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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lost, but gradually finding my way back. I think.

OK, there is no easy way to say this, so I'll just spit it out:

Going back to work after being on sabbatical totally sucked.

Was it worth it? Completely. Even with the beginning and end transitions being so hard.

Did I learn stuff. Of course. Plenty of new skills and improvements in process and quality. But the most important things I learned were quantum lessons. You know, the hugely tiny things that change how you think. I can sum these up in 3 points:

1) Apparently I do exist outside my job - after 25 years I wasn't really sure.
2) Apparently the program can run without me, albeit due to the strong curriculum and a great group of part time folks who filled in for me.
3) And because of points 1 and 2, I will retire the minute I qualify for a full pension.

This last point came as a big surprise to me. I love my job (OK I didn't love it at all for the first month or so going back) and I really enjoy the teaching, the students and my colleagues. But I now know for sure that there are others things for me to do, and that there will be good people who will carry the torch. This has been strangely liberating. Tentative exit date: June 2017. Not that far away, thanks to my early start in this profession.

I decided to start easing myself back into the college environment in the last couple of weeks of August. Just an afternoon here, a morning there. A few hours with a bonus lunch date thrown in. And it was still pretty tough. I think that returning to work after a year away is difficult under the best of circumstances (think what post vacation days feel like and multiply by about 100) but I went back to a lot of change and upheaval. So nothing at all was really the same as when I left.

And this was another lesson to learn. I'm good with change - really - but only when I initiate it. When I have had time to consider the options, do the research and put all the plans in place, I'm all for it. Feels natural even. But when the change comes from outside, when it goes deeply against my values and knowledge, when there is loss, well then I am awful at change. But that's likely true for most people.

I felt very lost for a while. And so very busy that I had no time for making things. Or, if there was time I had no energy left. I wrote to my friend Richard Sewell (now retired from the college) this week, and told him this:
The halcyon days of making things in my little studio, listening to the CBC and looking out at the changing landscape seem far away now. Instead it's back to a windowless office, tons of marking and more prep than I would have liked. On the upside, the 'kids' are as lovely as always and I am working hard to make time for at least a weekly coffee with friends this semester.
So there is yet another lesson learned - that I need people! I have written before about this. If I am serious about leaving work in a few years, I need to be more proactive about gathering people. So far, a group of us have (mostly) managed a half hour together each week. And what a difference that is making. Additionally, due to scheduling, I have more overlap time with my part time faculty. All of whom seem to like to use my tiny office simultaneously. This is great - so much energy and sharing of ideas. And yes even lunch sometimes.

I'm feeling like I am (finally) finding way again. The work load is still horrific, but I've caught my breath a bit and am making some little bits of time for little pieces of me. OK, so I've only made one thing in the past 6 weeks. But it is better than nothing!

And now it is almost Thanksgiving. And I am thankful for the past year. And even thankful for the year to come too.

Now that the sabbatical is over, I suppose I should update the theme of this blog. This weekend. And I've got a couple of posts to catch up on, so stay tuned for those too. Hopefully it will not be Christmas before I have new work to share.