One of my first ‘retirements’, from ballet dancing, was caused by physical injury. ‘Toe dancing’ too early had led to painful, overdeveloped arches in my feet. Later, at Monash University, I moved on to 'modern dance', dancing in bare feet which I loved doing.
As a teacher with the Education Department in secondary schools for 20 years, I had many ‘leavings’, from different school contexts, many movings on, rarely staying in a school for more than three years. I became accustomed to ‘letting go’ of work roles, of communities.
My first retirement or ‘significant leaving’ from teaching in Victoria’s secondary schools came at 42 when I 'retired' from teaching to pursue my earlier career preference of social work. I was amongst those given a farewell speech Flemington High School at the end of 1990, with another farewell speech at Melbourne University where I worked two days a week on secondment in the Education Faculty. Going through some farewell cards recently I reminisced as I read through the names of those who had signed cards at the time. This wasn’t a sad or demoralising retirement; I had achieved my goals in teaching and was ready for a new challenge as a social worker.
I still have unresolved issues about a ‘did she jump or was she pushed’ departure from a challenging position as a social worker in a large employment related bureaucracy (say no more!) after a year’s work. Always glad I ‘dipped my foot into the waters’ of this role, it wasn’t a ‘good fit’ for my preferred working style. It took time to heal from feeling I had not quite made the grade, something which hadn’t happened to me before. But – some jobs aren’t a good fit and to me the necessary ‘social control’ role of social workers in this bureaucracy was an anathema. There was also an increasingly unresolvable fit with my immediate manager!
There can be an element of unresolved trauma if transitioning to retirement from a somewhat toxic workplace, but also a sense of relief. I had a later glimpse of the complexity of retirement when I returned to my teaching position at TAFE from long service leave in 2010. Knowing I would be back, I had worked hard to leave timetables to work like clockwork until I returned. The new head of our department in Shepparton, and the person who replaced me as coordinator in Wangaratta, seemed to have thought that I wouldn’t be returning. I returned to find they felt they had to ‘recreate the wheel’, turning cartwheels to understand and coordinate a number of courses I was responsible for at two campuses. In the process, they had developed a sense of ownership, and seemed surprised when I returned. I felt animosity, rather than welcome on my return, for at least the first three months, yet knew that I needed to complete the final two years before I became eligible for the pension.
I guess that’s what happens in a football team… when the regular player returns, the person or people who had been possibly enjoying and achieving in the role feel displaced; the return of the permanent incumbent to them a two-edged sword.
I survived the challenges faced, persevering in a job I treasured, however always with a clear plan to retire formally at year’s end, two months after my 65th birthday. It was time. I felt that my role had been worthwhile, however, I was tired. I’d become tired of adjusting to constant changes in a decade of spending cutbacks in the TAFE sector, was frustrated by ‘micromanagement’ and was supporting my soon to turn 100 mother who was in a Benalla nursing home and who was of great importance to me.
I didn’t want to be managed anymore! I wanted to slow down, and I wanted to manage myself!