swimming again in the past months. My sense is that this is relatively safe since the virus is unlikely to survive in a sanitized pool. I avoid the locker room or showers and don’t change out of my wet bathing suit until I get home. I may freeze my hind-end off in the coming months as the temperatures continue to drop.

I swam 3200 yards yesterday. That’s 1.8 miles and it took me 77 minutes to do this, for an overall pace of 2:24 minutes per 100 yards. The total time includes all the kicks and pulls and slower strokes (breaststroke and backstroke), plus any rests. My 500-yard freestyle warm-up was 10:33 minutes — a 2:06 per 100-yard pace.

What do all these numbers mean? It means that I’m glacially slow compared to top swimmers in my age group. But I’ve gotten faster. When I started swimming earlier this year, my 500-freestyle was a little under 12 minutes. So I’ve dropped almost 1:30 min off that time. This is great, but I’ve still a long road ahead of me if I want to do any competitions.

You see, one of my transition goals is to start Master’s swimming — once this COVID-stuff is over. Unfortunately, we have no program here, so I will need to drive to the next closest pool (an hour away) to get coaching and group practices. And I may need to meet some time requirements to join this coached group. But I will need coaching to get faster—a bit of chicken and egg situation.

In the meantime, I will continue to work on stroke improvement and bringing down my times as long as our pool remains open. This means lots more pulls and kicks. And YouTube videos. This all seemed easier 40 years ago when I had someone assigning practices and watching my stokes. But I feel like I want the improvement more now than I did back then.

Wanting this is a big deal. There’s a lot to be said about personal intention in netting gains at anything.

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

Vulnerability — fear of putting it out there

I’ve read enough of Brené Brown’s writing to understand the concept of vulnerability, and how shame stops us from being fully engaged in our own lives. Vulnerability is essentially putting oneself out there, being authentic, saying and doing what you feel is true, despite the potential for negative pushback and judgment. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is allowing yourself to be exposed. Letting people see who you are and what you think without a filter.

It can be frightening, and I know from experience that this fear has stopped me from doing many things. I thought it was a lack of knowledge and skill that held me back. Turns out, it was an intense fear of being vulnerable. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being judged.

While it often has a negative connotation, transformation happens when you allow yourself to be vulnerable. To take risks. Arguably, it’s the only way that change and personal growth can occur. I’m slowly beginning to embrace a higher level of vulnerability as I age and begin to leave my current career life and venture into retirement. Still, it’s hard because my innate tendency is to hold back. This tendency has gotten worse with time, particularly as I moved further in my career.

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So let’s talk about vulnerability when posting on a personal blog. I don’t post as often as I want because the words often feel stilted and forced. I’m still hiding. When I do post, I feel like I am exposing my insecurities. About my career. About my weight. About my past floundering and times I’ve given up. It’s uncomfortable to explore these thoughts, and I feel like I’m choking on the words that I write. Have I said too much? Put too much out there? Will I regret posting this? 

I’d like to say: enough of that. Writing about difficult experiences can help with regaining one’s sense of power and control. I think that’s what I need to do to push through this transition. Be more authentic, more exposed, and willing to face the feedback. The posts where I’ve done this have been the most cathartic.

And yet, I remain fearful. It would be easier to write about fluff things here, but I don’t think that it would get me anywhere. I may be throwing things at the wall with this blog, to see what sticks, but that seems part of the transition process. I’m allowed to explore and see where differnt paths lead to.

Photo by Tomas Kirvela on Unsplash

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.