I am approaching retirement after forty plus years of working in the computer industry or teaching in higher education or universities. Along the way, I have done a number of interesting things but I find myself saying that I am retiring to pursue the things that I want to do and to be who I want to be. I am revolting against being forced to conform and be someone that I am not.
I often wonder how many others are crying inside saying “let me be who I am and not what you think I should be.” I fear that some of them who resolve to be free turn to violence and become something that they end up loathing more than what they were trying to escape from in the first place. Others simply give up and try and escape in activities away from the daily grind for survival. Is this really what life is all about?
This blog is stimulated by the situation that I find myself in but I was also motivated by some reading that I am currently doing on peacebuilding (Francis, 2010). She was reflecting on people movements and in particular how some people movements started by women with no formal education change when they become funded so that the originators of the movement are no longer involved. This happens because the funding organisation seeks professionals to run the movement and not amateurs. In the process, the movement loses its original focus and becomes what it can obtain funds to achieve.
As I look back over my life, I see a number of recurring patterns related to this theme. I am a problem solver and technician. I enjoy the challenge of making things work or of uncovering the underlying problems. However, I found frequently, I was being pushed to take on managerial roles or in the role that I was in, they have added a whole swag of managerial type tasks. In nearly every case, I have rebelled by moving on or in some cases getting in and doing the technical work that was required rather than the managerial work. Most of my managers never understood and I suspect still don’t. Promotion systems rely on people seeking to move up the ranks into management but not all want to be managers. Quite frankly some of us don’t want management roles at all.
Let me give some examples. In the late 1980s I was working for a company that ran a computer bureau operation. I initially went in as a programmer supporting a bank. The asked me to manage the introduction of IBM’s new AS400 into the bureau. A bureau operation is different to how these machines were used within companies so we needed to ensure that they were configured to match our security requirements. Those who supported these systems contended that we could not achieve what we wanted to achieve because what we wanted wasn’t how they did things with these machines. I was supposed to be the manager but I demanded the manuals and set about verifying whether they were correct. I quickly discovered that they weren’t correct but that the conventions in the use of these machines was to use the super user to maintain all the software on the system. I set about setting up what we wanted partly because the people who were supposed to do it for me flatly refused. The technician in me loved solving the problem. I didn’t enjoy the management issues of getting someone else to get it right.
Later in education, I was asked to prepare a proposal for the introduction of a degree programme. Once we had it through the approval processes and were implementing it, I was asked to manage the programme. Sorry managing the programme isn’t me so I found myself a position that would allow me to return to the technical work and when that migrated back to managerial tasks, I resigned again and moved back to a teaching role.
I look at why I am not getting a large number of research outputs in my current role and I could argue that it is because the role is focused on teaching but there is a deeper problem. Research roles once you get past the original qualifying work (i.e. obtaining a PhD and getting a base research history) are not about doing the research. They are about obtaining research funding, recruiting novice researchers, and managing the research process. Although I have seen a number of things achieved through student final year projects and with a PhD student, I find myself frustrated because the ideas that I have are not being implemented. They are being distorted. I find my knowledge base is secondary knowledge and not primary knowledge (although I admit for teaching preparation, I do experiment with the ideas and technology so I have a practical working knowledge). I love the experimentation that goes with learning new things. I enjoy the challenge of experimentation and implementation. I do not get that as a manager or in the roles that I find a university wants me to be. I can not be a teacher who teaches from someone else’s materials. I have to teach from what I understand and know. This means there is a huge overhead when I am asked to teach something that is not part of my background and it becomes worse when what I am asked to teach is not something that interests me. I teach from my knowledge base which I work to expand and through interaction with the learners. In the process my knowledge and their knowledge grows.
As I watch crowds of people going to and from work, and receive calls from people being paid to pester people with marketing that they don’t want to receive, I am not surprised by the problems that we have in this world. How many of these people are actually finding fulfilment in the work that they are employed to do? They work because the system says that this is the way to earn money. They don’t work for enjoyment or to improve things for others. Each day is the same old drudge just to earn a little more.
I suspect in my retirement that I may need to supplement my income from time to time with work but I am determined that the focus will be on things that I want to do and see as valuable and not things dictated to me by a system that I no longer see as valuable or support.
If you are a manager and reading this then please give your workers space to be themselves and to explore things that they want to do. Let them find out who they are and give them space to develop some of the characteristics that make them who they really are. If you work for a funding agency then give the movement you are funding space to be able to keep those people involved who set the movement going even if they don’t have the qualification and credentials you desire. You will get more from people if they find that what they are doing allows them to be who they are and to find enjoyment in what they are doing.
Francis, D. (2010). From pacification to peacebuilding: A call to global transformation. England: Pluto Press.