I believe in lifelong learning. So, in the middle of October, I’ll be going on my employer’s retirement course. It lasts for a full day. I’ve little idea yet what to expect but from the initial blurb it sounds like it majors on the financial aspects.
One of the best things about working at The Open University for the last five years or so has been the staff training – almost all sessions I’ve attended (and because everything is so different, there’s a lot to learn) have been well-delivered and useful. Sometimes I’ve had to be dragged along, howling in protest – why on earth should I do the compulsory course on supervising PhDs after having done several successfully at my previous university?? But in fact I learned so much on that course, as it was all about the psychological aspects; how your personality and that of your student interact, how you learn to manage each other’s expectations, and what strategies can be used to overcome writers’ block. Just wish I’d learned all this 20 years ago!
So I thought I should give this retirement course a go. The course aims are “To promote a positive approach to retirement and provide an opportunity to plan ahead.” Reading that brought home to me that those of us attending won’t all be in the same situation. My approach is by definition ‘positive’ because I decided to retire and I’m choosing when to do it, but also because I leave with no regrets; I made it to Professor, I’ve been head of two departments, and I never wanted to be a Faculty Dean or a Vice-Chancellor or a head of an Oxbridge college.
As for the planning ahead, well, I’m not sure how far to ‘plan’ and how much to go with the flow. I’m aiming for a soft landing, rather than a crash landing. I have conference papers and keynotes to give, stretching into 2018. I have a book under contract and several articles I’m desperate to return to working on. I have some paid consultancy work already arranged. I’m considering opportunities for volunteering in my community (I’ve just been talking to a retired anaesthetist who is enjoying going into his local primary school to hear children reading).
I am saying ‘no’ to more, already – I decided earlier this year not to agree to examine any more PhD theses, but then of course one came along that sounded so interesting I broke that resolution… But now, no more! I’m not volunteering to go to workshops or planning meetings for things that will happen after I’ve left (like the next REF, if there is one).
No more being a Good Girl?
This lack of volunteering and refusal of invitations feels faintly naughty, which makes me realise I’ve been a Good Girl – at least at work – all my life. It feels very odd to me to say ‘No’, and rather uncomfortable not being the one who volunteers to plug the gaps. This is another area where training helps; I went on an affirmative behaviour course and learned to say, ‘I’m honoured to have been asked to take on Task X, but of course the only way I could do that is by giving up/being less effective at Task Y, which I’m sure isn’t what you want.’ Nice technique – and it works.
Now, as I look back, I wonder about the Good Girl role. I suspect people still take it, because they’re so grateful simply to be asked – simply to be in a job. Throughout my career I’ve watched some men (mostly) do all sorts of fancy footwork to avoid taking the roles which cut into your research time (head of department, exams officer…). Getting a reputation as someone who can’t be trusted with these roles takes some serious preparation! And then the same reliable, safe pair of hands is given yet another important and unglamorous role, which may even damage that person’s career. Sometimes, taking the admin roles is an avoidance technique – no chance to do some serious research = no risk of making a mess of it. In other cases, the person offering wants to do it as a stepping-stone to something higher up the university food chain. But in most cases, I think, it’s just that the person offering to take on the role realises that it has to be done.
Learning how to retire, then, is already meaning that I say no, that I don’t volunteer, and that I withdraw from decisions which won’t affect me because I’ll have left. It means going against some patterns of behaviour I’ve been in for years. That feels uncomfortable but, if I’m going to learn how to retire, it needs to start now!