Today is my last day by which I will go by the name Dean. The end of the term of my appointment became a topic of conscious reality about one year ago now, with the first inklings of a process to find my successor. Since then, it's been a process of "counting down", accentuated by the "countdown" meter here on my blog. And now that meter reads "zero" (even though there are still 12 hours left as I write this). The counting down process has been an interesting one, sometimes having it seem to be a period that was lasting an eternity that I couldn't wait to end, and at other times a period of great consternation, wondering what it would mean for me when it really did arrive.
I realized earlier this month one incredibly great thing it would mean: no more Mr. Neat and Tidy! For ten years now I have been dressing up in button shirts and (lightly) pressed pants pretty much every working day and I've been keeping my beard neatly trimmed in order to fit the requirements of the job. Finally, no more! Now I can relax and adopt a more natural look and feel about my person. I recognize, of course, that such an observation might strike some people as, well, rather absurd, but there you have it. I suppose that most people would not view me as having put much effort at all into looking neat and tidy, but for me, it has been part of the persona I have had to create at least for myself so that I could see myself in the role of "leader". On occasion, that even went to extremes (for me). Early on in my role, there was a University event held that was announced to require formal wear, black tie optional. That was a real crisis for me and I have been forever thankful that no other such events, as best as I can recall (or at least to which I have been invited!), have required that. At the time I did go out and buy a suit and some shiny black shoes -- which I have even worn on a few other occasions over the years (frequently provoking comments from colleagues and family members). I suppose I will continue to own that suit -- and not pass it on to Big Brothers which is where many of my collared shirts and pants-that-require-ironing are going, as soon as the next pick-up call comes) -- but I do have my doubts about how many times it will emerge from the back corner of our closet.
So, I now get to step out of that particular role and recreate myself. One perceptive colleague noted one aspect of this already: I would go from being Andrew to being Andy upon leaving my office.That may be, although I think I may still be inclined to introduce myself more formally on most occasions. And its probably true of the shirts too -- I'll likely hold on to a few MEC ones because they are pretty comfortable when you come down to it. It is other sorts of changes that are more difficult to apply the principles of strategic planning to. Will I be willing to give up checking my email incessantly and responding reasonably quickly? Will I no longer concern myself with the "fate of the humanities" or the level of government funding to post-secondary education? And will I give up caring about the aspirations and concerns of the many fine people I have worked with over the past ten years?
It's unlikely that any of those questions will really be answered in the negative. But ultimately, recreating myself does mean setting new priorities. And perhaps that's the biggest challenge of this moment of coming to the end of my term. How to decide on those priorities? Of course I do want to kayak aimlessly, backpack endlessly, and run that damn marathon, and each of those things will find its place and its level of engagement. And I have lots of obligations (especially in the next six months) on the academic side. It's become more a long-term issue to reflect upon, I think, that takes me back to where I started a few moments ago: the countdown. I'm now on leave: 2 years of it. 24 months. 731 days (it's a lucky thing 2012 is a leap year according to my reckoning). Those too will tick by as quickly, if not even more quickly (obviously!), as the past 10 years (120 months, 3652 days) have.
Countering those sorts of thoughts must be the absolutely truthful assertion that I am incredibly lucky: to have a career I enjoy such a lot in which I get privileges well beyond what most people ever enjoy. So, it's really a matter of making sure I make the most of that privilege. A little less planning about what has to be done next will help a lot.