Thursday, July 7, 2016

The First Day

On Friday morning, Canada Day, I woke up with a sentence in my mind. The sentence was, "Today is the first day of the rest of my life." A cliche, yes, but also a propos to my current circumstances. As of July 1st, I have left my position as an administrator, and am beginning a ten month leave from work. 

I have written here before about my frustrations with work, and my struggle to find some sort of work-life balance. Although there have been many satisfactions in my work role and a tremendous opportunity for learning, my frustrations have primarily centred on the extremely long hours and high stress of the position. I have also struggled to become comfortable with and feel part of the culture of this organization (and this city and province). Many times I have wondered about my decision to take this position, which has seemed like a strange zig zag in terms of my career interests. I have also written about how exhausted I feel after my long hours of work, and how I have felt that I have had to defer so many other things - time with family, a social life, my writing, my art, travel, and outdoor pursuits like skiing and hiking - due to the all-consuming maw of work. I also realized how unhealthy my excessive working was when I broke a bone last year and it failed to heal. For the past year, I have begun to muse about retirement. 

So this last month has been a surprise to me, because, as it has turned out, I have found it to be quite difficult to let go of my work. For weeks, I have had my head down working, very focused on finishing up projects and developing a transition plan for my team. I gradually extricated myself from each project and committee, and did not take on any new projects. I met with various team members and committees and said my good-byes. 

The final week of June was moving week. My assistant had ordered boxes and booked movers to come mid-week to move me to another office in another building. However, I needed to pack and unpack the boxes myself. As I have moved offices several times before, I have a system, and I did it all in an orderly manner. In the space of four days, I packed and then unpacked 27 boxes (2-cubes), mostly with books and papers. It involved a lot of climbing up to get books off of and then put them onto high bookshelves. By Thursday, I was physically tired and sore all over. 

During these days, I also spent time going through all the hard copy files that I left behind for the next person to fill my role, and throwing out a lot of no longer relevant material and my hand-written notes from meetings, etc. I also went through my electronic files, editing and organizing them and setting up a shared folder for the next person. As I have written here before, it is a strange and disconcerting feeling to realize that much of the history, knowledge, and information about the position and projects is in my head and goes away from the job with me. It seemingly "disappears."

Besides the hard work of packing up and unpacking, I found it was an emotional time. I felt sad to be leaving my team and colleagues. When I come back from my leave, I will have a different role, and will not be working with many of my present colleagues. I felt sad to be leaving my career path. Now I am making another zig zag, and with change comes uncertainty. It also was hard to step away from the projects themselves. I was personally invested in them and had poured a lot of effort into them. 

So with the focus on finishing up and transitioning out, I had put little thought into what came next - my leave period. On my last day, Thursday, I came home feeling not glee, as I had expected, but grief for what I was leaving. I also was so very, very tired. 

A few days have passed. I have slept a lot. I have sat out on the patio, reading a little, but mostly just looking at the trees and the gardens. I have gardened a bit and cooked a bit. And now we have set off on a five-day camping tour. I know leaving my position was the right thing to do, and I feel tremendous relief that I will no longer feel the pressures and responsibilities of that job. I made some good contributions during my time in the position, and now it is time for someone else to take it on. 

I am still dreaming work dreams every night. But I am also starting to feel more rested. One of these days soon it is going to hit me that I don't have to go to work and my time is my own for these next ten months. I am getting a fresh start on the rest of my life. 


  1. "A fresh start on the rest of your life" is a perfect attitude and a great approach. I look forward to reading about the rest of your journey from here.

  2. Thanks Donna. I guess transitions are always hard, but they are also great times of opportunity and change.


  3. Congratulations on accomplishing the leave-taking so smoothly! It sounds like you did all that was possible - and probably more - to make a skillful exit and a thoughtful hand-off to your replacement.

    The next ten months will be exciting, indeed. I am 16.5 months newly retired and still learning how to craft a life without job as the centerpiece, so I can sort of identify with at least parts of what you are going through. Looking forward to hearing more about this new journey.

  4. Kathleen, thank-you for your kind words. Yes, the ten months will be great, and a chance to think about and try out a different, less work-obsessed approach to life. I have been pleased to find that others, like yourself, are writing about your experiences with transitioning to retirement. It is tremendously helpful. For me, this leave is a tentative first step.