A few weeks ago I submitted my annual “activities report” to the department and the college. Completing this report is the dreaded and hated and tedious chore of recording what I accomplish each year. The 2014 report, however, has led to some reflection on the difference between productivity and “satisfying work” at this stage of life/career. That book about youth suicide…it languishes in boxes of notes, inside desktop file and folder icons (dutifully color-coded by chapter numbers), and on shelves full of “essential” readings for the project. Each year the activities report reminds me how long I’ve been trying to produce a manuscript. (The electronically-generated report dutifully fills in “starting” and “end” dates for my entries!) This year the report suggests that I should think carefully about why my knitting needles seem to accomplish more than my computer keyboard! Writing is still a pleasure; writing within the confines of academic research, I’m finding less and less so. If I could pursue the joy in writing, what would I write? The activities report expects me to write for other scholars; for whom would I write if satisfaction rather than productivity guided my efforts?
When I examine the “activities” on my report, I see many entries documenting my involvement in the department’s small graduate program. Some of these activities relate to teaching and mentoring graduate students. Most, however, get recorded as “service,” and they do not count as productive output. Running a small MA program that is educating fewer than 20 students each year — when I write that line, I’m reminded that others may think the effort involved must be minimal and secretarial, not evidence of productivity. Certainly I did as recently as a few years ago. Yet as I recorded each activity from 2014 it was with an awareness of how deeply rewarding it is to provide a forum where a new generation of historians, many of whom will teach or find careers in public history, will hone their skills and graduate ready to keep alive and pass along an appreciation of the past and the value of connecting it to the present. Aiding new scholars to find joy in research and writing, helping them to turn vague ideas into meaningful words – that work is far more satisfying now than producing yet another conference paper. It deserves my time.
When and how did this change in perception happen? Perhaps when I began to create an alumni list for the graduate program and discovered where past generations of graduate students had landed? Perhaps when I found I’d rather blog than “write?” Perhaps after the deaths of my parents, as I began to think about legacy, about the footprints left behind as we journey on?
Letting go of the guilt generated by the empty boxes on my “activities report?” Letting wash over me the “evaluation” of my end-stage activities by colleagues who are not there yet? It’s a slow and painful process – but one I find I want to embrace as I “transition to retirement.”
And by the way, I’m tagging this post “superannuated professor and increasingly proud of the title.”