Becoming invisible

One of the side effects of giving notice is that nobody notices you.

Because I work at The Open University, I don’t ‘go to work’ very often. Most days, I am tied to my computer at home, reading, writing, dealing with email, engaging with students on online forums, having phone or Skype meetings with colleagues and PhD students. Last week I was at my official workplace for two days and, because everyone chairing a module had to be in to sign off the resit marks, so were lots of my colleagues from across the university – people I’ve worked with in other parts of the former Arts Faculty or from other faculties, usually met on training events or on committees. I had time for some in-depth conversations with some and a certain amount of waving and ‘nice to see you!’ with others.

But, for the first time, I experienced something which I think I’ll see a lot more before I leave: the invisibility thing.

This is how it works. Someone sees you and you see them. But then their gaze passes over you – you’re no longer registered as mattering. You’ve announced you are leaving so your views are no longer relevant, your support is no longer worth having, and your value has plummeted. Some people have said to me that they thought I’d already left – which in one sense, I suppose, I have.

To describe the moving gaze in terms of invisibility may sound harsh; maybe they were concentrating on something else at that moment? But that was how it felt. It’s the flip side of the gradual withdrawal which I think has to happen in the six months of my notice period before I leave in January. For example, I don’t think it benefits the rest of my subject area within the OU if I go along to represent my colleagues at an event about the REF or about a new initiative. I can no longer work myself up to the right level of enthusiasm and I don’t think I ‘represent’ those who aren’t leaving. New initiatives mean setting up working groups, but why would I be on one of those when I’ll be gone before the second meeting happens?

Of course, this isn’t Logan’s Run. I’m not walking round with a flashing light on my palm that lets everyone know I’m retiring. So there will still be people who, so far, are unreached by the grapevine and who are therefore going to talk to me normally, and my lovely colleagues from my own subject area won’t be deserting me at meal times. I still have some relevance in some areas, and I’m already involved in making sure those who are taking over some of my roles have the information they need to make those roles their own. In the past week there have been some satisfying moments of closure, when something I had worked for became a reality, but there will be plenty of loose ends to pass on to others. A gradual handover and some shadowing benefit the institution.

But those moments of invisibility are a useful reminder that I’m on the home straight now.


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