Last night I was talking with a librarian friend who was bemoaning the conduct of the Chair of her ALA-division committee. This person was acting in an unprofessional manner, making comments about the committee’s work and future that probably shouldn’t have been made. Part of the problem is that she’s been paid – often – to present on and talk about the committee’s work, and yet she was being rotated off the committee.
I’ve seen this before, in several of my friends and colleagues as they retire or rotate off committees, etc.: they start to question who they are, what they can do without the stamp of this job, this career, this committee. You’ve probably seen it, too. Here’s the thing that bothers me most – don’t these people have other interests? how can they see themselves as being so tied to one definition that they can’t imagine themselves not being that any longer?
Years ago, in my pre-librarian days, I worked for a three-partner executive recruiting firm. The partners ranged in age from 67 to 82. The oldest was mostly retired, coming in to the office once or twice a month on his trips to NYC; he sold his share and moved to Arizona and spent the final few years of his life in warmth and golfing. The two younger partners, on the other hand, couldn’t see themselves retiring. Before the oldest left, he’d had a conversation with the next oldest about his retiring. Partner 2’s response? “What would I do?” Now, this was a man who loved photography, loved jazz and enjoyed travel… yet he couldn’t think of anything to do if he retired. Even the thought of cutting back, of working fewer days and easing into a more relaxed schedule was beyond his ken.
No big surprise, the two younger partners never retired and died very nearly at their desks.
On the other hand, there’s a woman I used to work with, whose husband kept “failing upward” (he worked for one Major Corporation which got taken over and received a golden parachute… then another… and another… nice work if you can get it!). At the age of slightly under 50 she retired and has reported that she’s not sure how she ever found time to work, because all the other things she’d squeezed into her life before had now blossomed. My uncle retired nearly 20 years ago and hasn’t looked back.
That’s given me pause for thought. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a school librarian. I love helping people find “just the right book” and showing them how to do research and find credible information. You want a Fountain of Youth? Work with teens and you’ll never totally grow old. But… I’m not my job. I’m not my profession. I’m not the committees I work on or the divisions of ALA to which I belong. I was helping people find information and recommending books before I got my MLS and I suspect I’ll be doing that long after I leave librarianship.
When I retire, there won’t be the anger, angst and floundering that I’ve seen in too many of my library peers. What about you? Aren’t you more than your titles and commitments?