April 22, 2015 by Jean
When I was working, I was very engaged in my workplace – the type of faculty member who cared deeply about students, worked hard at making improvements to the institution and its curriculum, was regularly tapped to chair committees and departments, and whose opinions were respected. Based on that record, many expected me to remain deeply engaged with the institution when I retired.
Although I didn’t expect the same level of engagement that others seemed to expect of me, I also didn’t expect to react the way a close friend did when she retired a number of years ago from the directorship of an educational program that she had founded and that had been, in her words, her “life’s work.” I was shocked at how quickly she disengaged. Only a few months after she retired, when the new program director contacted her for advice, she had none to offer, explaining that she had “put all that behind her” and no longer thought about these issues. At the time, I attributed her rapid disengagement to the adverse circumstances (lack of support from top administrators) that had precipitated her retirement.
So I was surprised when, during lunch with a former colleague on my first day back visiting my former workplace, she asked me, “If you could change just one thing about the institution, what would it be?” and I heard myself responding that the question was difficult to answer because I hadn’t been giving the institution and its issues much thought. It turns out that as I moved away physically and emotionally into my new life, I too quickly disengaged.
As I spent a week in Gettysburg, however, much of it on campus and visiting with former co-workers, I found myself becoming re-engaged. I checked out the new retirement incentive package and discussed it with friends. And I found myself becoming especially re-engaged with the politics of space on campus, something I had long involvement with during my employment at the College as a member (and sometimes chair) of a department with serious space issues. As I discussed current space controversies with friends, I found myself becoming passionate about them and eloquent about the symbolic meanings of space.
Now, a week after returning home, I am wondering what I was so worked up about. Once again, physical distance seems to to have brought emotional distance. All of this leads me to think that a retiree’s engagement with or disengagement from the former workplace may be a function of on-going relationship to that workplace. Continuing to live near the former workplace, interacting regularly with those who still work there, and visiting the workplace frequently are all factors that are likely to generate continued engagement.
Now I am wondering whether I will become re-engaged with an educational institution that I worked for in the 1980s, before I began my career in Gettysburg. My home in Maine is only a few miles from this early workplace, and I have a number of friends and acquaintances who work there. I also attend events on campus several times a year with some of those friends. All the members of my W.O.W. retiree group are recently retired from this same institution, and two of them are on campus regularly to use retiree office space. When we all got together for lunch yesterday, a recent campus controversy was the first topic of conversation. I can’t really imagine that I will start caring about the politics of an institution that I parted ways with decades ago. But will the years that have elapsed since I was a committed and deeply engaged member of that faculty offset the influence of proximity, interactions with employees, and visits to campus? Time will tell.