Saturday, July 21, 2007

retreat (v.)

to flee, backtrack, run away without looking back, often while very exhausted from too many hours of togetherness with colleagues

I am home.

While the retreat wasn't nearly the horror that I dreaded so completely, I don't think I'd go again. I didn't sleep well. My head hurt progressively badly. I spaced out during some decent presentations that just kept coming. And even having skipped the major social event last night, there was just far too much of the people and talking and energy.

To be fair, there are many positives to events such as the one I attended. It is - or should be - a perk of being in a given department. To look around and note what you've done well, find some shared vision of where you hope to go, a chance to learn and discuss, to present your work and gather compliments and ideas, to step back and take a break from the daily tasks, eat and drink and yawn together. And - in all honesty - I thought this event was done very well. The schedule was smooth and stayed true throughout the meeting. There was humor and people provided attentive questions and comments. I very much enjoyed talking to some colleagues and feel more comfortable with my knowledge level of what goes on from the large scale view.

All of that is lovely. I'm glad I went so that I know it's not awful. I did get something out of it.

But.

I can't take that much of many people. Dawn happens to be someone who hit my tolerance level and continue to shove at it. I believe, for example, in being polite. If someone mentions she just passed her preliminary examination but sighs over not knowing what she wants to do after she graduates in another year or two, I will congratulate her on her achievement and offer my confidence that she'll figure out her next step. There is, after all, plenty of time. Dawn, in contrast, will speak of how difficult her exam was and how wonderful her performance was, then will tsk and shake her head over "anyone our age who doesn't know what they want to do next. That's just sad."

"You shouldn't get married if you can't live in the same city as your wife!" She declared after hearing about a colleague's wedding plans. "That's just wrong."

"It is very disrespectful to show up late." She agreed when a delightful woman mentioned she felt badly for being tardy on the first day. "If people come to your talk, it's horrible to miss theirs."

I blinked at her in surprise the first couple times she did it - said the exact opposite of the soothing and kind remark I was making. But that's OK - she has a right to her opinion, I suppose. But - given that I never agreed and was often abashed at people's reactions to her - I tried to distance myself as much as possible. It's bad when you start to see your retreat buddy as a liability.

I did voice my disagreement in each case, making strong statements that attempted to smooth over the awkward moments after her comments and offering my support of people's choices. First, I think it's fine to get married when you want to, regardless of your living situation. Don't feel too badly about being late to talks - there was never all that much to miss and I don't believe in making someone feel worse about a situation she already regrets. But, honestly. Who says stuff like that?! To strangers!

Dawn thought she forgot her glasses as we were ready to leave, insisting upon unpacking her bags, requesting a key since we'd checked out hours earlier, returning to her room then finding a housekeeper to track down the pesky item. This took more than 30 minutes and a careless "Sorry." was offered for having made 3 of us wait when I was desperate to get home (I'd Had Enough.) The whole situation irked me more than it likely should have, so I sighed and faced the window. I feared I'd yell at her if she tried to tell me one more inane story with far too much detail (Her: "He went to MIT. No, UAB. No, Minnesota. Wait, I think it was Texas!" Me (to self): You were telling me about his cat. I don't care where your friend went to school unless it plays a role in the story. Hell, even if it plays a role in the story! Just get to the interesting part!).

I'm inadvertently making my point by making my complaints, lame as they are. When I focus on learning more - about the department or Dawn - there exists the possibility that I won't like all I find. It turns out that I'll never be great friends with Dawn, though I had high hopes. The department is highly impressive - filled with brilliant minds, tremendous resources and awesome potential. I think that's wonderful and wish these people all the best. I just won't be here to see it after this time next year.

It isn't that the department and Dawn are wrong. In fact, it could be that they're absolutely correct. But I don't fit - they rub me the wrong way, making me eager for distractions, the quick passage of time and escape.

So, for me, for here, for now, I pick the verb. I would like to retreat. But I don't need to do so immediately - there's time to finish up and look for the next place that might work better for me. And in knowing more about what I'm turning away from, I become more confident in my decision. That's good.

So, the moral of this story is that retreat - noun or verb - isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Oh, and Mom is feeling better. The doctors think it was a virus that seems to have eased. Her fever is gone, appetite is slowly returning and she sounds much, much better. I adore you all that thought of her. And if you ever have a retreat, I will happily come.

3 comments:

Grad007 said...

Hi Katie,

Glad you survived the retreat!

I think people who say things to make other people feel worse rather than better are expressing their own insecurity.

Do you happen to know of a polite way of asking someone to tell their stories without extraneous information? I wish I knew.

JustMe said...

i agree with grad007. that situation and dawn would make me want to retreat as well!

so glad your mom is better!

The Contessa said...

First - I am thrilled your mom is doing better.

Secondly - I hate traveling with Colleagues. You always learn more than you wanted about them and it invariably makes the job harder.

I would have retreated too!

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