Avoid the Trap of Saying ‘Yes’ Too Often

Arlene Garrison cautions about taking on too much, too soon, in retirement
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Arlene Garrison, ACS Fellow
Arlene Garrison, ACS Fellow

Dr. Arlene Garrison retired in 2020 from Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) as vice president for university partnerships. Her first career was with the University of Tennessee, where her final role was associate vice president for research. She has bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and electrical engineering, and a PhD in analytical chemistry. Her research focused on sensors for chemical process control.  

Arlene is former chair of the Division of Business Development and Management and is currently chair of the Senior Chemists Committee and alternate councilor for the East Tennessee Local Section. She is a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and had the privilege of carrying the Olympic Torch as it traveled to Atlanta in 1996.   

Did you choose retirement? Or was it chosen for you?

My first retirement in 2010 was my decision. Thirty years of service at the University of Tennessee provided excellent benefits, with no barriers to my encore career at ORAU. My second retirement was also my choice, although in hindsight the timing could have been better.

How was the transition from the working world to retirement? 

May 2020 was certainly not an optimum time for a retirement transition. My celebratory trip and my plans to spend time with grandsons were significantly impacted by COVID. Work Zoom meetings changed into volunteer and family Zoom meetings, which did not feel very much like retirement.

Looking back, what do you wish you knew about retirement before you retired? 

Retirement creates available time, and I was not as aggressive as I needed to be about saying no!

So far, what has surprised you most about retirement?

After some experiments, I found I like getting up early. My plan had been to sleep late every day, and I quickly found that to be very boring.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Assuming they would listen, what’s your best advice for someone in their 20s/30s?

Learn to manage your commitments, and say no.

What do you enjoy most about being retired?

It is great to have the opportunity for long chats with friends, and even better now that they can be in person over coffee or on a long walk.

What’s the biggest challenge you have confronted to this point in your retirement? 

There are a few tasks I had planned to tackle as soon as I retired, such as cleaning out files and archiving photo albums. Progress has taken much longer than I expected on downsizing my junk and simplifying my life. It is clear to me now why I never found time for this while working.

How do you stay connected to the chemistry enterprise as a retiree? 

During the pandemic, Zoom has been the best way to stay connected. Professional meetings are my preferred way to stay current. It has been exciting to attend the Southwest and Southeast ACS regional meetings this fall, and I look forward to San Diego in March.

What’s a travel destination you can’t wait to get back to? 

I am looking forward to a long visit to the beach this winter. It’s my favorite time to watch waves and walk on the beach when crowds are light and the breeze is cool.

What do you like most about where you are living in retirement? What’s one thing you wish you could change about where you live?

Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on Melton Lake is my retirement home base. I love the small town, short drives, slow pace of life, and being close to Knoxville with sports, a wide variety of restaurants, an airport, and entertainment options. It would be great to have an active lifestyle retirement community on the lake.

What guidance do you have for people who are getting ready to retire?

You really need to have a plan. Bill Carroll presented an excellent course through the ACS Webinars program: Skydiving into Retirement: How to Actively Manage the Transition. I also found a great book, “I’m Retired. Now What?” by Stephanie Peterson Jones that helped me evaluate options and set priorities.

 

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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