Letting Go

Well, this website’s basically done, but I’m still polishing, which is basically a restatement of the old 80-20 rule: you spend 80% of your time working on the last 20% of a project. Our Game Design and Development students were constantly confronted by this in their video game projects, and their games’ lack of polish often defeated them, which was a valuable lesson to learn before diving into the very intense games industry for real.

One of the game projects that I was involved with lasted on-and-off for over 2 years, and the consistent comment from several reviewers was, “Great idea but needs more polish.” Actually, my part in that project is summarized in “Sounds from the Garden: Butt Music from Hell”, which can be found elsewhere on this website.

I’ve also been doing a lot of curating – curating the content of my old RIT website to create this one, curating all the RIT folders on my computer, curating my RIT office to bring a very small part of it home, curating stuff in my studio/office and the bookshelves in the living room to make room for the curated stuff from my RIT office.

Curating is the right term, because it feels as if I’ve been rummaging through a backwater museum that’s in desperate need of an update. I really don’t need the folders of notes from the courses I took in gradual school. I think I can let go the of the materials I created for a Software Scripting course I taught in the mid 1990’s that used ToolBook and HyperCard to introduce freshmen to programming concepts. Multiply that by about 100. I even recycled about 80 MS thesis manuscripts from committees I chaired in the 1980’s (I saved about a dozen favorites). The one concession I made was to purchase a 4-drawer filing cabinet for the basement, and I’m proud to say that 2 of the drawers are still empty after everything has more or less landed!

I’ve also been curating my mind to keep the things that I want to live with and letting go of the things that can’t matter any more. I say can’t instead of don’t, and that’s an important distinction. It’s not that things I left behind at RIT don’t matter. They do matter; otherwise why did I put in 39 years caring deeply about them? They can’t matter because they belong to the folks who remain at RIT, not to me. Will they “get it”? Maybe. Will they handle things as well as I did? Of course not! (Hey, if you believe in what you do, how can you answer modestly?) Will RIT collapse without me? No.

So I’d say that’s the bottom line on retirement: letting go.

Over the last couple of years, when I’ve told folks I’d decided to retire, I’ve gotten the usual responses: “What’ll you do?”, “Won’t you miss it?”, “That’s too bad!”, “Congratulations!”. When I’ve told RIT folks, I’ve invariably gotten, “How long will you transition?”.

RIT (and I’m sure other employers as well) offers a retirement transition, where you can go halftime for half your pay for up to 3 years and retain all your other benefits. It’s a nice thing to do for employees, but honestly, I never considered it. Why would I take half my salary to still have my head in the game?

My reply to the transition question was that I had been transitioning for the last few years by extricating myself from as many committees as I could and trying to focus on what I wanted to do instead of where I was “needed” to “make a difference”. I had shed official administrative positions several years ago, and I resisted attempts to reinstate me in some of those positions, not entirely out of selfishness, but also because I sincerely believe that I would not have been effective enough to compensate for the stress.

As an aside, the current term at RIT for “administrative position” is “leadership position”, but administrators aren’t necessarily leaders. In academia, administrators are usually faculty who take their turn in the barrel pursuing administrative duties. For me, being department chair in CS was a great thing to have been but a lousy thing to be for 3 1/3 years. Being undergrad program coordinator in IT was somewhat more sustainable, so I did that for 13 years. However, leadership emerged from the faculty and was facilitated by the administration when things worked well.

Anyway, for me there is no such thing as being half there, partly because a faculty position is not hourly employment. There are always things you can do – for next fall’s classes, for an upcoming conference, for an ongoing project. There is seldom a sense of closure, and that’s compounded in administrative positions. At this point in the calendar year, when fall is looming and classes are starting, I find myself falling into habitual mixed feelings of regret and panic. Regret that I didn’t complete a small fraction of what I intended to get done this summer, and panic because classes are starting, and I’ve got to get everything nailed down NOW.

Then I remember. I’ve retired. There are no classes to teach. There are no paper deadlines. The summer continues indefinitely. Life is good!

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